I recently turned 66 years old and I am starting over. That feels like an opening gambit to a discussion of golf, travel or the hours to be spent with brushes and oils, but that’s not where …
I recently turned 66 years old and I am starting over. That feels like an opening gambit to a discussion of golf, travel or the hours to be spent with brushes and oils, but that’s not where this tale is going. This is a story of not accepting that a number defines my options, eschewing the pandemic as an excuse and not heeding the advice of well-meaning friends and advisors.
Eighteen months ago, my employment at a major media company ended after an amazing run of almost a quarter-century. The parting was amicable and generous. I had no worries about finances or health care, but I was grossly unprepared for the job market that I found myself in. It wasn’t that I didn’t possess skills that were marketable; it was the dilemma of working in an unusually inspiring organization and being at sea over where to take my talents next. While I grasped that the end was coming, I had never done the deep thinking and preparation to take my life on a different trajectory.
For more than 45 years, I have worked in information technology. I never loved the work but I enjoyed adapting technology to solve everyday problems. It was all I knew how to do professionally. My leisure time dreams had to do with writing, baking and biking, but I enjoyed the challenges of the working life and it provided the camaraderie I craved.
My severance agreement included six months of out-placement consulting that filled my days with how-to sessions, job search work teams and networking events. The search for our next position was our new “career” and we were exhorted to treat it with rigor and urgency.
This, of course, did nothing to improve the state of bewilderment I found myself in. Those of us over 50 knew that the chances of finding work comparable to what we had been doing and, in hindsight, believed we loved, were slim. To believe our coaches at outplacement, we were just one connection away from nirvana, one networking session away from the person who knew the hiring manager of our target company. I knew it was all BS.
At my last meeting with my coach, he confided in me that it would likely take eighteen months to find another job and I would never earn what I had earned before. He was spot on.
Eighteen months to the day after I handed in my laptop and ID card, I received the first non-toxic offer in the whole ordeal. Plenty of places with strange working conditions and unpleasant managers had made convoluted offers, but I was fortunate to not feel the desperation to accept them. Then came the pandemic.
For six months, interviews, when they happened at all, were by phone or on video conference. Employers, while eager to interview, seemed hesitant to hire.
Then a position was offered and I accepted. It seemed do-able, the organization’s mission was admirable, the salary was acceptable and on my first day there, I realized that I had made a mistake. I had placed the challenge of finding employment as the goal rather than determining what it was about work that I was looking for. This job might have provided the esprit-de-corps and mental calisthenics that keep me sharp, but it wasn’t growth. I did the thing that I’d always scoffed at others for doing: I resigned after two days.
This embarrassing episode is my object lesson to map out the next steps more carefully. What has changed is my realization that there are aspects of a job that I don’t want. I am finished with long commutes, I do not crave power or status, I want the time to pursue the activities that I’ve come to crave during my time of unemployment. Most importantly, I want the feeling of being part of a team that is creating or helping to advance a mission.
As a harried working drone, I dreamed of turning my avocations into a rewarding career. While I have kept busy writing, baking and biking, these failed to take off and left me lonely and isolated. When coronavirus came, I forgot the work situations I was trying to avoid. An offer was an affirmation that I could still succeed, but turning it down is an affirmation that I want more. The next steps are as uncertain as ever, but I am committed to taking them even if they will mislead me. I’m excited about starting over.
Charles Rubin is a systems engineer, amateur baker and essayist living in Hoboken, New Jersey and Lake Huntington, New York.