In the film industry where I worked for 20 years, being 50 is not a plus. It’s a business that rewards youth, on screen and behind the scenes. When I lost my job at that age, I anticipated challenges but had no idea how brutal the road ahead would be. I was at a professional high point then, with the respect of my peers and an enviable network to draw on. Yet no one would hire me.
I’d cast everything into my work life. It was who I was, and how I felt valued. Suddenly, that was thrown into question. Greeting new people at social events became awkward. When they would ask, “what do you do?” I paused, fumbling for an answer. It was easier to avoid these types of gatherings, and retreat into the safety of a small group of old friends. My world, along with my identity, began to shrink.
I continued to apply for jobs, but the despair was deepening. Out of the blue one day, I was invited to attend a meeting for a new social justice initiative that was being launched in the neighborhood. At the time, my political activism was mostly passive, just venting from the sidelines. I was reluctant to participate, leaving the task to others. But with only time on my hands, I forced myself out of a cocoon. That one meeting morphed into a study group, which became a coalition that eventually changed a policy benefiting millions of hard-working families. Along the way, I testified at the State Assembly, lobbied Members of Congress, joined the Los Angeles Mayor’s task force, and proudly took part in a bill signing ceremony with the Governor of California. I didn’t get paid a dime for my efforts, but it remains the most impactful accomplishment of my life. With a new buoyancy and a story to tell, I reemerged into a world of purpose.
The career wilderness is a lonely place to be. When I struggled to find my way out, I felt despair and shame, both of which can be debilitating. During this gloomy passage, I longed for someone to guide me who understood the experience of aging out of a profession and could shed a light on the journey. More than anything, I needed hope.
A light finally arrived one spring afternoon. I was having lunch with a friend at an Italian restaurant near the beach. As my friend casually described a new coaching training he’d just enrolled in, I had an epiphany. In that moment eating pasta primavera, I suddenly knew how to steer my professional life. I’d become a Career Coach guiding people their own mid-life work transitions. That hard-earned revelation would require becoming a student again and going back to school. During my training, I was one of the oldest among my cohorts, and also the very first to complete the necessary hours to receive my accreditation as a Professional Coach. Once finding the path, I was unstoppable.
I’m grateful every day to be successful at work again. It took me awhile, but the circuitous route enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I learned that a person’s value isn’t about how we get paid. It’s how we give back.
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8 thoughts on “How Losing a Job at 50 Boosted My Life”
First of all, I want to thank you for putting such an amazing piece of advice together, this gives me an absolute perspective of what to expect for my years to come.
Great post! I am 48 and in that career void myself… due to quite a few various circumstances and my local job market – I’ve pretty much been sidelined from regular jobs as you found. I am also a creative trying hard to overcome depression, anxiety and a lack of motivation due to the above work/career issues. I’ve been trying hard to move forward as a fine artist and freelance designer and photographer. I’m just looking and keeping an ear out for that next opportunity… It’s through my art/design that I want to give back and/or help though doesn’t help the fact that right now I have no income at all. Thanks again for the post.
My difficult experience in the career wilderness eventually led to a wonderful next chapter. It’s hard to hang in there, but perseverence pays off. I post ongoing career resources on my blog, http://wendybraitman.com/blog/ I hope you check them out, and I send you my very best.
Thanks so much for your kind words. I hope your career journey is as fulfilling as mine. Stay in touch!
Wow, I can so relate to this. I just turned 50 and was fired from my job and went into a deep depression, like you said turning 50 is not a plus, especially in IT which is my field. Thanks for the inspiration.
Erika – I want you to know there is a way forward. Losing hope was my greatest challenge. But I also felt shame. Allow yourself to vision where you’d really like to go next. The process will give you clues. Please stay in touch.
It’s never too late to start over. I have a friend who had been in the photography business since the late 70s and she went through a very similar situation the past few years. So instead of taking on new clients she decided to give back and teach others what she had learned all these years and it’s open up doors that never would have open had she continued to keep her studio open.
That’s an encouraging story, Red. When someone has hit a career impasse, it’s a good time to do an assessment. What are the parts of our work life that we’d really like to continue, and what are the parts we’re happy to leave behind? Transitions are difficult, but they also provide opportunties to check in with ourselves and rediscover our talent.