It started as a way to stay connected to my only child, Justin, a 28-year-old who lived in a different state than me. He was newly married and worked for a venture capital firm that focused on big data. Like other boomer moms of sons, I was struggling to figure out how to share his adult life. But not knowing what a VC firm did or what big data was (were?) put me at a real disadvantage when trying to chat with him.
When Justin was younger, we had bonded over soccer games, homework, college selections — even girlfriends. I was the mom, and it was my job to help him. But now he had a wife, and, as was appropriate, she had become his go-to person for sharing his ideas and aspirations.
My friends with daughters were no help. They frequently talked by phone, email or text with their girls about clothes, homes and their kids — great topics for moms with girls. But for moms with boys, not so much.
Justin had fallen into a pattern of calling me once a week on his way home from the subway. It was only a five-minute walk, so conversations never got much beyond “How are you, what’s going on? Work is good — oh hey, I’m getting in the elevator, losing reception. Love you, bye.”
I felt isolated. My career was stagnant, and my mothering job was over. I still had my husband, my own mom and my friends, but when I gazed toward the horizon, I didn’t like the view.
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A High-Tech Conversion
After whining a bit, I decided to take action. I was determined to learn about Justin’s world, so I researched venture firms and big data. I started checking out the online publications he read, like Wired.com and TechCrunch. At first I didn’t understand the jargon, so I’d email him and ask for definitions. He complied for a while — and I was loving the connection — but he quickly grew tired of being my dictionary and gave me some very good advice.
“Google is your friend, Mom. Use it whenever you don’t understand something.” OK, duh!, but those words set me free. I could ramp up my learning all by myself. I dived headfirst into the tech world, got a smartphone and started downloading apps on every topic that interested me: health and wellness, fitness, recipes, news and, yes, shopping.
Soon Justin and I were exchanging emails about apps, articles and websites. It felt great; my son-buddy was coming back into the fold. There was a lot I didn’t understand, but I embraced the “fake it until you make it” approach. Before long he was sending me links he thought would appeal to me. Some I really liked, but others were hard to comprehend. They offered products and services that boomers would supposedly appreciate — but I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the site, or I didn’t understand what was so “amazing” about the “revolutionary” product.
One day, when my son was visiting from out of town and we were having lunch, I brought this up. He looked me straight in the eye, and I thought he was going to ridicule my ineptitude. Instead he said, “You’re absolutely right, Mom. Many developers don’t understand boomers. And you guys are a huge market. You’re a writer — why don’t you write about it? Better yet, learn about boomers and usability and start your own blog. Then you can share your knowledge with consumers and IT companies. I will help you.”
I’m not sure how much I actually processed beyond “I will help you.” As most mothers would probably understand, those words are meant to clutch and save. I was totally onboard — even if I wasn’t sure the ship was seaworthy. My son was going to help me, and that was more than enough for me to set sail. His MBA would now assist me and we would be connected again. I jumped in with both feet.
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How I Become a Technology Blogger for Boomers
To get me started properly, Justin gave me reading assignments, created a simple template for my blog and, knowing I wanted to build this into a career sideline, wrote a three-month business plan for me, which I followed to the letter. Through email, he helped me network by introducing me to his friends in the boomer health-and-fitness arena.
I should mention that I didn’t quit my “real” job, as a public relations consultant. I’m a professional journalist, and my husband and I own a marketing research, public affairs and public relations firm, so writing a blog about apps and usability for my peers was in my wheelhouse.
But there was still a steep learning curve. Justin and I were emailing daily. He edited my work so it would appeal to all the Millennial developers. He helped me target different online publications and made sure I was using tech and usability vernacular correctly. For example, he informed me that "tweet" and "twit" were not synonyms.
After I'd written a few pieces on apps, I pitched AARP, and they offered me an “App of the Week” blog. I used my research skills to conduct a survey about boomers’ use of smartphone apps for health and medical issues. I shared the results across multiple platforms and received international recognition. Soon my calendar was full of meetings and conferences related to aging, health and technology.
Today, just 10 months later, I have a roster of clients who need “boomer-targeted” writing. Sure, there have been roadblocks and down days. But my infant business is steadily growing and being nurtured, and I stumble just like any young mother charting new territory for her baby — and I’m having a blast.
The coolest thing about my second act, though, is that it was born from an idea of my child’s. Our connection is as strong as it used to be. I’m still the mom, but this is his world, and now it’s his turn to be giving the advice.
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