When I got the call I immediately asked, “What does it pay?”
As a full-time writer I am usually interested in the story first — the idea, the angle, the concept. Payment is always the last issue discussed with an editor.
Not this time. A friend of a friend had passed my name along to a New York tabloid that needed a writer for a breaking story. Quick.
The assignment: Drive to Fort Myers, Fla., knock on the door of the parents of Scott Broadwell — the husband of Paula Broadwell, the “other woman” in the Gen. David Petraeus sex scandal — and ask them what they thought of everything.
“They will probably slam the door in your face,” I was told, “but hey, they might say something.”
My reply: Sure, I’ll do it.
I was suddenly tossed into the alien world of tabloid journalism for a handsome day rate, plus mileage. Was it “beneath” me? I thought so. I am a freelance writer who prides himself on serious, service-oriented journalism — not one of the paparazzi looking for a sensational scoop.
But I could really use the money.
At some time or another — especially in today’s economy — many may find themselves forced to take a job for which they are overqualified or that's outside their skill set. Or in my case, not in keeping with my interests. Boomers are especially vulnerable. A 2012 study found the long-term jobless rate — unemployment for a year or longer — was 44 percent for people over 55. That's nearly four times the unemployment rate of those under age 20, which is 12 percent.
Yet, as I learned, don’t be surprised if a less-than-ideal work experience delivers unexpected benefits that prove more valuable than the paycheck itself.
In Any New Job You'll Grow
Life and Career Coach Sharon Good, B.C.C., says getting outside your comfort zone, whether voluntary or not, can be a golden way to learn and grow. “You need to take the attitude that any situation is an opportunity and not a curse,” she says. “Ask yourself, ‘What can I take away from this work experience?’ Keep in mind that the job is not forever. Your career has not taken a step back, but a sidestep that could propel you further ahead.”
My assignment forced me out of my ergonomic chair to interact with people face to face. Most of my interviews and communication are through phone calls, emails and texts. The outing gave me a chance to polish my rusty observational skills. When I interviewed the parents (and even the grandmother) I had to note their reactions, their seaside home décor, how Fox News blared in the background. When I drove home (with mostly a “no comment”), I felt like a more engaged, stronger journalist. By taking the day job I met other reporters, who could be valuable contacts.
If you are unemployed and have to take a job outside your comfort area until something better comes along, Good suggests you look at it with an upbeat attitude. “Don’t ever feel like working a less than desirable job to pay bills is shameful,” she says. “People may or may not be judging you, but when you judge yourself and put that negative energy out there, people pick up on it.”
Instead, refocus your mindset. You might even discover that you really don't like what you've been doing. You may find you possess skills you never knew existed. “Often if you lose your regular job, I say ‘congratulations,’ Good says. “Now you can move your life in a new direction.”
The Gift May Be Finding Your True Calling
Good once consulted with a woman in her 60s who was a few years from retirement when she lost her administrative job. To help overcome stress, she began taking art classes. No pressure or expectations. She soon realized she didn’t like her former work and that she had a real talent for creating art. She is now a professional, full-time artist who has her own studio.
Logan Mabe, 51, a seasoned journalist for newspapers like The Lakeland Ledger and the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, was a recent casualty of his media company's cutbacks. Although he had once taught at a middle school for 30 weeks, he never thought of it as a possible career move. That was until a friend of a friend introduced him to staff members at St. Petersburg College. He was soon hired to teach developmental writing.
Many of Mabe's students lacked basic language and writing skills. The pay wasn't great and the hours lengthy. He thought of the new job as a Band-Aid. But not for long.
“I had a taste of teaching before and liked it a lot," Mabe says. "I was then able to take it to the college level and found it was something I enjoy and I was good at — writing is the only thing I’ve done well besides cutting grass.”
What Logan discovered was a sense of fulfillment — more so than writing for newspapers. In the classroom he could directly affect people’s lives.
One student, a former football player for the University of Miami, had spent 10 years behind bars. Through writing he found the personal discipline he had lost. A 61-year-old man who lived at the Salvation Army pecked out his writing assignments and was soon able to take on a full load of courses. A woman supported by a domestic abuse center vowed to begin a new life. Writing, she said, was the first step.
“I try to support them as much as possible so they can move forward,” Mabe says. “It is a humble feeling. I can’t think of doing anything else now.”