It was October and I had just enjoyed almost a year of successful self-employment as a writer, editor and conference producer; the birth of my first grandchild, new volunteer opportunities and a lot of travel — capped by a fabulous Hawaiian house-sitting gig.
Life was good, but professionally, it was the people I missed.
My hunger to be part of an office again, at 58, working with a team as an insider and having a “place to go” propelled me to reach out to a public relations and marketing firm’s owner when I saw her LinkedIn post about an opening in my New Jersey town. I could walk to work, be a short train ride away from New York City, contribute my content creation and business development skills and learn something new at her eight-person firm.
The pay wouldn’t rival what I’d made on my own and I would lose the tax benefits of self-employment, but someone else would now pay the Social Security tax and I wouldn’t have to play collections officer, hustle business and execute at the same time. After several stints working inside tech-driven cultures, the idea of building something at an all-female firm was inviting, too.
As the former editor of AOLJobs.com, I saw the evidence that the older you get, the rarer it is to obtain full-time employment with benefits once you leave a job.
Getting Hired Quickly
I sandwiched my job interview between my Hawaii stop and attending a journalism symposium at Glacier National Park in Montana. Within days, I was hired (over email) to handle five clients in five industries. I became an employee.
At first, I loved it — being part of a small business whose heart and values were in the right place. I brought flowers to the office every Monday. My colleagues and I ate lunch together.
Why I Didn’t Love the Job
But after roughly seven weeks, I didn’t love it. Here’s why:
- My personality — direct — began to clash with a particularly demanding client
- My penchant for collaboration by bouncing ideas around was perceived as a negative by my clients, who wanted straight recommendations, not brainstorming sessions
- My father suffered a stroke and I was torn between helping out on the homefront and keeping it together at the office
- After working with startups using the latest technology for teams and remote workers (Google Docs, Skype and Slack), I was forced to reacquaint myself with the traditional tools of bigger enterprises (Word, PowerPoint, Excel)
- The email was never-ending
I had to get honest with myself.
What this company most needed at this moment was an account executive happy to handhold clients and keep the peace. It did not need me. What’s more, I had promised myself never to become chained to a desk again and to only work where I could set my own priorities and working hours.
I told my story out loud to a friend and she said: “You’ve already decided.” I guess I had.
Quitting My Job
So that Monday, less than three months after joining the firm, I told the owner I would not be staying on in a full-time capacity. I’d be quitting my job.
It wasn’t the firm, it was me, I explained. I had never worked for an agency before and didn’t appreciate that the best you can do is dictated by the client and its budget. I realized I enjoyed doing the work much more than managing it. But I said I would be happy to do projects.
The holidays were upon us, so I promised to give her six weeks to find someone new before actually quitting my job. While fully aware of the inconvenience I was putting everyone through having to start the interview process all over, I believed this was a far better move in the long-term than trying to get comfortable in a shoe that was a little bit too tight. To her credit, the owner took my news well.
I felt a great weight had lifted, although at the same time those voices in my head started asking: “What in the world are you doing quitting a full-time job at the age of 58?”
I knew the statistics. As the former editor-in-chief of AOLJobs.com, with experience covering the 50+ job market, I saw the evidence that the older you get, the rarer it is to ever obtain full-time employment with benefits once you leave a position. As Sara Rix, senior strategic policy adviser of the AARP has noted: People over 55 are out of work on average of 12 weeks longer than their younger counterparts, when they can get new employment at all.
Still, I wasn’t buying it.
I had more of a Millennial outlook than many of the Millennials I’d worked with and hired. I was up on new technologies, always trying new things, eager to learn and impatient with bureaucracy. I’m pretty sure I produced an event featuring the first-ever livestream using Periscope. I embrace change with a bear hug.
Also, I could see a shift in momentum around me. Friends who were older than I was were now taking on the biggest projects in their careers. Some companies were recognizing the value of experience and hiring it.
That was the whole point! I don’t see 58 as the end of my career, rather as the launching pad for a whole next phase. I certainly would not want to wither away trying to suppress my essential personality just to become better suited to managing someone else’s business relationships and priorities.
Ultimately, the firm found someone who was the right fit, which made me happy. And by my final day, I had already attracted new business to carry me over into the next stage of my career. I’d also shifted my focus to an event I had put on the back burner: a personal development retreat for women.
Advice to Other Older Workers
Throughout my life, I’ve had the tendency to stay with things too far past the point of expiration — my marriage, some jobs I could see were heading nowhere, even my furniture! I don’t like to quit. And as I was about to, I knew that exiting this job could be the riskiest move of my sixth decade.
But now six weeks out the door, I’m glad I left.
I’m especially pleased that I was able to maintain the level of relationship with my former employer that makes the most sense for both of us. We see each other in social media and bump into one another at industry events. I write an occasional blog post for the firm, too.
My parting advice to you: Life is short and as cliché as it sounds, it is always a safe bet to go with your gut.