Work & Purpose

Back in the Rat Race at 67

Her six job-survival tips for returning to work after a long absence

Ten years after leaving a full-time job, I’m back at it, working as a reporter for a newspaper. Two weeks in, I was exhilarated; 12 weeks in, and I am exhausted.

That’s mostly my fault. Though my time-management skills have improved since my start date, I have yet to diminish the Frazzle Factor — the pressure I put on myself to track down every last source and still turn in assignments early.

Also, I have blatantly neglected to balance work with relaxation every day, despite it being a dearly held principle.

I bolstered my request for a flexible schedule by reciting a litany of what it takes to keep my 67-year-old self up and running.

On the flip side, now that I’ve returned to work, I am intellectually stimulated, a far more interesting conversationalist and much better educated about everything from Alzheimer’s disease to exhibits at small museums in San Francisco to the Syrian refugee crisis, which are all stories I have written.

What a privilege to return to the world of print journalism! This world first chose me when I was 14, on staff at my junior high newspaper. I am grateful for the work now, 53 years later, and I enjoy it immensely. (Yes, I am tired, but the job is temporary and ends a month from now.)

My 6 Job-Survival Tips

If you’re heading back to full-time work after a long absence, here are my six survival tips:

1. Remember your circadian rhythm  I do my best writing at night. When the editor of a weekly newspaper asked me to fill in full-time for a reporter on maternity leave, her first question was whether I would come into the office from 8:30 to 5:30, Monday through Friday. I wouldn’t, because I couldn’t.

After entertaining terrifying visions of waking early, donning grown-up lady clothes and managing a two-bus trip across San Francisco in the disheveled state that is my morning mode, I said no. But I had a win-win suggestion: I asked the editor how many articles she needed each week to keep the paper going and then proposed my supplying those articles from home with a workweek spread over seven days, to avoid asking the impossible of the night owl that I am.

Besides, a quick survey of my closet revealed no actual grown-up lady clothes beyond one nice sweater and a pair of purple suede shoes that are strictly for show. And this was after I had ruled out my very best black jeans as safe for work.

2. Build in “you time”  The reporter I am filling in for is half my age. So I bolstered my request for a flexible schedule by reciting a litany of what it takes to keep my 67-year-old self up and running. We’re talking yoga, physical therapy, a monthly facial, walking in a warm-water pool, acupuncture, an occasional nap, massage therapy and more yoga.

Give all that up, I knew, and soon I’d be lying face down on the living room carpet, stiff and unyielding in body, mind and spirit. At my age, I’m more than willing to admit that living a balanced life is more important than ever.

Going full-steam for five days and collapsing on weekends works when you’re 30, maybe even 40. At 55, you’re pushing it. After 65, taking good care of yourself is not only part of living the good life, it’s part of staying alive.

3. Remember what matters most to you  Of course, money matters, as I know oh so well living in the most expensive city in the country. In 14 weeks, this temporary full-time job will bring in about what I earn in a typical year as a part-time freelance writer.

However, what matters most to me these days is my time with my grandson, Max. One afternoon a week, I pick him up at daycare so we can spend the evening together and we play again on one weekend afternoon. My flexible schedule at the paper protects that time with Max, which is non-negotiable.

I do miss other moments of leisure: time spent over long lunches with a friend in Stinson Beach or Sausalito, sitting by the sea on my own or visiting with shop owners in my neighborhood. I look forward to returning to those simple pleasures when the job ends.

4. Don’t show off   The newspaper editor didn’t ask me to go from being Part-time Pat to Superwoman, but it’s my nature to work more, rather than less, even on a freelance basis. My second week on the job, I interviewed seven people on five topics, researched four future stories, made appointments for the following week’s interviews and went out on two assignments. I wrote a 1,600-word cover story, three 750-word stories and two 400-word stories.

When I reported this to my son, he said, “You’re showing off. You don’t have to do that.” Two days later, when I tried to convince the arts editor I could do a quick-turnaround piece on deadline on a Sunday night, she said, “You don’t have to do that.”

I don’t, but I like that I still can. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

5. Do be willing to negotiate   After the editor granted my request to work at home and keep untraditional hours, she had another question: “Would you come to the office for a staff meeting every Monday morning?”

This was a toughie. Like many people, I spent three decades sleeping badly most Sunday nights, restless from fretting about Monday mornings. And I had already told the editor that I’m both allergic to the break of day and fearful of tackling pubic transit in a morning fog — literally and figuratively.

Boldly, I said, “I don’t meet.”

The editor laughed, and then suggested we instead speak on the phone after the weekly meetings, to go over my assignments. I agreed, but felt a bit selfish. So when she asked if I would come to the office for a monthly brainstorming meeting, I graciously said I would.

6. Disappoint your financial adviser  My first thought when taking this unexpected job was to exhibit some sensible fiscal conservatism and stash the newfound cash. My second thought was to take a minute and appreciate just how mature I am.

Then I remembered that soon I will be 68, the same age my father was when he died. I’ve already outlived my mother, who died at 58. It’s true, that according to the Social Security Administration, a woman of 65 can expect to live until roughly 87. But will that woman want to travel when she’s pushing 87? Or even 77? I think not. Travel is a hassle now, and it isn’t going to get easier as I get older.

So, quickly, I went from “save it all” to “spend it all.” Upon reflection, I’ve brokered an acceptable compromise with myself, planning a two-week trip to places I’ve never been, just in case I don’t get out of 68 alive. How could any financial adviser argue with that?

Hey, I’m working full time. I’ve earned it.

By Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia on her blog.

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