Why Relocating for a Job When You're Older Can Be a Nightmare
The scary lessons learned by a seasoned journalist — after uprooting his life to move halfway across the country
Two years ago, at age 62, I accepted a job offer 1,500 miles from home.
When relocating for work, “You’re not just transitioning to a new job, you’re transitioning to a new life,” career coach Paul Bernard recently said in his Next Avenue column (When Is Relocating for Work a Good Idea?). He offers some great advice. Too bad I didn't consult him before I made my move.
It’s not as if I had never relocated. I've done it many times — when I was younger. This last move was different. Blame it on my age.
When I was in my early 30s, I left my hometown of San Francisco to work for a magazine in New York City. I figured New York would be an exciting adventure for someone in the prime of his life. Ten years later I left New York to take a job on a magazine in Birmingham, Ala. My Manhattan friends thought I was crazy to relocate to the Deep South, but I had my reasons. I could finally afford to buy a house and a car. Four years later I accepted an editorial position in Boston. I sold my southern home for a nice profit, which allowed me to buy a spacious, third-floor condo in my new city.
So far, so good: My changing locales proved the smart thing to do. (Of course, being single and not having children made these transitions easier.) Because I was younger, and working with people my age, I made friends easily in my new workplaces. Because I bought my homes in both Birmingham and Boston, I became involved in neighborhood activities and issues.
I lived in Boston for 14 years. For most of that time I worked on two magazines — one until it went under, the other until it got sold and I was laid off. In 2008, like so many others, I found myself without full-time work or health benefits. I figured my newspaper and magazine days were pretty much behind me. So at age 60 I changed careers and became a real estate agent.
I kept my hand in the writing business by doing freelance work. I did such a good job for a Minnesota-based magazine that its editor-in-chief offered me a full-time position — one high on its masthead. It paid unusually well and came with generous benefits. But it meant moving halfway across the country.
(More: The Right Way to Evaluate a Job Offer)
At first I thought no way. Not at my age. I had put down roots in Boston. I went to Red Sox games at Fenway Park. I took weekend trips to Maine. I loved the smell of the ocean. I had cool friends. I couldn’t give this up, even if I had to struggle financially.
But I have to say it’s very seductive to be pursued, especially at an older age. The magazine’s editor came to Boston. Over dinner at a trendy restaurant she told me why she wanted to hire me. I had the experience and creative talent that could help her local publication go national. The young staff wasn’t trained in journalism. I could mentor them; make them better writers. For the last 10 years I had been an adjunct writing professor at Emmanuel College in Boston.
I knew that at my age an opportunity like this wasn’t going to come along again. Still, the risks of uprooting my life were scary. But so were the risks of not seizing the moment. After thinking it over, I decided to go for it. I quit my real estate job. I called the editor in Minnesota. “When do I start?” I asked.
“As soon as you can,” she replied.
I told her two months. During that period I learned the painful limitations of my not-so-young body. Even though my move was being paid for, I still had to pack boxes and boxes — and still more boxes. Rather than sell my condo, I decided to rent it. I had to get it in shape, install new appliances and find tenants. Every day I went up and down my stairs hauling stuff that had to be sold or given away. By the time I got on the plane to Minnesota (my dog in cargo), I was physically worn out.
Adjusting to My New Environment
I arrived in Minneapolis in the dead of winter. While looking for a place to rent, I stayed with a friend’s mother, who lives in the suburbs. Three months later, as spring broke through, I signed a lease on a charming bungalow with a fireplace, Jacuzzi, garage and a yard for my dog. A place like this would cost twice as much in Boston.
Yes, I had made the right decision to relocate. The risks paid off.
Or had they? By the time summer rolled around, that “yes” became a “maybe.” The magazine wasn’t turning out to be the creative environment I had envisioned.
My boss, who founded the publication, was a micro-manager. It was always her way, not mine or anyone else’s.
To my constant frustration most of the young staff had no desire to be mentored by me. They weren’t like my college students who were eager to improve their writing skills. When I edited their copy these very green journalists became indignant. “But this is how we’ve always done it!” they’d whine. Some went out of their way not to speak to me. Lesson learned: If you take a job where you're twice the age as most everyone else, you may not fit in.
When I moved to New York, Birmingham and Boston, I made friends quickly. Not so in Minneapolis. I learned that after a certain age it doesn’t happen easily. Parties dwindle, bars lose their allure and just hanging out doesn’t seem to be an option.
I missed my old friends, terribly.
But most of all, I missed working in a collaborative, welcoming atmosphere.
By fall I knew the job was never going to live up to my expectations. My “maybe” had become a “no.” We parted ways, which was hard, but also a relief.
How could things have gone so terribly wrong? I kept asking myself this question as I sat at home in disbelief.
What employment options did someone my age have in a strange city? I could go back to Boston, but my place was rented. Besides, it would cost a lot to move back, and I'm way past the U-Haul stage. I was obligated to a year’s lease on my bungalow. It was winter now — how bleak the landscape looked.
But who knew the Twin Cities was a hotbed of publishing? I got two full-time job offers shortly after the New Year began. I was lucky to have rebounded so quickly. But nevertheless it was dumb of me not to have researched the job market before moving here. A little networking would have told me whether there were additional options in my field and if local employers were prone to hiring older workers.
The job I took is this one: Articles editor at Next Avenue. I work from my home, which is still in Minneapolis. Once again I’m the oldest one on the staff, but not by much. It’s good to be working with seasoned pros. (Virtual operations are rampant and proliferating. If you're older, that may be the route to go.)
(More: How to Find a Legit Work-From-Home Job)
I do have options: I can stay in Minneapolis or go back to Boston. I’m also old enough to retire if I want to. But I’m not quite ready to make that transition. I will one day, but not before I find out everything I can about how and where I want to spend the rest of my life.
This time I’ll be sure to do my homework.
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