Mid-Life Reinvention Part 1

 My work history is not particularly varied.  Almost all of the jobs I’ve held have been in the career I embarked upon nearly 30 years ago.  And the exceptions were jobs I held as a teenager (page in the local library) and while putting myself through college (working 37 hours a week at a department store).  Since then I’ve taught anthropology (as a teaching assistant and summer school instructor), done archaeology field and lab work, and since about 1986 worked in the environmental permitting and planning field. 

Although I had originally planned to finish my Ph.D. and become a university professor, I was completing graduate school at a time when there was a glut of newly minted PhDs on the market and a waning interest in the social sciences on the part of new college students.  That meant there were a LOT of candidates for every position, even the part-time faculty at Podunk U jobs.  As I’d been working as an archaeologist for an environmental firm in order to finance grad school I had my foot in that door and when offered a full-time position with good pay and benefits I decided to leave academia and go commercial.  That was, for the most part, a good decision. 

 It was also a career trajectory that led upwards – away from field work and into management and with the added responsibility came longer hours and more travel.  In my field managers were also ‘doers’ – involved in the research and writing of some sections of the environmental document as well as managing the budget and time of other staff members and providing oversight and editing of the document as a whole.  There were meetings with staff, the client and the public and government entities involved in some aspect of the project.  Depending on the client and the project issues it could be fairly cut and dried or contentious and requiring diplomacy and a lot of hand holding.  For the most part I enjoyed my career and felt I was generally providing a good service. 

 As with most careers, the higher up the ladder one got, the more emphasis there was on selling and marketing.  More and more time was spent bringing in work and less time was spent doing it.  While a competent proposal writer, and reasonably good at presenting the proposal to prospective clients, I wouldn’t say that I was a particularly good salesperson.  Perhaps I’m a little too blunt to be a good persuader.  Schmoozing wasn’t my strong suit.  My last job was stressful.  With the recession well entrenched and construction projects drying up the pressure to SELL, SELL, SELL grew and the amount of work available to actually do was considerably less.  Like lawyers we had to charge every 15-minutes of our time to a project – or to overhead – and the work just wasn’t there to support as many full-time managers as were employed.  Our paid hours dropped.

 At the same time that stress was increasing and morale dropping at work, I was fighting the losing battle against the squatter who inhabited our house in Colorado and the bank that wanted its mortgage payments.  The months leading up to my layoff were probably some of the most stressful of my life.  I could see everything I’d worked so hard for sliding off the precipice but I couldn’t stop it. I spend every waking hour feeling panicked.  It’s hard even now to relive those months and think about everything that went wrong.  There were the endless calls to my realtor and lawyer trying to find a buyer, any buyer and move up the court date to eject the renter.  There were sales that fell through at the last minute because the buyer couldn’t get a loan.  There were unanswered calls to the ‘friend’ who had recommended the renter, and the renter himself who avoided my calls and then left long rambling voice mails at 2 AM telling me that just as God had provided him with a house (my house), God would also provide for me if I’d just show some faith and stop trying to get money from him.  There was work – where there had been several rounds of layoffs already and where we fought hard for every project still funded, knowing that every timecard was scrutinized to see how much time we were charging to overhead. There were trips back to Colorado to attend hearings and retrieve what I could of the possessions we had left stored in the garage – not knowing that I was bringing them to California just to dispose of most of them when we were asked to leave our rental housing after I lost my job. 

 It was truly an overwhelmingly miserable couple of months.  And maybe those months have colored my view of my career.  Or maybe I’d reached a point where the demands of the job, particularly the long hours and frequent travel, were negatively impacting my family’s life and I would have been ready for a change even without the painful events triggered by the recession.  Truthfully I didn’t have the time to sit down and mull it over – when I lost first my house, then my job, and then our rental housing I was in survival mode.  My only concern was keeping my family safe and fed.  And when the first few months in the tents ended and we were reasonably safely ensconced in our little trailer, well even then I didn’t take the time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life- I went into overdrive on the job search and I focused on jobs in the environmental field, doing what I’d always done – it was my identity.  Of course since the recession was still in force there weren’t many jobs in my field and because other local companies had also gone through several rounds of layoffs there were plenty of candidates for each position that came open. 

 In the ensuing year we have settled into our situation and I’ve expanded my job search beyond positions in my field.  Even so this just means I applied for jobs that are out there – things like temporary help at the department store during the holiday season – not that I’ve taken the time to really think about what I want to do, or what I can do realistically with the last few decades of my working life. 

 It’s time to do just that.  I think it’s very likely that I will not return to the career that I’ve spent the past 30 years building.  I no longer want to spend long hours away from my children.  They are growing so fast – in 5 years my oldest will be off to college – and I don’t want to go back to the way we lived before when I’d drop them at the babysitter’s house an hour before school so that I could make the commute into work and then pick them up around 6 or 6:30 each evening.  I like being able to attend their basketball practices as well as their games, and to spend an occasional lazy hour at the park in the afternoon after school.  I know we can get by on a lot less money than I made as a project manager – we have had a lot of practice in frugality.

Even so I admit I’m a bit at a loss as to where to go from here.  My resume is, as I said at the beginning of this post, rather limited to a lot of experience in just one career.  And I don’t really know what to become next but I do know that I don’t want to just fall into a job without considering whether it will be the right thing for me and my family.  So now, while I still have a little time, I plan to look into my options; what career is even open to me at my age that will support us while still providing some flexibility; what skills do I have that can transfer; what training will I need…   So hard to make changes.

This entry was posted in job search, recession, single parent, unemployment. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Mid-Life Reinvention Part 1

  1. Pennie says:

    I’ve followed your blog for nearly a year now, and when I first discovered it I wrote in a suggestion to you that you consider getting a nursing degree. There are few occupations where you can invest in as little as a two year degree (ADN) and make anywhere from $30-$75/hr or more. No matter where you want to live there are always jobs with benefits available in a variety of interesting fields.

    Many of your pre-existing college credits would apply to the prerequisites, and you could always work as a CNA part time for income while receiving training. Some larger institutions will even sponsor your degree while you work.

    Of course if you faint at the sight of blood or detest people when at their most vulnerable, nursing might not be the place for you, but it would be solid footing up out of the place where you seem unhappily stuck now. I can hardly imagine with 4 sick children in a small trailer that you haven’t experienced the worst that a human body can produce anyways, lol.

    I stumbled into my local comunity college as a 20 year old high school dropout (and mother of two young childen) who clearly realized that I needed a solid footing into a work world that would help support my family in a meaningful way thoughout the continuem of my life. I had been a good student in high school but had simply grown bored with the social arena of the times and had parents who were recently divorced and too busy with their own issues to reinforce the importance of an education to me.

    Fast forward almost 30 years: I’ve always made a good living at nursing, NEVER been layed off or without a job, and over the years the profession has grown and changed in all the ways that I have. It has offered shift work or per diem when i needed flexibility, benefits for my retirement, opportunities for advancement, and a sense of accomplishment that I have truly made a difference in this world.

    I believe your recent post indicates that you are now perhaps more ready than before to consider ways in which you might reinvent yourself inorder to better provide for your family; you might give nursing a try! Like anything good, it will take hard work, guts and determination, but the reward is real and the return on your educational investment relatively fast.

    Good luck to you no matter where life takes you.

  2. Lisa says:

    Hello! I have never posted on your blog or any blog for that matter so today is a first for me. A friend told me about your blog in late 2008, I’ve been reading it every once in a while since then. I too am a long term unemployed member of society. I have applied for countless jobs and went to probably only 10 interviews at max. I know where you are coming from. The reason for my post is to let you know what my plan of action is now and possibly it may help you.

    I am currently taking classes to become a Real Estate Appraiser Trainee. This is a career field that you can work out of your living quarters and make your own schedule. To get into the business I have paid $1200.00 in class enrollment fees, after I complete the classes I have to take a state exam, then I will work as a trainee under a Certified Residential Appraiser. After I have the state required amount of hours of training and continuing education courses I can take the state exam to become a Certified Residential Appraiser myself.

    Appraising is still a good career path because people always need appraisals. Refinancing, purchasing, divorce, estate planning, tax assessments are all reasons people need appraisals.

    I hope this helps get the creative juices flowing and that you find a new career path that will both grow and prosper you!

  3. beth says:

    Once things pick up a little more, you can take those same environmental planning skills from the private sector and get a similar local or state government job where the hours are very reasonable and many agencies have flex time, etc.

  4. Mark says:

    I am wondering how to make a shift in focusing on survival or what I was trained to do and/or been doing for years to something that really is my life’s purpose in work.

    This has been a struggle for me.

    • boxcarkids says:

      This is on my mind too. I’ve been doing career aptitude tests and one thing that keeps coming up is that I want to do something that helps people. When I look at the local jobs I’m just not sure that managing a tire store, or being a front office person in a medical office is going to fulfill that need. I may not have another chance to remake myself so I’m trying to balance all the variables – doing something fullfilling; finding a job with some flexibility and decent wage/benefit to support my family; finding a career that I can do here and that won’t require years of investment in school/training! Good luck on your quest!

      • Concord03@msn.com says:

        You mention that in the past you had considered getting a PhD. Have you considered going back to get your PhD now? With the wide selection of online accredited doctoral programs (ex. Walden, Capella, Nova, etc), you could complete your PhD totally through online participation with flexibility and asynchronous course participation so that you can make your own schedule.

        Just thought that I would offer my two cents!

      • boxcarkids says:

        I can’t see that getting my Ph.D in archaeology would help at this point. My career took me away from the research and field of study and I’m many years out of date now (more of an archaeological find than an archaeologist, LOL!). And I’m not particularly interested in getting back into that field at this point.

      • Concord03@msn.com says:

        What about a PhD in another field, like Education, Instuctional technology… A PhD in Education or Educational Technology might give you some advantage if you wanted to get into the education field. Having done distance learning programs myself, I can attest to the fact that they are extremely flexible for your schedule. With your skill in writing, advanced education would be a breeze for you!

  5. Nancy says:

    I, too, enjoyed being more available for my kids during the years I was under- and unemployed. It was the ‘good’ in an otherwise bad time. I made enough to pay the bills most of the time, but not enough to get ahead, to pay for a lot of the activities I wanted my kids to do, to go on the cheapest of vacations, to really do anything fun. I had the time, but no money. I also hated the feeling that I had to account for every dime, to worry about turning on the heat or that a car repair could put us under financially.

    The reality is that having kids costs money and there just aren’t that many jobs available that will provide enough money to support a family and have the flexibility to work part time and to be available for your kids in the afternoons or even during the school days . Teachers in K-12 work from 7 am to well after 4, even subs. College adjuncts have to piece together 3 or 4 classes to make ends meet, especially since benefits usually aren’t included. It’s nice to wish it and to want it, but the reality is that it doesn’t work out for very many people, especially single parents.

    I got a great job last year, but we’ve already received our notices that the project will end at the end of the year. And I have to take the next job offered even if it isn’t perfect (and it won’t be as good as this one). I’d love to work part time, to pick up my kids after school and take them to the library and sports and out for an ice cream. I just don’t want to go back to piecing together a few hours of work here and there and looking for clients and, most of all, trying to figure out how to get health insurance and fund a retirement account and worrying about getting sick or injured and losing it all. It is so nice to be able to be sick and not panic that staying home one day will cost me enough to pay the electric bill that month.

    And you know what? I haven’t been sick once since I’ve had the sick days because the stress is gone.

  6. Sheila says:

    I sounds like you have had an “Ah Ha” moment in that what you have been aggressively pursuing, is not working out. It is a huge decision to make and you sound ready to make it. I agree with the education -teaching – subbing – college -online ideas. I’m not sure how long the last extension on unemployment is out there for, but obviously- that being a concern, now is the time to arm yourself with information to begin your pursuit on an altered course of employment. School related employment would give you a similar schedule to your children and that may help some. I wish you well. I know good wishes won’t pay the bills, but there is something out there with your name on it.

  7. Lisa M. says:

    I work at a university, and my university is another one where a LOT of the teaching is done by adjuncts (who mostly do not have phds).

  8. Kay says:

    Just fyi: Tulare County (central CA) has a job opening for Environmental Health Specialist. The pay is $3,552.67 – $4,329.75 Monthly. The deadline is 2/22/11.

  9. Maria de Miami says:

    Did you think about becoming an adjunct professor at some small university or community college? the reason I am saying this is 2 fold – nowadays many universities and small colleges do not want to hire tenured professors and the number of adjuncts is increasing. Which is not great but it is an opportunity. Also this kind of job allows you some flexibility in terms of time.
    The other thing is that many schools mainly community colleges do not require a PhD but a Masters is enough to be adjunct. I would suggest maybe a college with online classes so that you do not have to hop from college to college in order to make enough money, which is the problem with adjunct jobs in the big cities. Or if you get enough classes as an adjunct then it is not a problem. Maybe you could look at this in Chronicle of higher Education http://chronicle.com/section/Home/5.
    Good luck!

  10. Ahh, I think this post might help.

    If lots of people are still reading your blog, you might get lots of suggestions. I don’t have any particular ideas yet, but I’d recommend brainstorming with a friend. If all this upheaval, and your focus on your kids, has left you too isolated to know who to turn to, I would be happy to talk on the phone. I don’t have any particular skills in this direction, but I think the more you talk with a knowledgeable friend, the more insights you’ll gain, mainly from deep inside yourself.

  11. maja says:

    A human resources manager once sent me this link for career planning. I’ve never used it, or even looked at it! But she thought it was the bomb. Hopefully it’s not too slow for you, since it’s an australian site.


  12. Lane says:

    With your education and ability to work with children I think you should teach. You could sign up with your local school district to substitute, take the CBEST test and look into private and charter schools where you do not need to be certified. Send your transcripts to the state education department and see what courses you may need. While you sub you can see what discipline you would like to teach. It sounds like you could also teach on-line or community college classes. Even though things aren’t rosey in education today at least their are jobs if only at the pre-school level where the pay isn’t very good, At least you are working on the future.

  13. Sara says:

    Okay, I’m simple, but here are my thoughts – work for the government – any aspect – federal, state, local county, city – peruse the websites and apply for anything and everything. The benefits are family-oriented, and the opportunities for transfer are unlimited. You will be happy and able to rebuild. Please keep us posted.

    Sara, mom to 4

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