Reinventions

A friend on Facebook wrote a post today saying that she had made a big decision. Her son (with autism) just successfully finished a full year of college. Without the stress that he might be returned home, she decided to get a full time job, jumpstarting an old career in film editing. She was no longer needed at home, and the writing jobs that had kept her mind going while managing her families needs now felt lonely. At age 50, she was starting a new life.

Many of my friends are at that stage of life. It’s menopause and a new career all together in one package. Some complain about agism and the barriers to reentry. But a surprising number are making it work. The job situation is pretty good right now, at least for people with BAs and on the coasts.

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, because it’s such a big theme in daily conversations with neighbors and friends, so I’m sorry to bore you all again, but I can’t help it. I love reinventions. I love that older women aren’t settling for knitting circles and volunteer activities that typically occupied the post-child years. I’m seeing new opportunities for myself in the next year or two.

My dad reinvented himself at 65. He retired from college teaching, something he had done his whole life, to take a job running a food pantry. He’s in his early 80s and he’s had to learn a whole new job set. He applies for grants plugging spreadsheets into automated government forms. He drives a van around New Jersey picking up frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving. A Republican since the Reagan years, he’s helping undocumented workers about food preparation and driving home single moms with bags of groceries, getting a first hand view of people that his political party disdains. It’s a full time job, even without a paycheck, and it’s kept him younger than his peers who do nothing.

If you could reinvent yourself today, what would you do?

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27 thoughts on “Reinventions

  1. I’m not reinventing myself professionally in that my main job will (I hope) continue to be my faculty job, but I am looking into monetizing my genetic genealogy work. But mostly, I am reinventing myself a little personally. Yesterday I colored my hair for the first time ever. Not to look younger, which is not going to happen, but to experiment with different colors. I also had plans to do some solo travel, but unfortunately my dog’s vet bills, my tenants’ need for a new driveway, and my desire to get rid of the carpeting in my living room may make that impossible.

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  2. I was a History & Anthropology major and spent three years as an archaeologist. Then I found myself in corporate America when I started a family.

    If things go according to plan I will retire from my job as a Quality manager for a logistics firm in 11 years. I will be 55 and hopefully still in good health. My tentative plan is to transition to part-time consulting within the field while going back to college for my Masters of History and (hopefully) a PhD. I want to write obscure history books that 5 people will read and I don’t care if they make me a dime.

    It’s funny how many people here that I plan to retire at 55 from my current company and assume I am going to sit on my ass. I tell them I have a whole other chapter to write and I am going to work as long as I am able.

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  3. My wife was fairly old when we got married, so empty nesterhood coincided with retirement from full-time paid work. She does a little bit of paid work as an arbitrator–but she says she is going to quit–and other than that busies herself with volunteering (as a church deaconess and a trustee of a religious nonprofit) and cooking.

    I might go back to school when I retire in about five years, but it’s a ways away so my plans might change. I’m not sure any of these changes qualify as “reinvention.”

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  4. I’ve been at the same company for 22 years – the reason I’ve stayed so long is that they are constantly letting me reinvent. (scale up or scale back) I was able to work part time for 18 years, and now that the kids are older, I’m jumping back in full time and having a lot of fun with new challenges. I sometimes wonder what it would have looked like with a straight, upwardly mobile career trajectory – but I don’t think I would have traded my time/flexibility for anything.

    My dad was also a college professor (after 25 years in the military) – and he retired to run a homeless shelter.

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  5. No “reinvention” here; I’m out to pack as much money into my pension as possible with all these overtime jobs. I’ve got another decade before full retirement, and I want that pension check as high as it can be—I’ve got no spousal pension or income to rely on.

    (note: the IBEW has reciprocity. No matter where I work, the pension and health contributions go back to my home local fund.)

    In my world, the only time people reinvent themselves is due to injury or illness that makes it physically impossible to continue doing what we do. And that reinvention is not a happy one, both becauae it is forced and because it pulls the financial rug out from under as a permanent state.

    With that said…I’ve been seeing a guy out here. We do the same thing for a living. He’s also a cattle rancher, who lives in the middle of nowhere on some really beautiful land, in a tiny rundown “farmhouse” that could double as set design for a grade B horror film. (he reinvented himself when he bought the place, returning to a life he used to do when he was young. He’s doing it now while still working 70 hour weeks as an electrician. No time to fix the place up, and….frankly, I don’t think it’s fixable. There isn’t a square corner in that place.) Anyway. Could this city kid be a farmgirl? I discovered I suck at rustling irate/scared calves into a trailer. (my best friend grew up in the Ozarks; she assured me that everyone sucks at that, because calves don’t like being taken away from their mamas). So. If I stay…that would be some kind of reinvention. My only familiarity with cattle is from the other side (one of my great-grandfathers was a butcher/meatcutter). I’m pretty good with cattle after it isn’t mooing, but that’s about it.

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  6. I have a group of folks who all have an eldest graduating and moving off to college this year. So, talk of reinvention is big. I like to reinvent myself in theory more than in practice.

    But, I actually clicked to check read 11D after searching for “how to buy a flower farm” (coincidence? or a sign?) after visiting our local farmers market and indulging in flowers (after being grumpy — things I can’t change in the world). I know myself well enough to know that I’m never actually going to run a farm, but wondered if I might be able to invest in one (and have someone run it for me).

    Some that’s today’s fantasy (but, maybe not an impossible one — small scale 1-2 acre flower farms are a new thing here).

    BTW, peonies, lupines, irises were in full flush at the market (with some tulips, poppies, sweet peas, . . .)

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  7. Oh, and my dad was also a college professor, and retired, first, to help take care of his grandkids (a second life for him with children, since he hadn’t been around much when we were young) and then, to design science demonstration experiments to facilitate inquiry based science education with rural kids in the developing world.

    (our dads seem like pretty cool people).

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  8. I intend to reinvent myself as an artist. This is not a pipe dream. Since my daughter left home, I have been working at pop up items. My mother lives near an artist and showed her a card I had made. She ordered 50, but I only sent 35. She sold them for $15 a piece. There are 4 left. It didn’t pay for my time, but I can claim to be a paid artist.

    I have also been working on pop up books, and know a gallery owner. She has said that when I have 10 items she will include me in a show. I only have 3 and am working on 2 right now. I have tried to convince her to take 6 but she is adamant about 10. I am currently working on a music of the spheres piece that uses the equations of Copernicus. She really wants that done.

    I expect to work at least 12 more years (stretch goal) and more likely 15. Then I can pursue art. Otherwise,it won’t pay enough to support me. Right now, much of my time is taken up learning machine learning.

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    1. “I am currently working on a music of the spheres piece that uses the equations of Copernicus.”

      Sounds lovely. Are you hand cutting? Or using laser cutting? I am a fan of paper cuts and have been intrigued by what can be one with the modern tech.

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  9. “I discovered I suck at rustling irate/scared calves into a trailer. (my best friend grew up in the Ozarks; she assured me that everyone sucks at that, because calves don’t like being taken away from their mamas).”

    A better cattle chute setup might help a lot.

    (I grew up on a small cattle ranch in WA.)

    My parents and aunt and uncle started building several commercial cabins in their 60s, have great reviews, and are building a couple more soon. The end game on that is a bit iffy, though, because they wind up doing the cleaning a lot of the time–the location is a bit out of the way. I personally can’t imagine retiring and cleaning cabins in my 70s but the hourly “wage” is excellent…

    A lot of Boomers seem to struggle with the concept of retirement.

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    1. It is very nice!

      You might come across it if you check for cabins on the Olympic Peninsula/Olympic National Park on booking.com.

      I’m kind of an evangelist for WA summer travel, especially for people who live in nasty, sticky, humid climates. July and August temperatures ranging from low 50s to low/mid 70s! Wild beaches! Snow-capped mountains! Ancient forests! Cheap Indian reservation gas! (Take a raincoat and a light fleece, though, no matter when you go.)

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  10. Anyone see the article about Google’s “temp” (really contingent) workforce? https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/google-temp-workers.html

    We’re talking about reinventing ourselves, but part of the future for the kids is also reinventing themselves. I wonder how far we can go as an economy in making employees independent contractors/consultants. How much risk are people willing to assume for themselves? One of the referenced groups in this article is linguists (some of them with PhDs) who were hired by Google to help define language for their speech recognition program. I’m guessing that when Google developed the program, they imagined temporary employment (i.e. the engineers thought they’d hire a group of linguists, they would define language, and the engineers could get back to the business of building the software speech recognition). Surprise: language is more complicated than the engineers imagined. So, the some of the group worked for 2+ years (which according to random internet sources is about the tenure of average tech employees, including at Google).

    If our kids are going to be independent contractors, they clearly need broader skill sets than those who rely on others to negotiate their employment.

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    1. I didn’t see that particular article, but I have seen other articles on Google’s temp employees, who generally are not treated as well as regular employees. To me it seems that our society is becoming more and more stratified, due in large part to the tech lords who run Google and its peers, and what our children need to learn is how not to end up in the disfavored strata.

      “. . . the simple plan/That they should take who have the power/And they should keep who can.”

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    2. bj said,

      “I wonder how far we can go as an economy in making employees independent contractors/consultants.”

      One of my in-laws works for Large Tech Company You’ve Heard Of and is a very happy consultant. He’s fought hard to stay a consultant. The pay is better and he gets more time off than employees. It’s somewhat less secure, but it suits him.

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      1. I once spoke with a woman whose son had fallen into the tech consultant lifestyle. He would work as a software person for a short period, then take the money and go skiing. That works when you’re young, and when your degree is new and fresh. It doesn’t work when you’re no longer the hot young programmer.

        On the other hand, many tech companies crash and burn. So timing is everything.

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  11. Yes, the independent consultant world requires assumption of individual risk. Some people are better suited to it than others.

    But, as Cranberry says, it’s easier when your life is so fluid that the risk seems insignificant. First, because you think you’ll always find the next job and second, when no one depends on you, so you aren’t worried about paying mortgages or tuition and third, when you have the backstop of security in the form of someone else (i.e. parents in whose house you can land).

    I also think that there are those who only planning for the upside benefits in consulting (i.e. I get paid more today) without thinking about the limits in how long you might have that job or that next job.

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    1. bj said,

      “But, as Cranberry says, it’s easier when your life is so fluid that the risk seems insignificant.”

      Or, in my relative’s case, when it’s not your only gig and you’ve saved like crazy.

      “I also think that there are those who only planning for the upside benefits in consulting (i.e. I get paid more today) without thinking about the limits in how long you might have that job or that next job.”

      Relative is 50ish now, but he probably outworks any 3 randomly chosen coworkers.

      I definitely wouldn’t recommend the lifestyle to just anybody, but it’s not like people have the guarantee of life-time employment as normal employees. Consulting is not a terrible choice for a healthy, frugal workaholic.

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      1. I know for a fact that relative has never had a mortgage, has no debt, and I’m fairly sure that he could retire anytime he wanted to, purely financially speaking.

        But I don’t know a lot of people like that.

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  12. I think of the young tech consultants assumption of risk being a bit similar to the risk assumed by faculty who are entirely grant supported. I knew some, whose careers ended a decade or so ago, who never felt the significant risk, because grants were approved 50% of the time (especially with a 2nd submission). So, they’d had 40 year careers, having written 8-9 grants. These days, even very successful people might write 4-5 grants for every funded grant , so, that’s writing 32-60 grants, a grant every year of a funded proposal. It changes the job — hustling for a grant becomes a significant part of the work in a completely different way.

    Some consultants, who have had a consistent client might not know how they would constantly hustle new clients and how quickly their business model falls apart when they lose a client. In other words, another set of skills.

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    1. My freelance experience, roughly speaking, was that a third of the time was spent chasing new business, a third was spent on administrative things (including getting clients to actually pay), and only a third was available for doing the work itself.

      In communications work, it’s more often than not the case that a new head of the department at a client brings a new approach to freelancers. If the organization has been working with a lot of freelancers, then the new boss will be worried about how much money they are spending on external people when they have all of the talent in-house to do the job. If the organization has been sparing on the freelance side, the new boss will think that head-count is too high, and the company could reduce its costs for insurance and other benefits by relying more on external people. And so it goes.

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