Job Hunting after 50: Reinventing Myself--Again

by Mary Kingsley

At the tender age of 53, I was laid off from a full-time job that I really loved, through no fault of my own. There is a lot of talk about the difficulties of finding work right out of college, but it seems there is little discussion of what people do in mid-life or later when they are trying to make a living.

For the first time in my life I went on unemployment. It was a real shock to my system. Most of my life I’d equated unemployment with things like factory lay-offs. It never occurred to me that I’d face it.

Somehow I learned to deal with all of the bureaucracy and hoop-jumping that goes along with that. If you’ve never gone through it, imagine something like having to do your taxes a few times, on top of rewriting your resume several times, and then maybe writing an essay or two for a midterm exam. It felt a lot like that. 

Part of the process of “re-employment,” as they call it, is having to take a bunch of workshops and classes with titles like “Creative Job Exploration” and “The Hidden Job Market,” along with standard resume-writing and interviewing workshops, and then the specialized classes that I fit into, such as: “The Mature Job Search” and “Job Seeking over 40.” 

In all of these classes I found a pretty motley assortment of job seekers, even when you separated them by “maturity,” and very few of us had much in common besides a whiff of discouragement and even desperation in some cases. Everyone came from a different kind of background, and we were all looking for very different kinds of jobs.

Many of the workshops focused on how to present ourselves, whether on paper/online, or in person – getting the right wardrobe, hairdo, etc. for a job interview. It made me feel extremely self-conscious. And worried I didn’t have enough money to afford good enough clothes to interview in, much less a new hairdo and manicure!

Some of us in these workshops, myself included, had a very confused idea of what to do with ourselves. In my case, my background is so varied and unorthodox that I knew it would take more than a deft resume rewrite to make myself seem employable. 

If people asked me what type of job I was looking for, I always had to pause and think hard about how to answer. The job I’d just left was unique, and I knew there was nothing else out there quite like it.

The “Creative Job Exploration” class was fun, in a way, acting as if we were all fresh out of the hopper and just beginning to figure out what we wanted out of life. Take a skill and aptitude assessment! Why not? Figure out your personality type! Sure, as if I don’t know myself pretty well by now!

Imagine all the different careers you could possibly have! Yeah, why can’t I start all over?

With all the talk of “transferable job skills,” I was starting to sense that if my resume didn’t fit what the employer was looking for, they were not going to review my pithy list of abstract skills and hope I was trainable. It also seemed late in my life to seek another degree or lots of further training (not to mention the cost of doing so). Even the counselors and experts I spoke to did not seem to know what to do with me.

Is ageism a real thing? Absolutely. I could tell even from some job descriptions that if they wanted someone for an “entry-level” position, they meant fresh out of college, not a 50-something who had just never done that kind of work before. Some job descriptions even said things like “perfect for a recent graduate,” which seems discriminatory from the outset. And the jobs on the higher experience level seemed to expect fairly cookie-cutter types of experience or education, which my background did not fit.

Workshop leaders told us not to mention any jobs older than 10 years ago on our resume, and to leave off our college graduation date, so as not to date ourselves. I was pretty sure that anyone meeting me would know that I wasn’t under 30. It also seemed unfair to my experiences 20 years ago, which I know were valuable and had shaped me as a potentially employable person. But I did as I was told.

I was also asked in an interview if I would mind working with people as peers who had less experience than I had (in other words, would I resent youngsters doing the same work, earning the same money as me?) – to which I of course said no. 

It did feel, in some interviews I went through, that the interviewer had a very set idea of the type of person, with a certain sort of background, they were looking for. And nothing I said was going to convince them that I would be just as good, if not better, than that person.

Even when I had good contacts to recommend me and even influence my hiring in an organization, things did not pan out. I started to feel completely, utterly, and permanently unemployable.

What was I going to do to make a living? Try to return to the types of work I’d done years ago, with no further experience in those fields, little energy, and accept low pay? Try to train for something completely new? I was having a hard time convincing people to interview me, despite all my expertise in resume re-writing by this time.

I began to think about starting my own business, doing writing, editing, proofreading and teaching/coaching. This would combine most of the things I’d been doing in recent jobs anyway. The problem was, of course, I had no idea how to drum up business. I took workshops on self-employment and small business start-ups.

Most of the content seemed to be about businesses that had nothing to do with what I planned – they sold products, needed a storefront, and/or needed a lot of capital or overhead to get going. Very little of the content was about a service-oriented business like mine, based on work I had already been doing, albeit on a very part-time, temporary contract kind of basis.

So I did what I thought I should do, based on the little I’d learned. I launched a website. I started a blog. I told some friends and acquaintances what I was up to.

But I didn’t really start a marketing campaign or know how to begin doing that. Selling myself is something I’m not great at, and instead I take whatever seems to come my way. For now it’s fine; I’m earning enough to stay afloat, but I don’t really know how much I’ll be working from one month to the next, or how much I’ll be making. And of course there’s no sign of PTO (paid time off) or benefits in sight. 

I quickly tired of applying to things and being ignored and rejected. Working for myself feels more self-affirming, even if I’m a bit insecure financially. The next step will be saving up enough to hire someone to help me with the marketing piece, since I’m not that great at tooting my own horn. I think it’s hard for us, as women, to do that. Perhaps more so for women “of a certain age.” Many of us also took a few years off (or more) to raise children, and that left a few rungs off the career ladder. Ambition was not something I spent much time thinking about. 

Now all I want are opportunities to use some of the skills and talent I’ve got, and the chance to help others with my abilities. It wouldn’t hurt to help keep enough money coming on to live on, while I’m at it.


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More Confessions of a 54-year-old Rocker

by Miriam Queensen

I took up drumming at age 50 (Confessions of a 54-year-old Rocker) and I love every minute of playing all kinds of music. I also sing backup.

Singing backup vocals from the drum kit has its own challenges: remembering lyrics while making complicated rhythms, listening carefully to the lead singer, and not knocking out my teeth when I get close to the mic.

People at “Rock Camp for Dads” (where I have most of my music adventures) tell me I do a good job with vocals. I always enjoy singing, mostly in my car, but I’m nervous singing in public unless I can hide in the harmonies behind the lead singer and musicians.

Somehow I got it in my head that I wanted to stand out in front, singing backup vocals only, no longer hiding behind the cymbals that separate me from the audience.

Did I want more attention? Maybe.

Playing the drums is noisy, but not super visible. But being up front means worrying about all kinds of new things: what to wear, what to do with my hands, remembering lots of lyrics, and of course – learning how to sing out loud and strong!

Memorizing the lyrics and listening to the songs a million times to figure out the backup lines is not the hardest part. My band for this singing experiment is performing the songs of George Michael, which I’ve always loved, so that’s not too tough.

Getting over my anxiety about singing in public is a lot harder. Rehearsals aren’t too bad, since I know the nice folks in the band and everyone is really supportive.

I do have to work on increasing my volume and learning to move a bit and let loose. It helps that I have a tambourine – it gives my hands something to do!

But I’m constantly worrying about everybody looking at me. Part of me wants that attention, but part of me is afraid to get it. (Am I alone in this?)

My confidence about my appearance has never been strong, and I wish that getting older meant overcoming that insecurity. I’m happy I found a dress that looks pretty good on me and suits the occasion. 

However, stepping up on the stage, I’m self-conscious standing up front, knowing that everybody is looking at me AND listening to me.

My glasses purposely left in my purse, I attempt to avoid thinking about everyone watching me.

So I step up on stage, at first busying myself with setting my water bottle in the mic stand, adjusting the mic height, smiling nervously at my fellow singers and musicians.

Then I dare turn and look out at the crowd in the bar. 

The audience is a big blur! I’m unaware of individuals staring at me, although I can hear them and know they’re out there. Not wearing my glasses feels weird though, making the entire experience seem unreal. It’s like I’m on cold medicine; I feel a little out of it. Next time maybe I’ll be brave and keep the glasses on.

I enjoy singing harmony with other people, and I love the feeling of hearing our voices together. That’s when I’m most confident.

Reminding myself to keep smiling and looking out at the blurry crowd, I suddenly know it’s time for my solo!

Automatic pilot is my friend, but only to some extent -- I hear myself flub an entire line of lyrics, substituting the words from a different part of the song. Hopefully nobody outside of the band notices.

I get through it! When we start singing the last song together, I finally feel a surge of relief and sense of accomplishment.

Miriam (in red) Takes a Chance & Fulfills a Dream (Video by

When I watch the video after the gig is over, it’s not terrible. I don’t sound too bad in some places, though I’m not crazy about how I sound in others. The important thing is that I appear to be fully engaged in the moment. I smile, I look at the other singers, I play my tambourine, I move around. 

My biggest fear was that I would stand there frozen like a block of ice. That didn’t happen!  So while I may not be either Gwen Stefani or Janis Joplin, at least I faced my fear and tried it!

I did something scary and new! That’s what life is all about. Do the things you want to do, while you still can. If not now, when?


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Sex after 50? First Comes Love (Part IV)

By Mary Kingsley

So what’s happened between me and my fella since I decided to impress him with a trip to the racy lingerie store (PartI)?

Quite a lot, actually. While I didn’t enter into this relationship with any particular expectations, all of them have been exceeded.

At first we had some logistical issues around spending time together. We didn’t live close to each other, and we both had tricky schedules and housing complications.

We had to settle for dinner dates followed by necking in the car like teenagers, along with the occasional motel or hotel room overnight stay like The Big Date (Part II).

Before too many months passed, it was clear to both of us this relationship was going in the right direction. We really enjoyed each other’s company, we made each other laugh, we wanted a lot of the same things out of life and from our relationship, and – last but not least – it turned out to be the best sex both of us had ever had.

How can middle-aged sex be better than youthful, hormone-driven sex?

For one thing, we had both been “around the block” a few times, as the saying goes, and we knew how to please each other. We also listened to each other, and paid attention to what the other person wanted, and what worked for both of us.

We were also not at all shy about directly asking for what we wanted or needed, and then expressing our genuine appreciation when we got it!

Unlike what happened during sex back in my twenties, I was no longer inhibited about these things, and I didn’t worry about what he would think of me (“Will he think I’m too slutty if I _____?”). 

We found that we could even discuss what happened in the bedroom openly, even when we were NOT in the bedroom, with almost no embarrassment.

Middle age has those advantages.

Both of us had also learned lessons from previous relationships.

We had learned what issues are priorities for each of us, and which issues are not worth arguing over.

Putting petty differences of opinion in perspective and not making big deals out of minor disagreements is crucial, as is maintaining our sense of humor.

We also learned, through the very hard lesson of enduring years of loneliness (Part III), what a precious thing it is to find a deep, genuine connection with another person.

We both had a huge desire to cherish and nurture the wonderful new thing we had found together.

Most of all, we were willing to communicate and express our feelings towards each other, early and often. That continues to this day.

He had no problem telling me that he loved me, much earlier than I expected to hear it. And we tell each other that we love each other every single day. We never tire of hearing it.

And now where do we stand?

We are living together! We have even discussed the very likely possibility of getting married in the near future.

I am glad I found him, after all this time.

I think that, if you are open to doing new things and meeting new people, you can find someone too. It doesn’t have to mean living together and marriage, necessarily, but hopefully someone you can laugh with, have sex with, and enjoy life together. That’s what counts.


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