I felt a wave of recognition when I heard Elizabeth White speak at the Atlantic’s “New Old Age” conference. “You know me, I am in your friendship circle, hidden in plain sight. My clothes are still impeccable, bought in the good years when I was still making money. You wouldn’t know that my electricity was cut off, but if you paid attention you’d see the sadness.”
There it was — my 58-year-old sister, my emotional twin, has been going through exactly this for the past 14 months. I have witnessed the dimming of her confidence and verve as the rejections piled up. My sister is a mover and shaker. She ruled her world. Until now. She’s been between gigs before, but this round has stuck. My sister is faking normal, as Elizabeth said, and her isolation grows as her savings dwindle.
And it’s not just my sister, and not just Elizabeth — this is a national crisis that needs to be talked about. Now.
Elizabeth — author, speaker, activist — is statuesque, with a commanding-yet-inviting presence that projects “Ask me anything.”
And so I did.
Breaking the Taboo of Silence
Your rallying cry “You are not alone” is really resonating with people. Where do we go from here?
First, you talk to each other. There are millions of us. Once you realize you are not alone, the next piece is, it’s not your fault. That doesn’t mean you made perfect decisions — I did a bunch of dumb things when I had money. But there are a lot of us who have been jettisoned from the work force at 57. And we’re having a hard time getting back in. And many of us are living longer with almost no savings.
What can people do?
Here’s my basic road map:
1. Start a resilience group. You need people you can share with — what you’re going through — and a place to vent and get support. Then, when you’re on an interview or “possibilities” meeting, your stress and anxiety won’t leak out.
2. What are your assets? I realized I liked to write, to teach, to talk. You can “make a casserole” of work once you get past being emotionally shattered to forge ahead.
“The New Normal” or … Am I a Loser?
How do you not feel like a loser when you are surrounded by “winners” in the media.
How about the fact that I got my MBA from Harvard Business School and found myself in this emotional place at 57? Double loser! What got me out of that head was coming out.
And the liberation of letting go of faking normal?
Yes! And I did a great fake. It was hard for me to open up my kimono. But once I did, I was surrounded by people who embraced me, who joined me. I am not saying it is easy, but the rewards and freedom are there.
Letting go of shame is a hard one. How do we begin to let go of that emotion, which serves nothing?
You talk, you hear, and open yourself up to organizations.
What kind of organizations?
One I am talking to now is BoomerWorks. They help people enter this shared economy — people who are used to W-2 jobs and need to understand the landscape of freelance gigs. Another is called Institute for Career Transitions, in Boston. The grassroots movements are taking this on.
Cross “The Bridge”
What is “the bridge?”
It’s the in-between period. It may be way over the three months you experienced between jobs in the past. And that’s hard. You may get that W-2 job, but for now liberate your thinking about possibilities. You need to cover your expenses, here’s how.
1. Get off your throne. You may be aghast at the money you will be offered for jobs. Do what you must to secure yourself. There may be hidden benefits to some work. I was going to refuse one job because of the money when a friend said “Think of the non-dollar benefits.” She was right. I met with people I might not have who connected me to other gigs.
2. Small up. It’s not just about adding income; you also have to reduce expenses. Do you still need the McMansion? If you do, would you consider a roommate? If not, move in with your sister temporarily. For all of us living this new normal, we have to limit consumption.
Out of the Shadows
What would you like to say to our readers?
Get out of the shadows. Share your story with Disrupt Aging. So many brilliant people feel ashamed. Let go of the shame; tell us what you have been through and how you are navigating your new normal. Let’s give ourselves — and each other — the holiday gift of strength in numbers.
Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maryjane Fahey is the editor of Disrupt Aging.