The old saying goes “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade”. However, in this age of “spin doctors” who create new images for the rich and powerful, why not put a little creativity into our own re-inventions and make lemon-coconut bars? This was the personal question I asked myself four years ago, when at age 44, I realized that a chronic health condition was forcing me to make a major change in my lifestyle and my career. I ran my own pre-school and daycare business, successfully I might add, for almost 10 years. My doctor strongly recommended I work fewer hours and that whatever I chose; it had to be less physically demanding.
I learned several things right away: 1. Having operated your own business doesn’t mean anyone else will hire you 2. A degree in communications from 1978 guarantees you nothing 3. Being over 40 and intelligent is almost a deterrent. Employers think you’re both over qualified and too close to retirement to want to give you a chance But I had to make a living. Finding a low-paying job was easy. Finding and building a new career was not. When I first graduated college, I found a radio news job in the Los Angeles area right away. Upon falling in love and getting married, I decided to go into teaching (one form or another) for the next 20+ years, to ensure a stable family life. Now I was being thrust into morphing into a third career. Somehow, I found my way into the world of high-end plumbing. But I had always wanted to go back to writing.
My motto became “There are no small articles!” Four years later, I’m happy to say, I’ve had “lines”, “blurbs” and, thanks to a passion for cooking, many recipes published in major magazines and a major newspaper. I’ve also been lucky enough to be part of a couple of major magazine articles. I started my own blog, which I update on a weekly basis. No, I do not earn enough to give up the day job, but that’s more than okay, I’ve found I actually enjoy faucets and fixtures. My “spin” hasn’t made me rich or famous, but it has made me both healthy and happy. My family has been supportive. In fact, my husband is the person who told me my idea for this article is one I should pursue, that it would make an encouraging “read” for many women who are at a crossroads of one kind or another. My daughter has my blog on her list of favorites and said she didn’t know I could be that funny!
In researching the “spin” factor on making a new life, especially when you are past the age many employers feel they want to take a chance on, I have talked to some wonderfully interesting and brave women, women who, by want or need, have found that you don’t have to settle for “lemonade”. Here are three who have been kind enough to share their “lemon-coconut bar” stories: (In the interest of privacy, names have been changed) Teresa, 49 Former career: Customer Support Account Manager New career: Massage Therapist Reasons for change: Tired of downsizing in the tech companies she worked for. Also she recently married a gentleman who had retired, so working 60 hours a week wasn’t practical. Teresa decided that working for herself may not pay as much but it was far more rewarding. Being a planner, she researched the time and cost of schooling and saved enough to take the required year off from work. She put her finances in order with the help of her accountant and made sure her husband’s health benefits would also cover her. Her family and friends were supportive and she had many willing volunteers on whom to practice! The outcome, Teresa loves being her own boss. With a little planning, she takes vacations when she wants and works the hours she prefers.
She loves working in a room filled with quiet music instead of a tension filled office with over 20 people on conference calls. Her feeling is “what more do you need in life besides your health, a happy home life and food on the table, with a little time left over for fishing, hiking and spending time with your family?” Kim, 50-ish Former career: teaching New career: opened her own Events-planning business Kim decided at age 40 that “my life sucked”. She hated teaching, was unhappily married and didn’t even like her friends. She decided it was “now or never” to have a happy life. She asked her husband for a divorce. “It really wasn’t that bad, we had nothing left in common but our 2 kids”. They have remained very close. Friends resented her for leaving, as they were the “fun” couple. New friendships had to be developed. With a communications degree in hand she started her company. With each decision, Kim decided she was getting stronger and ready to take on more chances as they presented themselves. This included falling in love and marrying a man fourteen years her junior. They have had two children of their own.
Kim feels her biggest obstacle besides blending two families was overcoming her fears of letting someone else be responsible again, at least partly, for her happiness. Her children range from 5-23. Fast forward ten years, she feels her life is as close to perfect as anyone can expect. “Once I took that enormous leap of faith, I NEVER looked back” Finally, we have Sarah, soon to be 70 Former career: retired freelance writer and developer of supplemental curriculum materials New career: Newsletter editor and publicity person for her church. Sarah felt she was in a rut. She felt herself “slowing down” both physically and mentally. Her energy was so low she decided to re-evaluate her life and step into some new activities. When she and her husband joined a new church, the opportunity to do the congregation’s newsletter piqued her interest. She had long wanted to write another column (the previous one was as a drama critic) and this would give her the chance! She found herself eager to handle the job and try new things. Far from being too much, she found herself excited at acquiring the new skills (layout and PR work) needed for the position. Her writing, always good, began to sparkle-and she was being complimented by people whose opinions she valued.
She has begun writing articles again and submitting them to magazines and papers. There is more Sarah says she wants to do. She feels “young” again and loves it. Her invalid husband actively encourages her to take on more and more. “While this is normal for him, I suspect an added dimension in that he sees it as improving my life when he is no longer with me.” The rest of her family has also been supportive-many read everything she writes. “All think what I am doing, is right for me, that I’ve found my niche”. Starting over several times in one’s life has become so “normal” there are people who have made a career out of showing both men and women just how to do so. They call themselves “life coaches”. They help their clients’ form and shape new and realistic goals. To find information on how prevalent this situation is I Googled “women over 40, starting over”-a vast display of over 10 pages of specific websites came up for me to weed through! All of them dedicated toward coaching women on how to attain new loves, lifestyles and careers. Walking in to several books stores, I found there are areas dedicated primarily to helping women in transition in both the book and magazine sections. At the beginning of this article, I alluded to the old saying about taking life’s lemons and making something more unique than lemonade. Many, many women find themselves with a huge basket of “lemons;” what they decide to do is up to them. Some will decide that there is nothing wrong with a nice tall glass of ice cold lemonade. Others, however, will look for ways to make lemon-coconut bars.