One of the great things about blogging is the lovely people you get to meet. People who very often have the same outlook on life as you do, and are into the same sort of things. I’ve known Jo Williams for a few years online, and then met her in person at the Problogger Conference on the Gold Coast last year.
She is as lovely in real life as she comes across on her blog (you’ll find a link, and be able to read her blog, at the end of this post).
Jo offered to write a guest post about taking risks as we get older, not being dictated to by conventional thought, and reaching out to do our own thing.
Exactly the mission we have here at Lifestyle Fifty!
Here’s Jo’s story and her tips for ways to reinvent your life when one door closes … yep, it’s all about Lovin’ Life.
How to Reinvent Your Life and Work
It is nearly 12 years since I took a risk and left an organisation I had worked in for over 20 years. My experiences since this time continue to reinforce my absolute belief in the saying ‘one door closes and another one opens’.
I’m not sure how I ended up having a disposition with such a strong positivity bias, because I was raised to be a cautious and fearful child. But I’m very grateful that a transformation occurred somewhere along the way, because professionally it has enabled interesting possibilities and opportunities to come into my life, all after the age of 45.
This is quite interesting in itself because there is a lot of talk about ageism in our society, how no one wants to employ older people, how 40 is considered old by prospective employers and so on. This has not been my experience at all.
My story starts when I closed the door on a well paid job in middle management after making the decision that it was not in the best interests of my wellbeing to continue working for a large bureaucratic organisation.
When you notice that the organisation is draining your energy, as opposed to energising the team you manage and the challenging client group to whom you are providing services, it’s definitely time to move on. I did just that, with no job to go to, no plans, and no real idea what I wanted to do other than have a well-earned break.
Within 2 months I had achieved much of what I wanted to at home, and I started missing the professional contact and therefore thinking about what I might like to do.
Should I apply?
I had been on the management committee of a small NGO and was visiting the service in this capacity when I found myself in a conversation about upcoming staff changes. The director had resigned, and wondered if I might be interested in applying. I seem to recall that my response was something along the lines of ‘I’d rather eat broken glass’!
This was much more a reflection of my concerns about taking on another management job than my feelings about this particular position! The NGO also had a need for someone to do some casual relief work, and I remember thinking ‘now you are talking’.
I started the following week, initially asserting that I’d like to ‘just do 2 or 3 days per week’. I would not have guessed at the time that I would work there for over 4 years; 2 days would turn into 5 at times; weeks would turn into months; and eventually I found myself actually needing to schedule time off as I was so busy relieving everyone else that I was getting no breaks myself!
A spare time short term project
During my time in this position a chance meeting led to the offer of doing some sessional work for a university in my ‘spare’ time. This put me on their internal mailing list, and when I saw a really interesting short term project position advertised I knew that I had found the complete change of direction I was once again looking for. And so I closed another door and one more opened.
Toward the end of that project an opportunity came up to fill a course convenor role. The thought terrified me, but I was fortunate to have a supervisor who saw skills and abilities in me that I was unable to see in myself. I took the plunge, backfilled the position for 2 years, and entered what was probably a period of more significant personal and professional growth than I had ever previously experienced.
This door closed after 2 years when the position was finally filled, and sure enough another opportunity arose in the same school – a job that truly enables me to work to my strengths and my professional interests.
Keeping my options open
In all of this time I have not had a permanent job, and yet I’ve never been out of work. I’m not looking for a ‘secure’ position (and what is that anyway these days), and prefer to keep my options open and not be tied down to the one thing indefinitely. Many find this idea very unnerving and ask whether I worry about the ‘what ifs’. I always quip that as a social worker I know where to go to get emergency relief, free meals, and food vouchers, so even in the worst case scenario I’ll be able to get by!
I am perhaps fortunate that for more than a decade it has mostly been me closing the door rather than having it unceremoniously slammed shut in my face! This puts me a little more in control, however there are still some risks associated with choosing this lifestyle. Here are the views that I have found adopted and find helpful.
Tips for getting off the corporate hamster wheel
* Challenge yourself when you notice a strong negativity bias creeping into your thought patterns. This may manifest itself in the form of negative self-talk eg ‘what if I can’t find any other work’, ‘what if people think I’m too old’.
* Adopt an affirmation that is meaningful for you, and work at really believing it. It could be ‘the right opportunity will come up at the right time’ or ‘everything is unfolding as it should’. I also love ‘Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.’ I wish I had thought up this beautiful sentence, but must give credit to Ralph Waldo Emerson!
* Unhook your ideas about your own self-worth from others’ perception of what it is to be successful. The dominant thought tends to be that if you are not seeking to advance your career by moving into successively higher and better paid positions then you are not successful. It’s just as easy to be miserable in a highly paid job as in a lower paid one, and who knows, you may just find that the lower paid job brings greater satisfaction, less stress, and contributes to a better sense of wellbeing. Surely this must be a higher priority. Through my career I have gone up and down in pay and position. I really don’t care what other people think of this because my focus is on doing what I find interesting and professionally fulfilling. I won’t allow myself to be defined by others’ ideas of status and worth.
* Seek support from a professional mentor or good friend who is encouraging and supportive, and who can see attributes and strengths in you that you find difficult to see in yourself. Allow their belief in you to become your own self-belief.
* Rethink your lifestyle, particularly as it relates to the amount of money you think you need. Challenge the dominant paradigm of consumerism and the mindless acquisition of material goods, and reduce your expenditure. This is the best protection there is against fear of not having enough money. Think about the reality that the less work you do the less you often spend. You need fewer clothes and don’t spend as much on petrol, parking, eating out and takeaways. If you are between jobs, or working part-time or casually you have more time to spend growing things, which enables the grocery bill to be a little less because the garden is more productive.
* Ignore all of the ‘retirement’ (grrr, I hate that word!) propaganda about the astonishing amounts of money recommended before you can ‘comfortably’ step out of the paid workforce. Honestly, I have to wonder about just what sort of luxury lifestyle people are aiming for in later life. I have seen countless people hang on and hang on in jobs they loathe, chasing some magical figure that they consider will assure them of a ‘comfortable retirement’. When desire for money outweighs concerns for health, wellbeing, happiness and professional fulfilment, a good look at priorities needs to occur.
If a door has closed on you professionally I hope that my story and perspective will be helpful as you adjust to your changed circumstances. But above all I hope that, if there is a door that you know in your heart you really should close yourself, you will feel inspired to do so. Another door is there somewhere, and you will be okay until you discover it and push it open.
Thanks Jo! I know Lifestyle Readers will relate to your story and love your tips 🙂
If you’d like to read more from Jo Williams then make sure you visit her blog at Jo Simply Will where she writes about ‘Growing, Making, Baking and Living Thoughtfully
Have you taken the same path as Jo – would you? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments section.