It is not easy to be in your 50s and find yourself stuck in career quicksand. The gap between college graduation and the present is so wide that you are not even sure how so many years suddenly passed you by and your career has more holes than the proverbial Swiss cheese. In my case, motherhood, being the official spouse and living in countries where I was legally not allowed to seek employment unless it was volunteer work or pro bono, racked up several years. Life experience and insight doesn’t count one iota when submitting your CV these days, and it is obnoxiously frustrating.
Age discrimination – a lot of companies and recruitment agencies claim that they do not discriminate against gender, race or creed, but in practice there is widespread age discrimination. The chances of an applicant in their 50s shifting careers getting the job is zilch compared to a young urban professional with a fancy new degree fresh out of university. One look at the age that begins with 5 and you won’t even make it to the interview round in order to explain those magical gaps.
The middle-aged deserve a break too – the new graduates all wail that the employers demand previous experience in the field, which is impossible for them to provide since they were in university the year before. In a similar manner, the applicants over 50 who have no MBAs or PhDs to flaunt but have all the experience in the world don’t get a fair shot a the job either because they are no longer deemed viable or worth investing in. Here’s the thing, it is precisely because of the life experience and life skills that you don’t need to train them that much anymore.
Citizenship matters – Back in 2017 when I first arrived in Berlin and was job-hunting, being a newly-arrived foreigner with no European degree sent me to the bottom of the pile and I couldn’t get a foot in the door. Four years later the situation in Germany hasn’t really improved. When I left the IT world last year I wanted noting more than to return to development work and serve in humanitarian work and poverty alleviation. Becoming a German / EU citizen suddenly offered a host of options, since many of the jobs that interested me required German or Swiss citizenship. Still, that wasn’t enough to get a foot in the door, because I ran into the same career gap issue and then the age factor. Damn it!
OK, so maybe the universe was sending me a clear message and telling me that development work was in my past and should remain there. My calling, apparently does not lie in the crisis centres of Colombia, Venezuela, Afghanistan or Sudan. So now what? When I read through all the blogs on advice for changing careers in your 50s, the fundamental question is what do you really want to do?
Back to the drawing board – I took a good hard look at my life, my skills, and my passions. What do I want to do? Well the answer to that is easy: write and photograph. I want to spend my years doing what brings me the most joy applying the skills I am bloody well good at, but how the devil do you convince the headhunters and employers? Today alone I received three rejections from headhunters in Spain and Germany who have no clue what to do with me, because of my age and because I don’t fit in the neat box of finance, IT, sales, marketing, science, or medicine. I am so sick and tired of being told “we regret to inform you that we have nothing that suits your profile.”
Re-branding – I spent the last 10 days re-branding and launching, taking decisions that will invite old ghosts from the past, but at the same time take me down new paths. Believe me when I say that I am exhausted, frustrated, and have absolutely no clue where any of this is going. My tax accountant is going to hate me next month when I submit my tax declaration. Each year she hopes that I return with the exact same pile as the year before so she can breeze through it all, and is incredibly disappointed when I show up with a whole new pile and completely different tax profile.
Re-launching – For the first time in my 50+ years I submitted my CVs to headhunters around the globe, in the fervent hope that they will help open the doors that I can’t seem to find. So far I’m batting 0 for 0, but it’s too early to tell. In the meantime, I tweaked my websites, have a look: HERE and HERE. The most satisfying step in this process was launching my Picfair store and having my images approved for licensing and sale, proving to myself that I’ve been listening to the wrong voices all along, and that I should have trusted my instincts earlier.
Am I scared of the changes? No.
Am I worried that none of it will work? A bit but it won’t be the death of me. I am a writer, not just an author so whether I sell my books or not, I will write until my dying days whether the world likes it or not.
I’ll be damned if I let age discrimination and career gaps get the better of me and prevent me from fulfilling my dreams. This is a shoutout to all headhunter and recruitment agents out there, the over 50s career shifters deserve a break too, not just the high flying executives or managers with uninterrupted career paths.