Reinvention over 50: About Owning Your Story
Never too Late
I'm actually over 60 and on my seventh calling. This is how I have viewed all of my assignments along my career trajectory -- as callings. I've always believed my life has a purpose bigger than myself.
This time, my calling is in the sacred realm, which feels like a natural culmination of my professional, personal and spiritual experiences. I am pursuing ordination as a minister in the African American Episcopal Zion church. As an aside, it is the church of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and an ongoing host of men and women of God dedicated to salvation, justice and freedom for all people.
I am also an entrepreneur as an executive coach and personal branding and business consultant. I've been a social worker, newspaper writer and editor, PR leader and marketing executive. Through my many life and career changes, I gained invaluable insights and lessons in the art and management of transition, reinvention and branding.
See Yourself as the Protagonist
Face it. Change is never easy. And admittedly, transitions over the age of 50 present some unique and daunting challenges. But they also offer some of the most exciting and satisfying opportunities of a lifetime.
Learning to step back and observe yourself, the roles you've played, and the work you've done as if you are watching scenes from a movie or novel help you begin to see and understand yourself as the leading character in your own story. Framing yourself, your experiences and milestones in terms of a storyline is a clarifying and grounding exercise, especially when the future appears unclear and uncertain. It prompts you to create narratives that define who you are, identify where you've been and envision what might be next in your plot.
Perhaps you've been a teacher, a nurse, an attorney, the head of a nonprofit. Maybe you've worked in a position, at the same company, or in the same field for a long time. Moving on is not cut and dry. In fact, it can feel outrageously strange. To add to the uneasiness, we live in a culture in which people invariably identify themselves and are identified by what they do, who they know and what they possess. When we leave our old identities behind, the transition period brings losses and mourning. But it also opens new windows of opportunities to courageously reexamine and explore our true selves.
Questions we might consider include: What gives me joy? What is my purpose? What do I do better than anyone else? What skills do I need to work on? What are my priorities? What do I value most? Remember, you are more than a job title, the list of your accomplishments and performance appraisals. You -- your unique characteristics, personality, style, skills and habits -- are the essence of a meaningful and worthwhile brand and story. Your story is the heart of your personal brand. It tells the world who you are and what you stand for.
Your Story is Your Roadmap
The process of creating your story clarifies and reaffirms your experiences, life credentials, expertise and the value you bring to the world. It helps you see your transition in its positive light and imagine new possibilities. As you embody your story, it helps you further define yourself and build confidence. This is key, especially during unplanned or unforeseen transitions such as when you unexpectedly lose your job or you discover one day your position is being downsized.
Your life story serves as your roadmap. Another way to look at it is as a blueprint, providing clues as to what direction you may want to head. Questions to consider are: What do you need for the journey ahead? What do you already have? What don't you have and what do you need to do to be better equipped?
You're Not Alone
The transition phase of reinvention can feel like a lonely place at times. Many of us Baby Boomers are still breaking new ground in this area as many of us lead healthy, productive lives and define aging and retirement on our own terms.
Just remember you are not alone. As younger Baby Boomers and Gen X continue to age, people over the age of 50 are expected to be the largest demographic in America by 2024. With the rapidly changing economy and major shifts not only in the job market but in the way we work, many of us older folks are leading the way in rewriting the story of aging in America. Organizations such as AARP , local community senior centers and agencies on aging provide helpful information and resources for older adults navigating life, career and retirement transitions. Your church, faith community and wise friends can also be sources of the encouragement and support you need in your seasons of change.
[Photos: My story in headshots through the decades in descending order, 60s, 50s, 40s, 20s]