My midlife career crisis

I thought as a woman in her early 50s, I didn't stand a chance. I was wrong

A very old friend recently asked me what my plans were come September 2022 when our daughter will go away to boarding school, making us “empty nesters”. Was I excited at the prospect? What were my plans?  Was I going back to work?  He had inadvertently hit on a bit of a sore spot.

I had been asking myself the same question for some time, but I did not have the answers. It was bothering me. I told him that in an ideal world at the ripe old age of 51, I would love to reinvent myself, do an interior design course or go back to university and study Italian literature again.

However, I explained, these were pipe dreams being both expensive and somewhat whimsical. I simply could not justify the cost of a course with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. I needed a more direct plan of action. I told him I had started an online digital marketing course to boost my skill set. If I am completely honest, I was desperate to say something that might impress him, and to show a bit of flair and initiative.

In the end I decided to be completely frank with my old friend as I value his advice and judgement greatly. I told him I was consumed by self-doubt and anxiety. I wanted to get back into work, but who would want me?  The digital whirlwind of the last decade had transformed my old stomping ground (marketing, PR and comms) into a completely different planet. My I.T. skills would need refreshing, my social media knowledge was next to nothing. What could I possibly bring to the table that some bright young thing couldn’t do better and faster? As a woman in my early 50s surely I did not stand a chance.

With all this said, I was desperate to prove myself again, use my brain, be creative and add value somewhere.  I just did not know where to start.  He told me to focus on myself, that this was a chance to do something I really wanted to do and to take heart. He reminded me that I had stepped aside professionally speaking to settle in the family when we moved back to the UK from Madrid eleven years ago.

I reduced my hours to work part-time. I bought a couple of dogs (my beloved whippets, Kipper and Dash).  I got stuck in and eventually I gave up work altogether about four years ago. The job I had been doing at that time had changed its remuneration plan, and I was no longer earning enough to justify the commitment to the job and the behind-the-scenes logistics at home to fulfil the role. I fully appreciate that I was very lucky even to have the option of working part-time. It was a privilege to be there for our children, to turn them into decent, likeable, hard-working and compassionate human beings. I am so proud of them, and I cannot wait to see the direction their lives will take. But as my friend was keen to point out, the family dynamic was changing again. I needed to see this as an opportunity and embrace it, not fear it.

In the new year the conversation with my friend came back to haunt me again. Christmas was well and truly over; my older children had gone back to uni. My youngest was back at school. The house was very quiet.  I spent a few days on the internet searching for recruitment agencies that specialised in jobs for women.  I found many interesting resources, but not the job boards or roles that I was hoping for.

As my husband was more aware than anybody of my self-doubt and worries, he offered to put a post on LinkedIn to ask for some pointers. What transpired was the most beautiful message in support of me and other women in my position. It highlighted my skills and the value I could bring. It referred to my career break to support the family and how he wanted to see me working again in something I loved.  That it was my time.

What he wrote clearly resonated in spades with people in his community and beyond. One week later his post has received over 100K views, nearly 900 “reactions” and over 300 comments. I have been overwhelmed by people getting in touch with offers of help and support, and even companies approaching me with openings at their firms.  And it turns out that this is a great time to be embarking on a reboot.

Flexible hours are increasingly becoming the norm. Part-time hours are not frowned upon, but ageism is. “Returners” are a thing, and it seems that I am one of them. Companies are going out of their way to accommodate flexible hours especially for working women. They are rolling out “returner programmes” that will re-train mid-lifers like me, bring them up to speed with tech and fast track them into jobs within the host companies.  Returners are now valued as professionals for their soft skills, emotional intelligence, the ability to read people and multi-task. Companies want to harness the insight and wisdom that come only with experience and age. They place great value on all this, hence the investment in returner programmes.

So what am I going to do with all this incredible support and advice? I have started with my thank you’s.  I believe that good manners go a long way, and that they are fundamental to building sound relationships.  I am accepting offers to connect on LinkedIn and having as many conversations with different professionals as I can. Talking about my goals, interests, past experience, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes is really focusing my mind on what I want to do and what I would like to achieve.

In the process it is also honing my so-called “elevator pitch”.  Apparently we need this!  I have been advised to set job alerts with recruiters and join specific professional groups on LinkedIn as these are great for networking.  Conversations with The Return Hub, Women Returners, MiGrowth and Da Cunha Advisory have been so helpful.

The process has made me more aware of what I need to brush up on (mainly I.T.), how to improve my CV and the advantages of gaining a place on a returner programme.  Specialist platforms aimed at mid-lifers, women returners and job seekers offer a wealth of knowledge and support, so I am busy signing up to their newsletters and registering for their events, many of which are free.  The content on these platforms is honest and insightful, written by professionals from all walks of life who want to inspire and empower their audiences and put an end to the stereotypes surrounding mid-life women in particular.  It is so refreshing.

I have loved discovering and feeling part of this new movement. So, if you are reading this, and you can identify with my situation, do ask your friends and families for support and advice. People like to help, and you just never know which doors may open for you. Spend some time on LinkedIn. Accept all offers of a friendly chat. The more people you speak to, the more you will learn about how to embark on this next chapter and the opportunities that are out there. You will gain focus, optimism and positivity which I was sorely lacking just a week or two ago.

I thank my husband and all the wonderful people on LinkedIn who have been kind enough to stop whatever they were doing and an extend a friendly hand of support.  I am now confident that something will come from my search and I am finally looking forward to the next 20 years of my life and it feels good!

Alexandra Gauvain


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