Don’t worry. I’m not intending on going anywhere. I’m not expecting a visit from the grim reaper anytime this week. Nor have I found God. In fact, I generally try not to think about what’s to come once I’ve departed this mortal coil, although I’d like to think I’ll be spending eternity sat on a cloud playing the harp with an ill-fitting white tunic without having to worry about skincare and dieting. But I have got to that age now. That age where you become just a + in the drop down menu or it takes an eternity to scroll down to your birth year. That age when you realise it’s time to start thinking about Plan B. No, not the hip hop bloke from the noughties. He’s way too young and besides, he has no legitimate surname. I’m thinking about that time when you suddenly find you’re ‘no longer required’ in your current guise, but not quite ready for that ‘home by the sea’. You might have ‘one foot in the grave’ but you still have a big fat, freakin’ mortage! From October 2020 the State Pension age in the UK for men and women will be 66 as the government has now realised we’re all hanging around a lot longer than we used to, and many of us will need to work some way beyond. So no chance of feet up, light gardening and coffee mornings for me. As we hurtle like an out of control bullet train into our fifties, you can easily be facing another decade or two at work. Oh what joy!
I work in a pretty ageist industry. Experience counts for very little in the media. Anyone over 35 is a dinosaur from a land before time. And anyone over 45 is pretty much unemployable. So I’m on borrowed time here. I admit, I try and stay cool. I’ve got trendy glasses. I wear Converse. But the harsh reality is that I’m old enough to be most of my colleagues’ mother. I’ve got t-shirts older than most of them. And I don’t know how much longer I can get away with it before someone sounds the over 50’s klaxon and I get carted off by the nice men in white coats.
Anyway, this isn’t a piece about getting old again, even though it occupies most of my waking hours! It’s the dilemma we face when we’re clearly too old carry on with the job we’ve most likely been doing all our working lives, therefore we need to consider a viable alternative. Over the years, I’ve thought of many professions that will take me beyond my current working life and still earn me a crust into my later years that don’t involve me a) getting on the Central Line, or b) getting off the Central Line. I’ve done quite a few courses, read books and done lots of research in search of an after-life which I thought I’d share. It’s been mad, fun, pointless and typically ended up with me on the familiar road to nowhere.
So if you’re thinking of a new career path, here’s a few non-starters for ten:
Becoming an Aromatherapist. This seemed like a good idea. I liked the idea of working at home in a lavender-scented fug. So I signed up for a 6 month course in Aromatherapy and Massage at my local college. It was run by a nice chap called Bob who, despite clearly knowing his Frankincense from his Myrrh, was mostly dull and uninspiring. As is often found on these type of courses, a fascinating cross-section of the weird and wonderful general public, all searching for something new and exciting and clearly hoping to find it in Patchouli. But despite Bob being as boring as a box set of Friends, I signed up enthusiastically. I dutifully bought every essential oil there was on the market along with a shit-tonne of now dust-gathering books. It was all going quite well until we got to the massage bit. The theory was fine but the harsh reality of rubbing a sandalwood into someone else’s blubber really didn’t appeal. Some practical sessions followed with Bob demonstrating his Effleurage on a rather excitable older lady called Barbara, where we got treated to her clear lack of grooming. The novelty was starting to wane now. You clearly don’t know who’s going to walk through the door, do you. But the final straw came when we had to practise some reflexology. I have an irrational fear of other people’s feet at the best of times, so obviously I got the lady who was riddled with the bunions, cracked heels and fungal nail infections. Suffice to say I ran screaming from the room, leaving an exceptionally heady trail of benzoin and bergamot.
Journalist / Writer: From quite an early age, I wanted to be a journalist or novelist. There I’d be, writing pithy, political ramblings for The Times or a best selling thriller which got made into an Oscar winning film and starring Tom Hardy, mostly in a state of undress, directed by me. Or travelling the world, staying in luxury hotels, thanks to my editorial skills at Conde Nast Traveller. I did a couple of courses at The University of London, all of which were actually wonderful. One of my tutors was a lovely lady called Jan, a Canadian dance critique who was not just a great journo but also an amazing teacher. I once went to her flat in Central London for a tutorial. I’ve never seen so many books, folders, magazine and newspaper cuttings. There wasn’t a spare surface anywhere! I guess that shows a real writer. But suffice to say, nothing ever happened – or I suppose I never really pursued it. And there endeth the dream. Although I’m dead proud of my Squeeze concert review in the alternative fanzine c. 1984, circulation – 9.
Sub-editor. An 8 week course in spelling, grammar, editing and how to make a magazine page look nice sounded lots of fun. A career in publishing was definitely the way to go. Glamorous photo shoots, interviewing film stars and getting lots of freebies seemed right up my street. So there I was in a basement in a college in Notting Hill with another bunch of random folk all with the same pipe dream. It was fun, actually. But I soon realised that my colons really did need some attention and parentheses weren’t those 2 nice people that brought me into this world. And so there it also ended. My dreams of becoming editor of Vogue and yelling at flunkies to bring me skinny lattes while I flounced around Paris Fashion Week with Naomi and Kate was also dampened by the fact that, not only am I prone to inappropriate slashes, I know absolutely nothing about fashion and look terrible in oversized sunglasses.
Italian: I always wanted to learn another language. So I signed up at our local community centre to improve my Italian. I thought I could be a translator. Or a teacher. I’d scraped an O Level many years ago so I thought this might be an easy win. I actually managed a whole year and can now order a lasagne, a beer and comment vaguely on the weather. But teaching a bunch of mostly retired, hard of hearing locals didn’t really inspire me to pursue any sort of career. But I’m happy to report that, some years on, my gesticulating continues to improve tremendously and my pizza consumption is off the scale! So not a total waste of time I suppose.
Internet Entrepreneur: Yes I admit, I was seduced by a lot of the ‘I make £90k a week by selling videos of how to make £90k a week’ that appeared around 15 years ago once the internet really took off. You know, endless pages of smiling humans not really telling you anything but showing endless photos of them standing next to someone else’s Lamborghini or a massive country pile. You buy an ebook for a special price of £9.99 with tips on how to con other people out of buying an ebook for the special price of £9.99 and you too can own this Sunseeker yacht. I didn’t buy a book in the end but I did buy a job-lot of last season’s Top Shop bikinis, which I sold for a profit of, yes you’ve guessed it, £9.99.
Psychotherapist. OK, so a long time coming and a long way to go, but that’s what I’m doing now. I’m 18 months in and I haven’t given up. That’s some sort of record so fingers crossed I don’t. It’s wonderful and scary and probably a whole blog post which I’ll save for another day.
So if I don’t go mad myself trying to get through another 2 years of studying, essay writing and personal therapy, you may well find yourself lying on my couch in the not too distant future.
And my advice? If at first you don’t succeed, drink a bottle of wine. You’ll be amazed how little you care.
You’re killing me with how funny you are. 😂 It’s the people who are in the industries that are scary. And there are so many examples of people who are over a certain age who do well in industries where they don’t necessarily belong. I am sure that whatever you do, you will be successful.
A neighbour was employed as a daycare centre worker when she was in her mid-60s and she used to be a manager of a convenience store. They paid her a lot of money to quit her job and go work there. Do not. Give up.
When I was in my late 20s, 30 was the new 19. There was that problem with delayed adolescence in the early naughts. But the younger generation doesn’t perceive things in the same way.
Ah thanks for the kind words! And I agree, a lot of older people have a lot of transferable skills. Let’s hope those at the helm recognise that! Onwards!
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You are at the helm now. Right on, Captain.
What a great piece. I can certainly relate to the ‘owning t-shirts older than my colleagues’ and then there’s the classic ending to deliberating a dilemma… open a bottle of wine. 🥂
Thanks Robert. I find wine solves everything. Until the morning after ….
I never thought I’d be laid off again, after experiencing it 3x already in my 20s/30’s – yet it’s happened to me twice during COVID times. And I’m now in a stage of life, I refuse to dye my hair any longer. I deemed it a waste, since it never last 6 weeks, grays immediately pop back out and my scalp was overly-sensitive to the process. But in Southern CA, in any business, you have to “look” the part. So when we moved to Central Oregon, I was like natural is more acceptable here. I’m not doing makeup/hair any longer. But I didn’t bargain I’d be interviewing so much in a world where more people are unemployed than ever and they are all interviewing for the same jobs. I felt forced to dye my hair again, etc. Let’s face it – if a 20 year old interviews and has just enough experience or shows enough potential to learn….vs. the experienced (possibly over-experienced) old bag that just walked through the door… yup, good luck trying to prove age discrimination. Or you get hired on and have to work with a bunch of 20 somethings that expect to be paid to do nothing and are always offended by something or someone like me – the hard worker. (don’t work hard, you’re making the rest of us look bad.) I told my husband, yeah, I’m just going to work at Target next. I’m done.
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Well firstly, can I profusely apologise for practically taking a year to respond to this. I had a bit of blog-fear and buried myself in other things for a while. But this is all so true. In fact I get annoyed when employers post addendums about being non-discriminatory but we all know it’s totally BS. I guess it’s why I’ve decided to (try) and take matters into my own hands and branch out on my own, which is scary and exciting at the same time. Meanwhile, the freelance world here is pretty lively and so while I can claim experience and hide behind a computer filter, I shall continue to do so until I get rumbled. Again, my apologies for this terribly tardy response.