Friday, March 9, 2012

Midlife Reinvention Not Easy for Oprah


O Magazine was started twelve years ago. How many articles do you think Oprah Winfrey has published about reinvention? Yet it seems even for the Big O, it's not that easy. (Boomers everywhere hide a half-smile of schadenfreude.)

Used to be the only time we had to invent ourselves was in our late teens, early twenties. "What are you going to do with your life?" was the big question. Now we have to recreate ourselves every decade or so due to job insecurity. Capitalism depends on creative destruction, and the United States is the envy of the world in the way our CEOs can toss workers into the garbage whenever the balance sheet needs more black ink.

Most of us are vulnerable. We're the little guy, Joe Employee. We don't have much power, unless you're one of the few remaining union members and even they are pretty much toast. Witness the tens of thousands of highly trained and educated teachers who stay home every day, losing their edge as opposed to educating the next generation. But I digress.

Little Guy, take heart. You're not alone. It seems Oprah is flailing about in her new life-phase. (Warning: mute this article because otherwise you'll be force-fed an annoying commercial.)

Apparently Oprah's reinvention has hit a rough patch. Her new cable channel is sucking wind. I feel her pain because I've been there, stepping off the cliff from where you are golden into a place where you are tin. You feel as if you're twenty years old again, but not in a good way. In your new incarnation, you have little power or authority, and must slave away to rebuild it. But this time you're forty or fifty or sixty or more.

In my late forties, I left a profession in which I'd established a twenty-seven year history and threw myself into freelancing. After ten years of trying and failing, changing my mind, feeling lost and/or depressed, wasting time, wasting money and learning things I'll never need, I've finally figured out my new career. Apparently I'm a teacher and a writer. I'm so happy, it's obviously the right choice.

From my new vantage point, I'd give younger people this advice: think of yourself as a small business. You may have to reshape it or carry it to an unexpected place, but this will be less jarring if you plan for it. What would you do if you were suddenly tossed from your current job?

Burnish that business called You, Inc.

WHILE YOU'RE EMPLOYED, learn everything you can, network with those who can further your career, keep your eye out to alternate but related industries, think of side businesses you can build in your spare time for emergency cash, and save your money. Living within your means is the ultimate power over the unpredictable future.

For the older people, my peers, this is something you've already discovered. If you need tips from your contemporaries about reinvention and finding work in mid-to-later-life, here are several:
I wish you success and contentment, and I hope you'll take some comfort from knowing that the great Oprah is struggling, too.

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