By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN
When Arlene* and I first met, she described herself as a 55-year-old nurse who was “washed up.” She’d been unemployed for a year, having been laid off because of budget cuts from her last job, where she had worked for many years. “In the past, I’ve always gotten every job I’ve applied for,” she said. “Now, no one wants to hire me because I’m old. I think it’s time for me to go out to pasture.” She was obviously in a deep funk.
I first reminded Arlene that the average age of nurses is about 48, with almost half the nursing work force being over 50. And while age discrimination certainly exists in our society, it is much less of an issue in nursing than she might imagine. Many of us, especially those of us over 50, get it in our heads that our age is the problem when we face obstacles in the job market. And since we can’t do anything about our age, we assume we are doomed to languish in obsolescence.
It was time for a reality check. Arlene was obviously feeling old and worn out, so that’s what she was conveying to the world. That, I suspected, was what was actually holding her back, rather than her chronological age. The truth was that she had much to offer in the job market: a diverse and extensive clinical background, a good sense of humor and a strong personality, even though she was feeling deflated.
I suggested that Arlene take a step back to refresh and renew before moving forward. We discussed the latest strategies for networking, self-marketing and finding opportunities. These included having business cards made, re-crafting her resumé into a more up-to-date format, and buying a skirted business suit for interviewing and for attending career fairs and professional association meetings.
We discussed how a new external image often leads to a change in internal image — better self-esteem, a boost in confidence, a more positive attitude and even more energy. And because changing the outside is sometimes easier than changing the inside, a new look would give her something to “grow into.” We also brainstormed about some new activities and experiences she could engage in to challenge her and propel her forward. We worked on a written action plan with target completion dates, and Arlene committed to step out of her comfort zone daily.
When I saw Arlene again she was a new person — both inside and out. She had a new hairstyle with highlights that brightened her face and, it seemed, her personality. She was wearing softer, more natural makeup and had replaced her eyeglasses with contact lenses. Her increased energy level was palpable. She told me she had asked one of her daughters to go shopping with her and help pick out some age-appropriate, modern clothing, and she looked great.
Zumba classes were now on Arlene’s weekly schedule, and because she had always loved to dance, they made her feel young again. She was also taking a class at the library on how to use social media and had already set up Facebook and LinkedIn pages. “I always thought this stuff was all stupid and only for teenagers,” she said. “But I must admit I am enjoying the professional connections and am surprised at all the interesting job leads I’m learning about online.”
Arlene had been on two job interviews in the previous week, and things were looking up. She had an unofficial offer pending reference checks, which she was confident would be great.
Change is scary, but without it there is no growth. Midlife can be the beginning of the end or a time for rebirth and renewal. After seeing it as the end when we first met, Arlene reinvented herself. She felt relevant, mainstream and modern — ready to get on with her life in style and with gusto.
* Name changed for privacy
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