Tough Love For Unemployed Job Seekers Between 30 And 50 Years Of Age
WARNING: This article may challenge you and your view of the world, read at your own risk – it is for information and inspiration purposes only! Real situations will be discussed so you can learn how other people have used these techniques and achieved results!! You can then find the right resources to help you on your journey.
This is the stage in your life when in theory, you can ‘ have it all.’ Why then does it so often feel like it is ‘ all wrong? ‘
Our modern society and our cultural heritage usually convince us that by the age of 30, we should be doing this or have done that and if we haven’t, something is wrong with our life.
You may have had a lot of success or you may have had a lot of perceived failures, but the reality is, that from the age of 30 onwards, most individuals will have a sense that they need to ‘grow up’ a bit and perhaps do things how they ‘should’ be done.
But all too often, there is an inner voice that says, but hey, what about what I want? Isn’t that more important than what everyone else ‘wants’ for me?
If you find yourself in this age range and ‘unemployed’ (or even underemployed), you can start to question many aspects of your personal life and your work life.
I have heard all of the following:
- I am the ‘dumb’ one in the family, so that’s why I am unemployed
- I dropped out of uni, so it’s all too late now
- I know I need to have children, but I don’t want to give up my career
- I was in a long term relationship and they dumped me and now my life is stuffed
- I always wanted a child (or children), but now I miss my career
- I love my child (or children), but I need more than just kids and part time work
- My career was amazing, but I got sacked and now I don’t know what to do
- I have travelled the world and had an amazing career, but now that I am back home, I don’t know what to do with my life – it is so boring here
- In my industry, you are ‘too old’ by the age of 40, what do I do now?
- I am over the whole corporate thing and want to give back (but secretly I don’t want to give up the money)
- I was so exhausted working full time, I just had to quit. But it has been six months now and nothing has happened – what do I do?
- My work was my life, what do I do without it?
- I was treated badly and I had to leave and I am still going through the unfair dismissal, harassment, bullying or other process so I simply can’t concentrate on looking for work
- I keep applying for jobs but nothing works
- I have to look after a loved one and I can’t combine caring with a career
- I need a better paying job or more hours or better work but I can’t get it
And that is just a small sample. However, I do believe that some form of unemployment can be good for you.
By way of background, my own personal story is partly relevant here. I moved interstate when I was 28, got a new job and then fell pregnant. A few months later, I was sacked. So by the age of 30, I was officially unemployed.
However, I was actually very busy looking after my daughter and breast feeding and studying my university degree part time by correspondence and picking up small work gigs here and there. I was also managing all of this without any extended family support and only one real friend who couldn’t look after my daughter on her own for any length of time.
As my father had worked shift work and I would often not seem him for several days in a row, I made the conscious decision not to look for full time work. However, the sense of loneliness and diminshed identity was intense.
Up until this point in my life, I had a real identity and when I said I worked at Westpac (one of the big four banks in Australia), everyone knew what that meant. My friends and family were my perpetual mirror helping me verify my identity and make me feel as if I was important just for being Sue.
I spent three years reading books on finding your purpose, doing what you love, choosing your career etc and still, I had no answers. I had to develop my own system on how to choose my next job or career. Fortunately, that task helped me define my values and create a decision making framework that I still use all these years later (and recommend to my clients).
Making a decision when the options are limitless is difficult at best and impossible at worst.
Once you have a range of choices to select, you can be much more creative at finding a solution that works for you. You can also say ‘no’ when it is the wrong option.
The crisis didn’t end there. I kept studying and because I didn’t have any childcare options for ‘after school hours,’ I couldn’t work full time even if I wanted to. Sadly, my marriage of 19 years ended several years later so I also became a single parent. For four days a week, I was a parent and for three days a week, I was single. That really destroyed my identity, unfortunately, for the best part of 10 years.
But it did not destroy my love of learning and my desire to make the best of a bad lot. I chose to still make my children the priority and my work and income had to fit around that. For my sanity, I had to be intellectually challenged and I needed to create some sort of support network. Job sharing and part time career options were extremely limited, so I decided to utilise all of my budgeting skills to survive on a miniscule welfare-assisted income and I kept up my study, gig assignments and voluntary work (which I felt was a good ‘pay-back’ for the government funded income support I received).
Even during my worst emotional phases, the opportunity to mix with friends and people I saw regularly helped me cope with my day to day ups and downs. I now have an amazing small group of friends that keep in touch regularly and my sense of identity has returned. My purpose is in place thanks to the range of interesting work that I do. I still volunteer to gain experiences that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t do voluntary work. Finally, my health is fantastic thanks to regular exercise and a mostly okay diet.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that I have ultimately found what works for me.
Alas, it did not happen overnight and I actually did a huge amount of research, I tried heaps of things that didn’t work and I actually spent quite a lot of money on ‘healing’ services – including psychology, counselling, hypnotherapy, all sorts of alternative healing (including a weird energy related one where you make obscure sounds), different types of dancing, yoga, gym etc
I also made a lot of mistakes and I had to pick myself up and move on. At one point, I called my sister on the phone and she said, ‘Sue, just make a decision.’ At times, it felt incredibly hard to make a decision. At other times, I was gripped by the inability to do anything. I had in my mind what I wanted to do, but I physically just couldn’t do it (I now realise that was related to exhaustion and overwhelm).
What kept me going in my worst moments was little kindnesses. A smile, a nice gesture, a little moment of generosity of spirit, time or goodies. I had to learn how to rely on myself but I also had to learn how to ask for help (if I don’t ask people for help, I deny them an opportunity to give me help). I also had to learn to let go of attachments to outcomes. If I did this, I had to learn not to expect that. I could hope and wish (but that often led to wasted energy).
What I absolutely had to do was keep going and keep trying.
In my humble opinion, your mission in life is to identify your strengths and make choices aligned with your values (which I trust will be ethical). I also believe that there are opportunities everywhere – sometimes, you just need to dig a little deeper to find them.
Strategies for people between the ages of 30 and 50 looking for work
However, if you are stuck, for any reason, are between the ages of 30 and 50 and unemployed (or underemployed), I would like to share some of these strategies with you. More job search strategies that work are listed here.
Please remember that I am sharing them with you in such a way that I hope will demonstrate to you that there is plenty of hope and opportunity out there – the situation is never hopeless, even if you feel helpless.
Some things to think about:
It is not about your time having passed, it is about making the most of your time now.
It is not about wishing you had done things differently, it is about taking action to move forward.
It is not about comparing, it is about consistency of effort.
It is not about perfection, it is about starting and being willing to make mistakes.
It won’t be pain free, but there will be moments of joy.
If you can reach an optimum level of around 80%, that is still better than expecting 100%.
Ask yourself, will this choice, decision or moment be important in 50 years time?
Your goals may be different to other people’s goals. Anything that you do that takes courage to complete is a sign that you are moving closer to your goals.
If you make a bad choice, learn from it. Avoid repeating it. Do something proactive to help yourself.
Don’t judge others. They have their own reasons and motivations. They are not necessarily your reasons and motivations.
If you can’t accept what is happening, find ways to cope with what is happening.
In all likelihood, you are not the first person to have a unique challenge. There will be someone, somewhere, who has been through it all before and can offer some suggestions.
Don’t wait for the shit to hit the fan. Take at least one small positive step in the next 24 hours.
Four steps you can consider
Now let me be a little more specific. Here are four steps that you might like to consider taking.
1. Sort out your personal life
This could be easier said than done. Between the ages of 30 and 50, we start reviewing our life so far and realising that some of the things that have happened are good and some are not so good. We also start to try and define our own values (and stop living according to everyone else’s values), but working out what our values are and what are someone else’s values that we have added to our psyche can be difficult.
You may have relationships in your life that are challenging and that are congruent. For the challenging ones, I encourage you to learn more about acceptance rather than change. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with someone, but it does mean that you need to choose how you respond to their behaviour, comments or influence on your life.
Consider learning some assertiveness and resilience skills so that you don’t need to rely on your relationship or connection with a few people to ‘survive’ in the world. Start looking for some more ‘congruent’ relationships where the people you spend time with encourage and support you rather than criticise and mock you. Start seeing less of the people who are not congruent (but if they are important to you, still keep in touch in other ways – once you are more aware, you may be able to accept them later on). Listen to words of kindness and accept them graciously.
Don’t define yourself by your relationships. If you have a partner, identify ways that you can enhance that relationship, even if you are both very busy and have other commitments. If you are ‘unhappy at home,’ no job will ever remove that shadow in your life.
If your relationship has deteriorated already, start with small steps first. Avoid waking up and saying that today it is all over – quite often, that does not resolve any issues – they still exist even after you leave (but if you need to leave for safety reasons, be ready to utilise extra support).
Remember that you can influence others, but you can only change yourself.
Make sure you have a varied mix of friends and family members of different ages and backgrounds in your life. They can make life more interesting and enjoyable. Don’t wait for invitations, make them! If nobody is available and you want to go out, go out anyway. If someone is unavailable today, it doesn’t mean that they will be unavailable next week – so ask again or even several times. Avoid cancelling when you do make arrangements to meet.
2. Start making some realistic decisions
It may be too late to start studying to become a brain surgeon, but there are many things that are not too late to start. I never encourage anyone to stop everything and start something new tomorrow. I always encourage people to move forward by becoming more well informed.
Can you do some research into particular career options and find out the availability of jobs, qualifications required, experience needed, salary ranges etc? Can you speak to people who are already doing it (at least three different people) and gather some suggestions to consider? Can you do something on a voluntary or part time basis until you gain the confidence, experience or networks you need to go full time? Can you do a short course (even if there is a premium price) to get an idea if it really is like you imagine?
Deciding that tomorrow you will start a formal qualification that may cost you over $15,000 over several years in a new field is crazy, especially if you haven’t really understood most of what you need to know after completing the qualification. Find out the real content of the subjects, the support you will receive to gain real-world experience, the qualifications and abilities of the lecturers etc first!!! One of my friends who is in data science found out that a university master’s program he was considering completing was five years out of date!
One of my first job seeking clients was an Australian repatriate – she had been working overseas for many years and she didn’t know what to do now that she was back in Australia. I encouraged her to accept an ‘easy’ job first and to spend the rest of her time adjusting to the new version of Australia she had returned to. By doing an ‘easy’ job, she had enough money to pay the bills and the freedom to choose all sorts of other interesting new activities before or after work.
Interestingly, she enjoyed herself so much outside of work that she was automatically promoted and recognised for her abilities. We have kept in touch and she has adjusted her path several times along the way. She continues to enjoy amazing opportunities and she has achieved incredible success. I really admire her willingness to seek additional guidance throughout her journey and find out what her options are at each turn and receive assistance to make them a reality.
3. Find some practical and relevant assistance
If you are looking after children, loved ones or you have other demands on your time, find ways to have a break every now and then but also, complete some tasks more efficiently.
For example, if you are caring for a parent, contact the local carers’ association and learn some successful strategies and find out what other support services you can tap into.
If you crave some intellectual stimulation, consider some part time study or meetups that involve discussions on topics that appeal to you.
If you find yourself addicted to something, your mobile device, social media, food, alcohol, drugs, then start by reaching out to find ways to understand what is driving this behaviour and source effective techniques that work for you to resolve the underlying triggers.
Don’t beat yourself up if you are addicted to something. It often starts as a coping mechanism to help you deal with something (either conscious or subconscious) and a lot of people find that they are addicted to something but they still function in every day life. However, if your addiction is affecting your day to day life, perhaps now is the time to reach out and start getting some help – again, remember that others most likely have been through it too.
Perhaps you can’t make a decision or you don’t know what your options are? Perhaps you need some professional guidance from a career development practitioner? Perhaps you need a business coach or mentor to see your situation from a different perspective and either remove a blockage or help you get to a variety of solutions quicker?
I do not recommend expensive programs with a huge upfront fee. However, I also do not believe that one session, even with the best advisor in the world, will be enough. What you can do though is try and pay for one or two sessions first and find out if there is a fit between you and the other person and then decide if you would like to invest in a longer term program. I usually suggest that for significant change, you need to allow about two years, but for change to start, you need to begin as soon as possible and give it consistent effort. Ironically, in most cases, if the effort continues on a consistent basis, a lot of people notice a significant improvement within six months.
Ultimately, there are times in our life when we are dependent, independent and interdependent – all three are good options for different contexts, so don’t assume that you need to be independent all the time.
4. Be flexible and reflect on your achievements
It can be confronting when you start increasing your own levels of awareness, improving your assertiveness skills or accepting others when you never liked them in the first place. Life can be very busy for people in the 30 to 50 years old age range. So it sometimes feels quicker and easier to simply do the same thing rather than do something new. Again, you don’t have to change overnight.
You have probably heard the story about how a woman got tired of cooking the dinner for her family every night as she felt that she was never appreciated. By changing her perspective on it, she realised that she was providing an opportunity to nourish her family, spend time with them and have a break from her other tasks of the day.
The reality is that I don’t really like cooking on a daily basis either. However, my children often mention how much they would like to eat X or Y as they did when they were kids. I remember the long chats we would have either at the dinner table or on our walk after dinner. Now I realise that cooking dinner is not like finding a medical cure for a disease, but it is an important part of life and if you don’t like cooking, it is a daily achievement! I eventually worked out that I didn’t have to cook the dinner on my own, they could help – and now they can cook some food for themselves – another achievement.
On some days, getting out of bed, getting dressed and using multiple concurrent strategies for finding a job can be challenging. I usually suggest that you spend two hours a day, five days a week on the task. The rest of the time, try and find ways to maximise your time in productive ways – I guarantee that even working somewhere on a voluntary basis is better than staying at home watching a screen and it looks much better on your resume than ‘unemployed.’
Start documenting what you get done (and write what you need to do if that helps as well). You could find an accountability partner to encourage you to keep up your efforts to find the right career or business opportunity. This person can potentially remind you of what you are achieving, even if it doesn’t feel like much when you say it – but by catching up on a regular basis, you will see over time how you have changed.
Be willing to challenge yourself (in manageable steps) and even ‘reward’ yourself when you achieve certain goals. Perhaps doing some form of exercise (including walking), every day for seven days is an achievement. Nothing is too small. If it is big for you, even if it is small for someone else, it is a wonderful achievement in itself.
Ultimately, there are many other ways for you to source the right career or business opportunity in the future. I discuss these in my book ‘120 Ways To Attract The Right Career Or Business‘ which you can purchase online at https://120ways.com (digital copy) or https://www.bookdepository.com/author/Sue-Ellson (paperback copy). I also have a lot of free information available via the links below.
Ultimately, what you do next will be up to you. No time is ever wasted and it is never too late (even if it feels like it is). Be courageous, back yourself and keep moving forward – I know that you can do it!
For now, I am not going to tell you what you should do and I can’t watch you do it, but hopefully by reading this article, you will be able to pick and choose some suggestions that might work for you and you can implement within 24 hours!
If you think this article could be helpful for someone you know, please feel free to pass it on (but make sure you introduce it properly so that they don’t feel as if they are being judged).
And finally, I hope you have found this article worth sharing through your network and thanks in advance if you choose to do so! If you have any other ideas you would like to share, suggestions or challenges, please contact me.
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First Published: 16 May 2018
Last Update: 14 August 2022