How I survived being a boomer, redundant and “overqualified”
When I entered the workforce in the 1970’s I was told I had a job for life. When I completed my nurse registration I was told “no one can take that away from you”. I was 21 and I already felt I would be comfortably employed until I reached the ripe old age of 65.
40 years of unbroken employment and I was living the dream. Then boom! I am 57, my job was made redundant and according to the feedback from recruitment processes I was “overqualified”. We all know “overqualified” is code for “too old” right?
Self-pity turned to anger and outrage at the ageism blocking my road to opportunity. As I wallowed in the maelstrom of emotions, it dawned on me that I had for the first time encountered an ‘ism”. My privilege which opened the doors to many opportunities had blinded me to the struggle faced by people who didn’t fit into the white male straight "christian" demography.
I assumed I won every job through my efforts, skills and smarts. If that was the case, why was I now receiving regret letters from employers? So, I am not the catch I thought I was.
Recruiters called and they massaged my ego to nudge me to apply for jobs only to fail to return my calls, ghost me or weave a story about how I had only just missed out because I was overqualified. I became a name they could put on a list simply to bulk up their recruitment brief to their paying customer, and nothing more. I was dispensable.
So, there was a choice for me to make.
Believe the system when it tells me that I am too old to be of value or reflect inwardly to dispense with the ego to really understand honestly my real value. Do I glide gracefully to my pension years or do I jump up and take up the challenge to never give up no matter how many times I get rejected.
Rejection hurts. Sometimes it would take days before that feeling of worthlessness would fade. I began to read books on philosophy and found solace in the Stoic literature. I was able to process rejection in hours rather than days and then finally found myself taking rejection as just a sign.
It became easy to just engage in a new Netflix series. Binge watch and become distracted. But I didn’t want this to be my life, so I decided to fill my days with discipline. I took up Bikram Yoga (became addicted), stopped drinking alcohol and reached out to people just talk over coffee.
Social media helped me network on a superficial level, but nothing really cut through like face to face interactions. I reached out with no agenda; the connection was the reward. The conversations, the ideas generated, listening with empathy and building trust was time intensive but it was giving me the energy to keep going.
I soon learned I wasn’t the only person to experience redundancy, to experience rejection and to feel unworthy to join the workforce. So many people have been in the same boat and they survived. They were stronger because of the experience and they had to reconnect with their authentic self and shed away the layers of BS narrating their story of who they were.
For me I am grateful for the experience. I am grateful for the people I connected along the way. I am grateful for the time they gave me to listen to my story and share theirs. I am grateful for the clarity I now have about my purpose. And I am grateful for being able to shed away some layers of BS I believed about myself.
I still lead a privileged life and I am thankful for that. I worried about running out of money and the consequences of a reduced cash flow, but I was fortunate enough to have assets to fall back on. This is not a hard luck story by any means.
But if there was one thing I learned; it is the importance of connection. It felt right to isolate myself from the world. Why would anyone want to hang out with me, the reject?
I am glad I resisted this urge and I am grateful to all of you who sat down with me over a flat white or two.