Don was a customer of mine 20 years ago. I was a National Account Manager for MCI/Worldcom. Remember them? (Bernie Ebbers, Enron era, cowboys and charlatans galore) and Don was an IT Manager for my largest account, a large, well-known Denver-based company.
(This piece was originally published by the Making Aging Work and is being republished with permission.)
Don was my favorite customer: likable, knowledgeable, a doer, and supportive.
I left the craziness of Worldcom just before it went “poof” and I lost touch with Don. When we reconnected, as a result of him reaching out to me as a recruiter because his job had been eliminated, I found out that the dozen or so years that transpired had been very good to Don, culturally speaking.
He had moved up the ranks to the department’s top spot as VP, Information Technology.
High profile, high intensity, high salary, high stress.
Until, one day, on short notice, it wasn’t.
Seems new ownership and top management had their own person in mind for his job. A younger, lower-priced model.
Heard that one before?
Don was on the street in his mid- 50’s, and with no severance. Funny thing, lifestyle overhead doesn’t stop when the paycheck suddenly does.
Another mid-life casualty of M&A and ageism.
I recall a coffee meeting at Panera shortly after his termination to kick around whether me helping with career transition coaching made sense. Don forged ahead on his own. We reconnected by phone a few times following that meeting and it was obvious that the big title, high salary and some gray in the beard was making it tough to come anywhere close to what he had before.
Job search scorecard
No surprise, Don kept meticulous records during his 7 ½ month search:
- Applications submitted: 239
- Interviews: 10 (mostly phone interviews, including conversations with recruiters)
- Networking meetings: lost count; significant contribution to Starbucks and Panera bottom line.
- Participation in executive outplacement group: good people, little help.
- Offers: goose egg; nada; nil; nein; zip.
If you’ve never been in an executive job search in your 50’s or later while being “gainfully unemployed”, you might be inclined to scoff at those numbers and say “this guy didn’t know how to network/interview/sell himself, etc.”
You would be wrong.
I see it a lot. Don was experiencing a malady common to seasoned execs at that age and salary threshold.
Don shared that the many, many hours, days, weeks, months of applying for jobs, interviews and receiving rejections really worked on his psyche, kicked his tendency to worry into high gear and brought him to lows he had never experienced. These were the hardest and darkest months of his life.
His wife, Diana, became concerned that there was no joy in his life – this is a man with deep faith.
And then Montrose happened!
For you flatlanders and non-U.S. readers, Montrose is this terrific town of 22,000 on the “western slope” of Colorado.
I know the town, having been there several times to visit the Montrose hospital, a client of mine. I have felt for years that Montrose is one of the best-kept secrets in Colorado. Surrounded by Colorado’s most beautiful mountains, an hour from Telluride skiing, fly-fishing in your backyard, several highly-rated golf courses in town or close by and just generally a clean and very friendly community.
I was shocked three years ago to learn that Don had applied for and accepted a position as the Information Technology Director for Montrose County, a county with fewer people than the Denver suburb he and his wife, Diana, had left.
Right in his technology sweet spot; not exactly a resume enhancer (culturally speaking, of course).
He seemed happy when I contacted him a year or so into the job. When I reached out to him again just this month, that “happy” had evolved to “ecstatic”.
That “ecstatic” might be hard for most of us to comprehend because the job involved a 75% salary cut and a “downgrade” to a relatively “plain Jane” title (culturally speaking, of course).
The huge salary cut, fortunately, still left them at a salary that supports a comfortable lifestyle in this smaller, less expensive community.
A powerful “second half” story
Don and Diana’s story has “feel good” throughout.
- Don is satisfying a long-held interest in community and long-term strategic development. He’s now checked that box. He’s involved in Economic Development, opportunity zone, and Social Impact community planning projects; he sits on the historical landmark board. More community involvement to come.
- The positive social impact of this new phase has added to their mental health. They’ve deepened their church involvement – Don leads a men’s bible study; they are involved in youth ministry; Diana does a bible study in a homeless shelter.
- High stress to no stress. Don is sleeping through the night – a new experience.
- Quality of life has gone up by “several magnitudes.”
Retirement? Maybe, maybe not.
I asked Don what their views were about retirement. He emailed his response from Denver prior to them boarding a flight to Maui.
Not surprisingly, their views of “retirement” have changed since Montrose happened. Years ago, he and Diana (a breast cancer survivor) had planned to retire at 65 and stayed committed to that goal financially. It’s interesting to note that were they to retire at 65, they could do so at a higher monthly income than what they have now, even planning in healthcare costs.
But it doesn’t sound like it’s going to happen that way. I’ll let Don’s own words sum it up:
“Given our current situation, where we live, how much I enjoy what I do and the ability we have to contribute to our community, both through my job and through our volunteering at various organizations, I intend to continue to work for as long as I feel I am making a significant contribution to the County. I love working for the County and making a significant difference both within my official job responsibilities, but also just with my involvement with all aspects of County Government. As long as I can add significant value, I intend to continue working. My job responsibilities may expand beyond IT over the next year or so which excites me greatly as well. You know what they say, “When you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life’. That’s me right now.”
Montrose gained. The Vareys gained by setting aside cultural expectations, comparisons, competition and are proving that mental, physical and spiritual health blossom when a servant’s mindset takes hold. Shoulda, woulda, coulda disappears. Life takes on a daily meaning, lives are touched and transformed and second-half wisdom takes root.
The impact of being an outlier is once again confirmed.
And a community and a family get better.
This post was written by Gary Allen Foster. Gary is an executive recruiter, retirement and career reinvention coach, writer, and speaker. He is an over-70 “portfolio-career” guy and audacious ager dedicated to helping folks in the over-50 crowd adopt a new perspective on how to live longer, live better and with more purpose in the second half. He coaches, speaks and writes publicly on the issues of mid-life career transitions, planning for purposeful retirement and achieving better health and greater longevity.
Find his thought-provoking articles and get a copy of his free ebook entitled “Realize Your Full-life Potential: Five Easy Steps to Living Longer, Healthier, and With More Purpose” at www.makeagingwork.com.