About a month Before I was released, my friend and I were having lunch. She was a little older than me, and since she had just been fired, she was networking. I was just talking about the bro culture going on in my workplace, how frustrated I was with my boss – who commented on how they wanted to see me in Tutu that day – and how I was. Enough I told him I was looking for a new job.
“Marcel,” she interrupted. “Listen to me. This is for women our age. You are not looking for another job. Suck it up and spend the day without losing your job just like I did. “
My friend had issued a five-alarm warning and she was very firm; He resigned in such a way that in his 500s, one woman would not land another gig. It was a slap in the face to my system. I worked hard to get where I was and I wasn’t in a position to work – certainly not financially. I am a single parent who had a daughter in high school at the time. I am also the daughter of a taxi driver in New York City, who instilled in me a work ethic. My father drove his taxi until he experienced his first heart attack; I saw what unemployment did to him emotionally, mentally and physically. I don’t need that for myself. I was still healthy. I was still able. I was still valuable.
When I got back to my office, I updated my LinkedIn page, removing things I had done in the 90s. I was deleting some parts of my professional history, as if I was Botoxing my career.
I was unexpectedly removed later that month. Once I stopped crying, I updated my biodata, scrolled my contacts and got to work. Finding a job is a full-time job with many obstacles.
Looking for a job when you are in your 50s. One in five American employees is over the age of 55. You can’t collect Social Security until you are at least 62, and even then those payments are rarely enough to survive. I don’t even have a rich relative who is also a princess of Genoa who amazes me with a legacy of a bajilian dollar. So, like my father, I am determined to work until my body is completely broken.
Unfortunately, no matter how determined I was, or what I tried to do to get the job, I was unemployed for six years before I got the job.
In the “phase” of work in between, I emailed everyone I knew who the recruitment manager was. My emails were friendly and direct and they never expressed – not even in the subtext – how much I was deceived by the worry of being unemployed.
I ask them if they meet with me, hopefully the meeting will at least, participate in some independent work. I would repeat the mantras, “It’s no big deal for you to be 50 years old, you’ll connect with the recruitment manager and you’ll be hired,” and other small pep talks to boost my weak confidence.
“Oh, nice to see you,” if we met, they would say, “but I don’t have anything right for you right now.” Then they kicked me out the door. I shouted silently in the elevator. Each felt like a little knife.
One woman I worked with when we were both in her 20’s was hard at work. “People don’t want to see their mothers in the office,” she shrugged.
Hearing that, my inner heart turned black. Another unpleasant reality I encountered when I tried to cross the increasingly impossible barrier of finding a job was the ungrateful cousin of Lukeism, racism and ageism and sexism. What these women told me was that I was in the age of erasure, when women didn’t want to – personally or professionally.
Studies show that women experience a higher rate of aging in the workplace than men. And it’s not limited to the workplace. I see this in the dating apps that I find lacking in the matches I made there (until I reduced my age to 49, which, from personal experience, results in many games). I see this especially in the types of beauty products marketed for me – anti-aging creams and serums – thanks to algorithms. And I see it in pop culture and the lack of women over a certain age on my screen. Those who appear in movies, TV series, and news programs have a feminine face to their age. It all seems like an attempt to scare and frighten women in the suspension of youth instead of supporting and entertaining women as we age.
I don’t believe women in their 50s are NLSFW (no longer suitable for work); I think when we look for a job we can and should create our own degrading actions. In every interview, I challenged the institutional decay of ageism. I showed. I showed up with a smile, even as I confronted the abusive Barb, “You’re so established. How do you feel working with my kids?” Which I heard from a 30-something woman. Yes, sHe actually said it in his outer voice! I knew what the subtext of that comment was, and because I knew he would never hire me, I took the time to explain how progressive and inclusive the culture that embraced the multi-generational workforce was. I helped promote the environment in which I wanted to live. I felt very good after I gave that speech.
“Ignore how disruptive zeitgeist is” became my new mantra. Knowing that these companies – and how our culture – in general – and others like me made me feel less hopeless, was raising my middle finger. I may not get your stupid job, but at least I keep my word In You about it.
“I showed up with a smile, even as I confronted the abusive Barb, ‘You’re so established. How do you feel working with my kids?’ Which I heard from a thirty woman. Yes, she actually said in her outside voice!
The ethics of my work also helped me keep tethers on the ground and in self-motivated production. I started blogging. I was able to get a book deal for a small amount. During the epidemic, I (eventually) graduated from Baruch College, and I began my Masters in Women’s and Gender Studies. My plentiful output anchored me into the routine of leaving my apartment at 10 a.m. daily, as if I were going to the office, packing lunch, looking for a job, writing in a cheap coffee shop with WiFi instead of hiding, and staying busy. Around my apartment, terrified and stress-eating.
I also cut corners to save money. I reduced the size of my apartment, found a place that was 25% lower in rent per month. I got rid of the cable. I walked everywhere. I also have an ulcer. I experienced chronic insomnia and I cried – a lot.
Those were some dark years.
And then it happened, after six years of searching, meeting strangers, selling themselves. A job posting popped up on LinkedIn. I met a lot of people in the company and this was the first time that I really felt the team practiced diversity, equality and inclusion. Long after my interview, I received a call from a recruiter with good news: I got a job.
My daughter, now in her junior year of college, stood beside me when I found out. We both jumped up and started crying – you thought I won the lottery. And in every way except winning the real lotto, I think I did. My body – long-twisted into a knot – slowly opened until I stood up again. After many years of insomnia, I began to sleep well and uninterrupted. My eyes were really very dry, I had to use eye drops to lubricate them, and in some small way, that was also welcome. Employment relief is all inclusive.
I now work for a company that embraces a multi-generational and diverse work culture. Employees are thoughtful and accountable for the language they use. From the point of view of experience, we all agree to bring it to the table. I’m a mentor and I’m a student, constantly building on what I know, what I can teach others, and what I can learn.
I know how lucky I am – I’m lucky to have the experience and education and connections that most people don’t have. My daughter and my friends – I am fortunate to have a support system that helps me continue even when things feel unfathomable, unfair and unimaginable. And I know there are many others who are not lucky; Who did not meet the recruitment manager who “matched” them; Who worked as hard as I did and are still unemployed. Or, even if they land a gig, it may pay them less than they need to survive, or the benefits that make the employee’s work prestigious don’t exist. Ageism, genderism and racism are not the only battles we have to fight as we grow in our 50s and 60s – we have to fight a broken system that often doesn’t even value the work we do or the work we do.
Multi-generational staffing begins to integrate, in my recent experience, with HR teams, as they are the gatekeepers who take interviews and potentially reach the next stage of consideration for the position. When HR teams are not interconnected and multi-generational, progress towards diversity, equality and inclusion is halted and discrimination often prevails. Recruitment managers need to adapt to read resumes extracted from biographical details, so only relevant skills and experiences are visible. And once hired, workers must receive rigorous diversity, equity and inclusive training, so that everyone is valued and respected for who they are and what they bring to the company, and so that we all have micro- and macro-aggressions and how. They are disruptive and harmful to workers and the workplace.
Finding a job is a full-time job – especially because many arguments leave people in the cold, without even a chance to prove what they can do. I believe that our state of mind is our greatest asset in this challenging time, so my advice is to flex it. My sense of worthlessness strengthened my resolve, and I never gave up, no matter how difficult those six years were. I was constantly adjusting and re-adjusting my approach until it fit properly. I worked hard. I refused to disrespect – by anyone else or myself. And, yes, I was lucky too.
And I am grateful every day.
Marcel Carp grew up in Queens, New York, where she learned to drive her father’s taxi but seriously still can’t drive. She graduated from Baruch College with a degree in English Literature and is pursuing a master’s degree in women’s and gender studies. She co-founded a zine called BUST, Unlock is a consultant for every possibility, and she was at one time a yoga instructor, Reiki Hiller, a stand-up show producer, a corporate executive and a creative director. . Her favorite food is dark chocolate. She lives in New York City with her Instagram friend Pug, Rocky, and dreams of living somewhere on the beach with her. Her YA novel, “Getting Over Max Cooper,” is coming from Penguin Random House.
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