Redundancy after 50: The scrapheap isn’t the only option

March 2nd, 2013 - By Sue Plumtree

Written by friend and passionate Redundancy Crusader Elaine Hopkins, this blog looks at the full and rich life that can be yours if you’re over 50 and have been made redundant.

Being made redundant at any age sucks. If it happens to you when you’re over 50, it really sucks. I should know: it happened to me when I was 55, after 35 years in corporate life. I was arrogant enough to think I’d never experience it. I was wrong.

Since that fateful day in June 2010, I’ve spent a lot of time with redundancy. I’ve undertaken interviews and research, written a book about it, morphed into the Redundancy Crusader, and am constantly refining my thinking.

You can find my top five redundancy survival tips here. This blog though concentrates on another five: my latest insights into redundancy after 50.

1 Employers get things wrong – repeatedly

Employers aren’t infallible. Their history demonstrates this. In 1985, Coca-Cola, one of world’s most successful brands, turned its back on a tried and tested formula and launched ‘New Coke’. Consumers reacted as though an American icon was under attack; within three months, the original formula was back on the shelves. We may not be back on the shelves, but I do think there’s an interesting parallel here. In recessionary times, it’s all too easy for employers to regard older employees as experienced, expensive – and expendable. More fool them.

Yes, we’ve been made redundant. All that means is that our employers have no further use for us. And they’ve probably made their decision on very limited information. Let’s remember that redundancy applies to a job, not to us as individuals and certainly not to our life. Our task at this point is to re-invent ourselves post-corporate life. What shape that reinvention takes is – depending on circumstances – largely up to us: semi-retirement, portfolio career, volunteering, entrepreneurship.

2 We’re far more multi-talented and resourceful than our employers – and we – realize

If we’ve been in corporate life for decades, then we may well have got into the habit of reducing ourselves down to the tiny part that used to make a regular appearance during our working life.

Think about your CV for a couple of moments. How good a representation is that document of the real you? Now’s the time to find out. Take a pen, paper and some time, and write down all your other roles in life – apart from your job: parent, sibling, best friend, lover, carer, enthusiastic amateur. Once you’ve identified all the roles that you fulfil so well, stand back and take a look at them. What do they say about you and your abilities? Is there a common thread running through the how, why and what of your daily activities?

If you’re struggling with this, then ask for some external feedback. Identify between five and eight people who know you really well and ask them to jot down what they see as your unique abilities, your special qualities. To make the results as rich and revealing as possible, pick people from different areas of your life: family, old friend, new friend, colleague, gym buddy, fellow club member. If my results were fairly typical – which, of course, they may not have been – then you’ll read some things about yourself that you’ve always known and some that come as a complete surprise.

3 Let’s get a balanced perspective on the past….

I think one of the reasons so many of us find it hard to come to terms with redundancy in later life is that we tend to view our corporate career through rose-tinted spectacles. It did, of course, provide us with much to be grateful for (money, security, status, friendships, personal development, to name but a few). However, in common with much else in life, it probably wasn’t a completely positive experience.

The other day, I recreated my daily cycle ride to work for a television programme in which I was participating. It made me realize just how often I’d cycled those ten miles with a sense of dread in my heart. I didn’t hate my job by any means, but there were numerous aspects of corporate life that I found difficult, distasteful even.

For many of us, our corporate career may even have involved some sacrifice. How many of us have missed important landmarks in our family’s history (nativity plays, prize-givings, celebrations) because we were too busy working?

Bronnie Ware, a hospice nurse, has written a moving piece about the most common regrets of the terminally ill. Care to take a guess about the top two? Yes: not living a life that was true to themselves, and not working so hard. You can read the full post here.

4 …and an open perspective on the future

At our age, we’re probably not destined to return to corporate life. But haven’t we spent enough time there already? Let’s focus on what we could do instead. We’ve already begun to build up a picture of ourselves in our entirety, so what are we going to do with it? Great question, and I think the key here is to be completely open.
Give yourself permission to dream. What would your contribution to life be if all things were possible and you knew you couldn’t fail? Next, let yourself drift back in time. Re-connect with your childhood self and with the dreams, ambitions and passions that you had then. Are they evident in your present, or are they present only as a largely unacknowledged emotional tug of what might have been? If they’re still important to you, set your unconscious mind the task of considering what role they could play in your current circumstances.
Finally, imagine you’re ten, 15, 20 years in the future, look back at your life during that time and ask yourself:
How do I wish I’d been in that intervening period? How would I like to have shown up in my own life?
Again, ask your unconscious mind to consider the possibilities of how you could bring those desires into play in your life.

5 Let’s make the most of what we’ve got

Our employers may have put us in the ‘not wanted on voyage’ camp, but we absolutely don’t have to agree with them. They can’t consign us to the scrapheap; only we can do that. I’d rather we didn’t though because I believe we still have a valuable contribution to make.

Not only do we tend to be well educated because we benefited from a rigorous educational system, we also have a lot of experience and self-knowledge – and these are qualities that simply can’t be taught – or indeed learned – from a textbook.
Moreover, there’s never been a better – or easier – time to start experimenting and to get ourselves out there.

If we want to write a book, we can self-publish; if we want to share our passion, we can start a meet-up group; if we want to appear in our own videos, we can have our own You Tube channel; if we want to meet like-minded individuals, we can join a Linked In or Facebook group. I’m doing all of these things; so are many of the people I’ve coached.

For all of us, being made redundant in later life felt like the end of life as we’d known it; it turned out to be the beginning of life as we’d never known it.

Elaine Hopkins aka The Redundancy Crusader is a redundancy author and activist (www.redundancycrusader.co.uk)

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