How Women Should Plot Their Careers After 50

Instead of viewing work as 'a job,' take these steps to forge your future

by Kerry Hannon • Next Avenue
career management venn diagram image
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

Although I make a living writing articles, blogs and books about personal finances and work, my first job was selling Avon products door-to-door.
 
It wasn’t easy. I had a pit in my stomach each time I showed up at someone’s home. I calmed my nerves, reminding myself that it was only a summer job and that I wasn't planning to have a career as a salesperson.
 
Why Every Job You’ve Had Matters
 
But was my work as an “Avon Lady” just a job? Or was it part of my career path?
 
What I know now, at 52, is that a career is a lifetime of jobs and that every job you snag is meaningful — if you see it that way.
 
(MORE: How Women Job Seekers Can Beat Age Discrimination)
 
That brings me to my advice to you: Every woman, regardless of how many decades she has been working, how much longer she plans to earn income and the job she happens to have at the moment, must be at the controls of her career. That means learning and growing from every job along the way and in the future.
 
As much as I disliked selling lipstick, moisturizer and bath oil door to door, the experience taught me lessons that I apply directly to my work today. I learned, for example, that there’s no harm in asking (a lesson that has helped me squeeze raises from employers). I also learned how to face rejection, something we all confront periodically.
 
Today, I’m constantly selling myself, my expertise, and yep, my books. (Did I mention that my latest one just came out? It’s Great Jobs For Everyone 50+.) Thanks, Avon!
 
The Career Mistake Too Many Women Make
 
I’m sorry to say that many women I meet in their 50s and 60s have stagnated career-wise and lost their zeal. When I ask others how things are going now that they’ve returned to work after raising kids, they shrug and say, “It’s a job.”
 
But today’s 60-year-old woman might wind up working at least part-time for another 15 years, figures Marc Freedman, author of The Big Shift: Navigating The New Stage Beyond Midlife and founder and chief executive of Encore.org, a nonprofit that promotes second acts for the greater good.
 
(MORE: Brain Science Shows We’re Wired for Reinvention)
 
“That changes the entire equation about what you want to do, what’s possible to do,” he says.
 
I think it’s also a pretty good argument for finding ways to expand and embrace your career. (Incidentally, Freedman’s group today is honoring five extraordinary women and men over 60, winners of the 2012 Purpose Prize for their extraordinary work as social entrepreneurs.)
 
Tips From Author Kate White
 
For smart career advice, I interviewed Kate White, 61, former editor of Cosmopolitan and author of the new book, I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know.
 
Why is it important for a woman who has been working for three or four decades to keep managing her career path?
 
You must always manage your career and be its relentless architect or it can slip away from you.
 
It's important to realize that you may be vulnerable at this time. In a tough economy, bosses look at your income and ask if someone younger could do it almost as well, but cheaper.

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