REFLECTIONS: You’re Never Too Old to Start Over

by Valerie Merritt

You can always reinvent who you thought you were to become who you were meant to be. 

A great deal of the direction in HR management, hiring and the workforce seems to lean heavily towards younger workers. Many companies today are hiring younger and often less experienced workers, trending toward the obvious upsides of lower salaries, healthcare costs, and flexibility. Many young workers are well educated, creative, enthusiastic, full of optimism…then real life creeps in. Quicker than you might think, five, ten, maybe even fifteen years have rocketed by at warp speed.  All the while life proceeds, as it seems to do—relationships come and go, marriages begin and end, children are born and grow, we hurt, we heal. Most of all, we survive, and sometimes we need to start again.

One can find themselves approaching middle age, or sooner, downsized, unemployed, with few prospects, feeling hopeless, alone, and at the end of our rope. Somehow we manage to keep smiling all the while wondering what went wrong and where we will find the strength to keep pressing, knowing that something has got to change.  

That’s where I found myself not that long ago: feeling a sense of hopelessness after losing a job that I really didn’t care for anyway, but knew that I needed. However when it was gone I didn’t know what to do. I asked myself, “how did I get here”? After doing everything that I thought was right—going back to school to get degrees, treating people well, praying and attending church — I thought, why me? Why now?

After a short depression threatened to overwhelm me, I made the decision to reinvent myself. I knew that I’d be competing against 20 and 30-year-olds who may not require what I did in terms of salary. Thus I began tapping into my strengths and God-given abilities to talk to people, help others and connect with the right resources. I shared my story with whomever would listen. I talked about my experience of being fired, feeling embarrassed and the fear of losing my home. I shared how difficult it was navigating through such a flawed system known as the unemployment office. I also began to shift my thinking and started volunteering and serving as counsel to those who were in the same situation I was in. I advised folks on who to talk to, what questions to ask and what documents to have available. 

I joined groups and associations that didn’t require a fee and started helping people to structure their resumes and prepare for interviews. I enrolled in free workshops and created everything from cover letters to press releases. I even drafted a letter to help someone get out of jury duty, and believe it or not, it worked! Additionally, I trained people on the best interviewing techniques and advised on how to dress for success. Before I knew it, I had started my own consulting firm, VDM Consulting, all as a result of tapping into skills I hadn't realized were marketable.

Because I ignored self-doubt and head chatter and decided to shift my thinking and make the decision to change (which can be difficult for some) the right opportunity was presented to me. Now at 52 I have a career that excites me. I’m doing something that I love and am glad to get up every day doing it. I get a chance to do great things and work with some amazing people, all while making a difference in the lives of others.

Some may ask, why share my story now?  Well, that’s simple—because I believe that someone needs to hear it. There is so much turmoil going on in the world that we need to be encouraged and know that everything will be alright. Furthermore, I believe people need to understand that they can always reinvent who they thought they were to become who they were meant to be. Learn how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, even in the most trying times, and reinvent yourself—no matter your age.  You are never too old to start over!

I read a quote once by the singer Vivian Greene in which she said, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” May I have this dance?

Valerie Merritt serves as Executive Assistant to the CEO at the Campaign for Black Male Achievement.