Chapter One: Do You Need a Career Makeover?
Maybe you've had something like this happen to you. Rifling through some old magazines, we came across a 1999 issue with Sophia Loren on the cover. It seems this sex siren, who dominated the silver screen with her perfect cheekbones and don't-mess-with-me attitude long before the current crop of nymphettes could even pronounce "Marcello Mastroianni," can still make grown men want to catch a one-way flight to Naples. At age sixty-five, Sophia Loren had just been voted "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World." Great...but we have to say we have mixed feelings. The good news is that Sophia beat out the young babes like Elizabeth and Julia and Cindy. The bad news is that we know in our hearts that we're never going to look like that. Not now. Not ever. Never going to have cleavage like that. Never going to be able to cook pasta like that. And we are certainly never going to feel so secure that we could marry a man three feet shorter than we are and never blink an eye. Ever.
And so it is with careers. We know you're reading about women in midlife who are becoming CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and "dot-coming" their way into the cyber club and saying "Great," with that same feeling in the pit of your stomach that we had when we saw Sophia Loren on the magazine cover. You're thinking: It's good that women are advancing and moving up the ranks, but these are other women. I'm never going to have a career like that. Never going to have an opportunity like that. And I'm never going to be able to retrain, reeducate, remarket myself to a fabulous career. Well, we're here to tell you you're wrong. You absolutely can.
Don't forget girls, who we are and what we're made of. We're the generation of women who fought to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and pushed the Supreme Court to define sexual harassment as employment discrimination, thus making pinching our tushes at the watercooler not only rude, but illegal. We're the women who pressed for the Family and Medical Leave Act and established Emily's List, who wore our hair parted down the middle and subscribed to Ms. Magazine. We're the women who founded rape crisis centers and turned Our Bodies, Ourselves into the feminist Bible. We're the women who changed things. Hardly surprising, then, that women-owned businesses are employing more and more workers in this country and around the world, or that now, with thirty years of activism behind us, we are in a position to become career activists, proactive women capable of reinventing ourselves and following our dreams.
But wait. What's that you say? Even knowing you're made of the right stuff, you're still feeling burnt out? Always reaching for those Hershey's kisses and trying to hide those little pieces of tinfoil? You're brunette and you want to be blonde? You're blonde and you want to be brunette? You're thinking of renting a house in Tuscany and studying Italian? Or renting an Italian and studying in Tuscany? Here's the real clue. It's time to change your career when you talk to someone who is passionate about what she does, and you're more jealous than when your neighbor bought a sports car convertible but you couldn't because it didn't have a roll bar for the kids.
Staying on the proverbial treadmill may be providing you with security, but chances are those golden handcuffs may also be giving you insomnia and an out-of-control craving for chocolate (or you are like Pamela who had stopped eating altogether). Wouldn't you love to have a career that you could devote yourself to, that turned you on and put fire in your belly instead of the Hershey's kisses? It's not too late.ar
Stop stressing. All of these feelings are part of our midpoint plateau, our spiritual way station. We're at a point in our lives where reflection and reevaluation are part and parcel of who we are.
For many years we've been on track -- the career track, the fast track, the mommy track, or the running track to lose a few pounds -- and haven't stopped moving. Well, now it's time. Time to step off the track and take stock of our lives. Time to ask some hard questions. What do we want to do for the rest of our lives? What do we yearn to accomplish? To enjoy? What's our contribution? Our legacy? We don't want to waste what time is left. And what's left is considerable.
All that rabbit food and soy milk have transformed us into bionic women who are living well into our eighties. Those of us in our forties and fifties have a good twenty years of professional life remaining. So if we don't find another career to occupy us, we're going to spend way too much time at Starbucks with the newspaper and cappuccino (triple grande, nonfat) trying to resist buying the cinnamon bun.
HOT TIP: Remember, the one-career woman has become as obsolete as the woman who owns only one black jacket.
We're raising the standard for what women in their forties and fifties and sixties are expected to accomplish. Many of us feel much younger now that we're older. Over two million women will turn forty this year. We've had our kids later and our cosmetic surgery sooner, and we are healthier and better educated than ever before. We wear lots of slimming black and don't think twice about taking pills to lower our cholesterol and increase our sex drive. We're getting older but we don't look it. And for those of you who still want to argue that a woman's life is over at fifty, we have only two words for you: Tina Turner.
Elaine Kaback, a career counselor and one of our colleagues, often counsels women over thirty-five who are looking to reinvent themselves. "Women come in," she explains, "wanting to get definition in their lives. They're not asking 'What should I do?' They're asking questions like 'What do I stand for?' 'What has meaning for me now?' Now that we've taken off our rose-colored glasses and replaced them with bifocals, we want a sense of worth, of contribution, and productivity."
As Barbara Dixon, one of the women you'll meet in our book, says "When you're a woman in your forties, it's easy to be taken seriously. It's not 'Gee, honey, get me a cup of coffee.' People are more willing to listen to what you are saying. You have experience."
HOT TIP: Age is really on our side.
That experience has really built up our Rolodexes, so there are lots of people to call for help. We're not shy. We know time is at a premium. And we know how to pull out all the stops. Denise Jackson, a woman who has had four jobs in the last decade, tells us all to relax. "There is a freedom in being forty. I can say what I want to say. I have enough life experiences. I don't fear failing. I know how far I can push the envelope. The older I get the more I love life."
And the older we get the more we want to savor it. Renée Fraser, a woman who started her own consulting business in her late forties, says moving into another career gets easier as you get older. "Your values change. Your quality of life becomes more important. You don't want to sacrifice everything for a promotion like you did in your twenties. Age gives you the maturity and wisdom to become more persuasive in business. Age gives you credibility. It gives you confidence -- without having to flirt."
We are doing well in today's market because we're great communicators and even better collaborators. We know how to mediate and negotiate in a world where young women -- and men for that matter -- like to win. We are an asset to companies in which young people are often in over their heads in the area of people management. We are loyal. How do you think we survived all those years of sharing bathrooms with our husbands, overtime during the Stanley Cup, and streaks done with silver foil? Loyalty is important. It's also one of the biggest problems in American business today, because the employee retention rate is at an all-time low. It's as if the workforce is holding the career remote and changing the job channel every time it gets bored.
The process of finding another career is not as mysterious as it seems. As you will read in our next chapter, there are ten basic steps to transforming your professional life. Like anything else, you have to start with how you feel about yourself and your attitude about the world and the people in it. After defining what you do best and learning how what you've done in the past can apply to something you want to do in the future, you have to research every aspect of your chosen profession and know everything about it. Then you have to market who you are. If you want to move beyond where you are, you have to show off on the job -- always doing more than the job requires, always keeping an eye on future trends. Of course you have to network, find a mentor, and volunteer; but most important, you have to let go of worrying about what other people think of you. Some of your friends and family members may not want you to change. They'll have their own reasons. Everywhere you go there will be men and women who are waiting for you to fail. Don't let them mistake you for someone who gives a damn.
We come from a long line of gutsy women who refused to give up. Through hard work we received the vote, the birth-control pill, and Mrs. Fields Cookies. Florence Nightingale established a nursing school when she was forty, and at age forty-two Rosa Parks refused to walk to the back of bus and started the civil rights movement. Julia Child coauthored Mastering the Art of French Cooking just months before her fiftieth birthday, and may we say, her recipe for coq au vin is divine. Beatrice Wood became a ceramist and potter in her forties and developed a renowned career in the art world. And in her eighties Jessica Tandy won her Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy. So what on earth are you waiting for? Study our Ten Commandments for Career Makeovers. As George Eliot said, "It's never too late to be what you might have been."
Copyright © 2001 by Pamela Robinson and Nadine Schiff