Editor’s Note: In “Fifty-Five, Unemployed, and Faking Normal,” Elizabeth White offers advice to those baby boomers who are on the edge of financial ruin. Making Sen$e published an excerpt from the book last week in which White tackled the need for broke baby boomers to say goodbye to magical thinking and face reality. We have a second excerpt below on how people in this demographic can take the first steps toward getting back on their feet. For more on the topic, tune in to tonight’s Making Sen$e segment, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour.
— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor
You never drank $12 dollar glasses of Chardonnay or used valet parking. You don’t know those people and don’t want to know them. You haven’t worked steadily in two years — maybe longer. You’re beat up. Shell-shocked. Weary to the bone. You’re juggling paying your utilities and buying your prescription meds. You scraped together this month’s rent, but next month will be dicey — beyond dicey. You’re only one payment behind on your car. They won’t repossess it for that. Thank God. A nice account rep agreed to payment arrangements for your mobile phone. You know your ass is showing if your phone gets turned off. The last letter from the IRS was certified. You need a payment arrangement for your payment arrangement. You still owe your sister from the last time you borrowed money from her. You’re so close to the edge… you hope you won’t kick the pebble that launches the avalanche.
Clawing Your Way Back
When you’ve landed here, what’s the play? When nothing works anymore, what do you do? When you’ve forgotten who you are and what you know, where do you begin?
You start with the tiniest step. Life is a series of choices. Each day you are presented with hundreds of opportunities to act or not act. You make choices. You choose. Clawing your way back is choosing to do a little more each day.
Depending on how bad things are, starting might just look like brushing your teeth and washing your face. That’s all. Or maybe you put on clean clothes. You shave. Or you wash the dishes in the sink and do nothing more.
And if those steps are too big, start smaller.
It’s shocking to be here. I know.
It never occurred to you that no one would hire you. You’ve never had trouble landing a job before. Now getting arrested might be easier than getting an interview.
Colleagues who could help you don’t lift a finger. Your anger gives way to resignation and loss. There is this slow motion dawning that the career you had is over. While you may still hold out hope for a job like the one you left, you know (and deep down you do know) that the longer you’re unemployed, the more unlikely that will be.
After sending about 50 (or maybe 100) job applications without getting a response, you start to question everything.
Some of you have shared staying in this limbo place for a long time, with sadness and loss tipping into depression.
Making sense out of all of this is a process. There will be good days and some very bad ones. It’s disconcerting to be suddenly on the outside looking in at “normal” with your face pressed up against the window. You will feel unmoored if you’ve always belonged and your sense of who you are is tied up in your job title. And now there is no job title and no job.
Here’s what I know after talking to lots of people: The only way through this is through it. There’s no cutting across the grass.
Being part of a community can help. Find a tribe. Find a Resilience Circle — a place where you can confide in others who are on the same road. It gives you an opportunity to get out of your head and away from all that negative self-talk that’s wearing you down. Being heard by people who are facing what you’re facing can also lessen your feelings of isolation.
And if you’re in an emotional free fall, your Resilience Circle can help you get your bearings and take those first few steps back from the abyss.
It’s a beginning to build upon.