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Re-invention offers rewarding answer to the Great Recession

by Alan Markow, published

It was 1972 and I was coming out of the Navy with the hope of entering the civilian workforce.  It took me a couple of months to find the right position and begin what would be a 30-year career in corporate communications. 

But through the entire search process, my mother-in-law (who loved me dearly) kept showing me all the ads in the newspaper for jobs at McDonalds and similar work.  I knew that taking such a job would limit the time and energy I could devote to a serious job search, and once I had an offer in hand, my mother-in-law agreed. 

It’s easy to hold up the want ads in the newspaper, compare it to the unemployment level, and wonder why people don’t just take whatever job is out there in order to feed their families.  It’s academically satisfying to discuss the macroeconomic theory that jobs in one part of the country should be treated as opportunities for any unemployed person anywhere. 

But people looking for real jobs understand the realities of the marketplace.  When there are few jobs and plenty of available candidates, employers can pick and choose, can raise standards to unheard of levels (how much education does it take to flip a hamburger?), and can call almost any candidate for even the most basic job “overqualified.” 

I’ve personally been overqualified since I turned 60, but I've learned that a little creative reengineering of one's work and life can go a long way toward coping in this tough economic environment.  Three years ago, my wife and I realized that our retirement savings were in jeopardy and we’d have to cut back to survive.  One of the aspects of our life that we considered abandoning was skiing, which is on the upper end of the expensive scale. 

On a lark, we decided to visit the employment fair at our favorite ski resort.  Management wasn’t concerned about us being over-qualified (no qualifications were required), and age wasn’t a big factor because they needed to balance a very young work force with some gray hairs.  We both ended up with job offers.  The pay wasn’t so hot, but the skiing was free.  We were on Medicare, so we didn’t need the minimal medical benefits available to part-timers. 

We’re about to enter our third year of what we now consider new careers in the ski industry.  We’ve both been lucky enough and worked hard enough to receive promotions, and my wife has recently become certified as a professional ski instructor (Her inspector couldn’t remember certifying anyone her age before).  We love the work … we love our bosses … and we love the young people with whom we work.  They make us feel young and vibrant every day, and they’re always asking us for parent-like advice.  We think we’ve got a few more good years of work in us, and we hope to ride out the current economic downturn with the additional income. 

We’re also acutely aware that not everyone can take the kind of approach we’ve chosen.  We were lucky enough to have a place in ski country where we can live in the winter, and to be close enough to our full-time house to get back if we need to take care of maintenance. 

But the creative nature of our job search is applicable to anyone.  Choose an area that you love, that hasn’t been your lifelong vocation.  Go in at entry level.  Work hard and carve out a place for yourself in the system.  And enjoy every minute of it. 

The formula is not magic, nor does it require an economics degree from Harvard.  But it’s out there.  And at our age, it’s very rewarding.

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