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Three years ago almost to the day, I returned to work after being a stay-at-home wife and mother for more than a decade. My marriage had abruptly ended about a year earlier, even though looking back I realized our relationship had begun unraveling long before that.
Newly separated at 39, I suddenly faced the daunting prospect of earning a salary. Though I was granted limited duration alimony and child support as part of my divorce agreement, I needed another source of income to meet my monthly expenses as well as secure my financial future. More than that, after putting my career on hold while my then-husband built his own, I wanted to return to work, create a new life, make my own way and become successful.
The question was, how?
With my ex-husband permanently residing in Asia, I received full physical custody of my three children who were 11, 10 and six at the time of my separation. To reach my goals, I knew I would have to get creative. Thankfully, when first starting out, I received a piece of valuable advice, which I now credit to the success I have achieved to date. That advice was to become an entrepreneur.
My mentor was right. Where I once aspired to be a professional writer, I am now one today. I am also a business owner and lifestyle editor at Worthy.com, the premier online auction house for selling pre-owned diamonds, all by-products of the thousands of hours I invested reinventing myself after my divorce.
But success didn’t come easy. Seeking entry into this field at mid-life meant competing with established professionals or those much younger than me, many holding a degree in journalism or another directly related course of study, an experience-rich resume to support their interest, and the freedom to work long hours in an office away from home. Though I majored in English during college, my graduate degree was in law. Still, I had never worked as a lawyer, which left the onus on me to show the world where I fit in careerwise.
Soon-to-be-divorced with no readily available employment prospects, I embraced the challenge of creating the career I always desired. Undeniably, I was scared. Why wouldn’t I be? Starting over isn’t easy. Neither is facing rejection and the possibility (and probability) of failure. But I pushed forward anyway. Here’s what I told myself as I did.
1. You’re not getting any younger.
I am the first to say the years go fast. When I tell people my age, I often feel like I am referring to someone else. But I digress. I wrote my first article and essentially began my second career as a writer when I was 39 years old. At 44, I now have an extensive list of publications attributed to me, and a fast-growing business to show for all my efforts. If I hadn’t gotten started then, I would still be five years older but at the same point in my career that I was five years ago, which was nowhere. Time is, as they say, of the essence, so the best thing to do is take a first step, however small, and begin today.
2. You’re experienced.
We can gain work experience in places other than an office. The years I spent at home as well as in an alternative career gave me a unique set of skills that, when strategically packaged, enabled me to distinguish myself from my peers. Instead of discounting the years I spent parenting, running my household and volunteering, I inventoried them. What I ended up with was a resume I could grow.
3. You’re older.
I always loved the line in the 1990 film, Steel Magnolias, when Truvy, played by Dolly Parton, said, “Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.” I know it’s hard to believe, but the aging process can be a good thing in terms of your career. When I founded my business and started attending networking events and meeting with prospective clients, I began experiencing pangs of self doubt. Who would take someone at mid-life first starting out seriously?
A lot of people, that’s who. There’s much to be said for being one of the oldest people in the room and the credibility you receive at face value simply for not being young. Those who don’t know you yet assume — whether accurately or not — that you have acquired knowledge along the way. In other words, you have their ear, at least for a moment. It’s next up to you to prove them right, which brings me to this.
4. You’re wiser.
With age, comes wisdom (hopefully). For me, I had already failed countless times in the past and knew what it’s like to get up and start over. Following college, I pursued a career path that wasn’t right for me. I accepted jobs I didn’t like and, as a consequence, didn’t excel. My divorce, which has undoubtedly been a difficult life change, is no different from any challenge I have faced before, except now I have more mistakes to reference, evaluate and learn from.
5. You’re bolder.
Because I had failed and succeeded so many times before, I knew firsthand the risks — and benefits — that can come by taking a chance and putting myself out there. As a child and young woman, I was debilitatingly shy and therefore didn’t take as many risks as I do now. When I initially returned to work, through sheer will, I overcame my shyness and sought out opportunities from anywhere I could, often for no pay just to gain experience. I told myself that the worst thing anyone could say to me was no. The surprising part was that most of the time, I heard yes. All I had to do was ask.
6. It’s your time.
Sure, I spent my top earning years at home raising my children, time I can never get back. And that’s okay. My husband and I together decided I would become a stay-at-home mom, and it’s a decision I don’t regret. But now that my kids are older (16, 15 and almost 12) and more independent, I have additional time, which I am claiming as my own. Today, I am more than halfway through my child-rearing years, and pretty soon my two older children will be off to college, which means with fewer distractions I can dedicate myself to another endeavor. A new career is as good an effort as any.
7. You need to.
In my case, working is not only a matter of want but also a matter of need. Kids cost money. So do I. Not to mention, I enjoy a particular lifestyle. Rather than give that up as a result of my divorce and admit defeat, I prefer to work hard instead. In the words of Plato, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And I am living proof of it.