About a year and a half ago, my dream job abruptly ended. I left tenure-track academia for this opportunity and took on a mortgage in the ‘burbs with my family. Fifteen months later, I was out of work: my position was terminated and half of our income was gone.
I can report that I have had a hard time in the job market since: I have garnered fewer interviews than ever before. I could add I am not taken as seriously, being a woman in my mid-40s. I work as a front-end creative director who creates branding and interactive designs. I always found this industry to be hard for women to stay in as they age or have children. I always assumed if I kept learning and experimenting, I’d find work and somehow escape the trend.
I have decided to age up into my current life and future roles. I have perspective and history, I am leading with it. I am not hiding my age, dyeing my grey hair, or obscuring my graduation dates. This will absolutely limit my options in the current job market, but they already are. Why should I add obfuscation to my work load?
I am not alone. I know many who round themselves down to fit the market: students of mine decide to use "white-sounding" names to help them get picked for jobs on a regular basis. In the past, I encouraged others to not list their home addresses to hide any damnable detail and increase their hire-ability. Friends made at job-seeking groups coach each other to appear to be wildly up-to-date on every trend. We all feel forced to conform to a system that finds us to be unworthy.
No. NO!! To hell with that, and to hell with businesses which hire that way. My wife and I have a little room for me to struggle and evolve. I am building my own opportunity and then I am creating more for others.
In this Year of Yes, I am forging a business with no money by designing for clients, producing content, making art, and teaching. I have stopped applying for jobs and begun to construct my own. I have a luxurious scrap of clarity where I say, okay, go ahead be biased, person over there... NEXT! I am not leaning in, I am aging up.
HUGE AND NECESSARY DISCLOSURE:
I am not speaking for people who are in dire straits and I must been transparent about that. I am privileged in my middle-class white suburban existence. What I am doing is not open to all although it should be. Please feel free to comment at length on what you are going through, I want to listen and lend you support.
I have a dear friend in her mid 50s who is the most determined and clear-sighted leader I have ever encountered. When I met her, she had just been denied a position she richly deserved yet she chose to continue to serve the institution. She did not flag even as the situation became less and less tenable. She never let the job claim her quality even when our boss refused her the respect she had obviously earned. She pursued the goals at hand and did not let the constant noise of others' underestimation get in her way. I will ask her again how she came to this miraculous stance–when she told me before, I was not quite ready to listen. I was too busy trying to make myself fit the game at play and then reap the rewards I thought would flow.
I think, with my choosing to age up, I am finally ready to hear her. I certainly want to be like her, fierce and unbowed. I want to keep growing and creating chances for others who have immense potential. I want to bring all I have with me as I move in my career so I can serve more people better. I will never be able to do that if I keep trying to pretend I'm someone I am not.
To those of you winnowing out people like me from your hiring pool: keep your bias. Lean in on your own narrowing game. I and (so many others) can create my own path in the full light of day. We are finding each other and growing together. Who knows? One day, I may be interviewing you! I know I will give you a far fairer shake, and THAT makes my struggle worth it.