A cartoon in a recent issue of New Yorker magazine succinctly sums up life for the aging baby boomers. The illustration is of a suited man talking on the phone and seated at a corporate desk. It's the caption that says it all:
"How do you know if you're under the radar or all washed up?" he's asking. How indeed?
In these walking-on-eggshells financial times, older workers don't know whether to draw attention to their achievements, and themselves, or dodge the ever-fearsome gaze of the 40-something HR guy.
Like Susan of Tacoma, Wash., who wrote to me asking, "Is it a rule now that you have no employable skills after you hit 55? What's the deal?"
Maybe it's medical bills, Susan. We all know you're costing the corporation more to pay for your medical benefits. Not everyone feels the same. Millicent of Charlotte, N.C., told me she is happy to be "unemployed" at age 50.
"I no longer work in a thankless job," she says. "I lost my job one year ago and decided I could take care of myself and my daughter without all of the drama that working for someone else can provide. This is very, very, very, very, very good."
Millicent is now an entrepreneur. She sells products for seniors, and she works from home.
And working from home, at your own pace and when you want, might be the future, especially for women, says Orange County, Calif., resident Julia Sutton, 52.
About two years ago, Sutton walked away from corporate life and became a Mary Kay cosmetics representative.
First she found a product and a lifestyle to emulate. Mary Kay Ash, who founded her company in 1963, is regarded as a historical female entrepreneur.
"Her philosophy changed my life," Sutton said. "After I got my degree (I have a bachelor of arts in finance), I went into the corporate world. And I loved the money and the prestige because I thought I was 'somebody.' But I'm a mother first, and that didn't jibe with corporate America."
Motherhood defines Sutton. Her son has some health challenges, she said, but she believes being a mother should be the touchstone for most women. "I could go anywhere and get a job," she says. "But I only have one shot to be a mother, to give to my child and, through that child, to the rest of the world."
This seems a good time to mention that Sutton is a "director in qualification" with Mary Kay after less than two years. If she makes the director level, she will have a unit of women she leads as well as continuing with her own clients.
Why does being your own boss and having your own business redefine women? Sutton says it is because "women think more spherically than men. Our thinking encompasses household, spirituality and a need to achieve. That doesn't fit into corporate America, which is more linear in its approach.
"But by women creating a new path for themselves today, it actually benefits all of society."
Jane Glenn Haas writes for The Orange County (Calif .) Register.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jane's column appears every Sunday.
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