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Walking Away at 50 Plus

Walking Away at 50 Plus
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By Nina Malkin

High-powered corporate attorney Mary Nemetz was on top of the world professionally—yet something was missing. “I felt that there had to be more than the big paycheck and perks,” she says. Then came an epiphany—at, of all places, a major league baseball stadium. Noticing all the empty seats around her, Nemetz was struck that many deserving organizations could benefit from unused tickets if only there was an easy way to monetize them. So she decided to leave her law firm and start the nonprofit tix4cause.com, which resells donated entertainment tickets and gives the proceeds to buyers’ charities of choice.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Fifty at the time, Nemetz had no background in fundraising and truly enjoyed her coworkers. Yet she threw herself into the new venture, made it a success and seven years later has no regrets. A story that would surely inspire anyone who feels unfulfilled, professionally or otherwise. So why do many of us stay—in a job, a marriage, even a home or town—that no longer satisfies or excites us? “The longer we have well-worn, ingrained patterns, the harder change can be,” explains certified life coach Jaymie Meyer (www.resilienceforlife.com). “Change doesn’t feel safe, so we rely on an internal map that has become our identity, and follow the path of least resistance.”

Adds motivational speaker Red Katz (www.redinspires.com): “Boomers took risks in their younger years—some that paid off and some that turned into failures. Fear that they’ll fail and won’t have the strength or time to recover makes them more apt to hang in there.”

Reasons Versus Excuses

But let’s be real. If you’ve got the expenses and dependents of the average adult, you probably haven’t the freedom to impulsively quit a job like a footloose twenty-something, sofa surfing (or just as likely, living in your parents’ house) till a cool new gig comes along. Similarly, it’s a lot simpler to end a casual dating relationship than a long term one where children, finances and decades of emotional connection are involved.

That said, chances are you are not literally stuck in your situation, even if it feels that way. Scrutinize your reasons for staying and you may discover that they’re merely excuses. Reasons are legitimate and they inspire action, while excuses serve to mire you more deeply in self-sabotage. And in the realm of excuses, “I’m too old” is a superstar. Opportunity is everywhere, and opportunity isn’t ageist.

Walking the Walk

Walking away means putting one foot in front of the other—with your heart, mind and eyes open. When it comes to your career, the key lies in balancing passion with practicality: tapping in to what you truly want to do, and then laying the groundwork so you can do it. If inspiration doesn’t strike immediately, Katz suggests pretending that you have all the money in the world, then imagining how you’d occupy yourself: playing sports, doing art, helping others, dining out, traveling? Your new mission lies within that fantasy—but for it to become reality, you’ve got to establish its viability.

Research how have others made a similar dream come true. Figure out the potential for financial payoff and, if less than the income you’re accustomed to, where you can cut back. Consider keeping your “day job” and pursuing your goal in off hours, or save enough to float you. Perhaps you can launch your business as a side-hustle, or take a part-time entry-level gig, even an unpaid internship, to gain experience in your chosen field.

Take courses to learn your craft—look into low-cost community colleges or organizations like libraries that might offer free courses. Find people (not just your spouse) to cheer you on and hold you accountable. And don’t expect instant gratification—you didn’t get where you are in your current career overnight, either.

Leaving a long-term relationship can be more challenging than starting fresh professionally. “Beyond the basic fear of change, there’s the fear of being alone, of putting yourself on the market again and the possibility of not finding another mate,” says Meyer. You may also be hugely reluctant to cause your partner pain or disappoint your kids. Yet if you’ve given your all to reinvigorate the relationship and know deep down that it’s over, you do no one a favor by staying. A vibrant, rewarding love life and satisfying sex life is what you (and your current mate) deserve.

Make the break with absolute kindness but clean, firm finality. Then, spend some time with just yourself. While career-wise, it can be wise to hold onto a position till you get your ducks in a row, romantically, the reverse is true. “You need to be on your own for a while to mourn the relationship you’ve ended and understand what you really want in a new one,” Meyer explains.

No matter what move you wish to make, it starts with a first step. “It won’t come to you,” says Nemetz. “You’ll be surprised at all the people who’ll be willing to help you, but nothing will happen unless you get motivated.”

 

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An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an avid collector of lovely things from eras past—read her musings at http://www.vintagevirna.blogspot.com/