Queenager work and careers: take my Midlife MOT and find yourself a new job
Introducing our new Jobs Board in partnership with 55Redefined (that's me speaking at their conference earlier this month)
I am writing this on the train back from Cornwall – Fowey – where I’ve been ensconced all week writing my book. I feel much refreshed after a bit of sea swimming (warmer than the pond) and some stomping in the sun and gloom over the cliffs and along the coastal path. Spring is much more sprungen down west than in London; the woods above Readymoney Cove were glowing with primroses and daffodils. The magnolias are a-flowering too.
The Queenager with Eleanor Mills is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
It's funny how the exterior world mimics our micro world. I’d been in splendid isolation writing about midlife, transitions and how best to manage them all week – and then up popped Jeremy Hunt in the budget talking about Midlife MOTs and how to get the 3.5 million pre-retired people in the UK back to work. I was tickled by his idea of a Midlife MOT – the government say it is a “review for workers in their 40s and 50s to help them take stock of their finances, skills and health and build financial resilience” (it’s been offered through Job Centres to those on Universal Credit so you might not have heard about it). But getting ready for the next stage in midlife is what my platform Noon.org.uk is all about. So I had a go at creating my own midlife MOT for you Queenagers (scroll down for the Quiz).
Almost half the Uk’s 53 million adults are over 50 and a new survey shows that the majority of them want to work past age 65. We don’t want to retire we want to go on being engaged with the world, but in a new way.
This is a massive issue for governments, companies and individuals. What Hunt has recognised is that because we are all living longer, the old model of three stage lives – education, work, retirement – no longer works (the government knows this because it is sitting on a pensions time bomb). But think about it in relation to your own life: do you know anyone who expects to remain at the same company or even doing the same job from their twenties to their seventies? No, quite.
I mean, even those of us who do get a good run at a career rarely get more than a couple of decades. I worked as a senior executive for the same company for 23 years but was made redundant just before the pandemic. It was a massive shock which made me, at 49, have to completely rethink and reboot my whole life. Back then there was nothing out there to help me find what that next chapter might look like. I remember Googling ‘Life after redundancy’ and getting the HMRC website – it was not inspiring. So with President Obama’s words of “be the change you want to see in the world” ringing in my ears, and knowing from having been a newspaper columnist for ten years that things affecting me were also likely to be besetting others, I set up Noon.org.uk to help midlifers transition into their new phase. A big part of that is helping them get back into work - I am not the only one who got whacked as I got near to 50! So this week we have launched a new partnership with a company called 55Redefined (the pic above is me talking at their conference at EY in London earlier this month) which helps get over 50s into jobs, this is a link to their job board.
(If you are a Queenager looking for work (or know someone who is) these are some just some of the jobs needing filling NOW by employers who are keen on Queenagers including this month’s age-friendly employer Barclays and many others who have pledged to be open to experienced workers. Here are the featured jobs for you to check out:
It is not surprising the government is at a bit of a loss and those in midlife are floundering. We are at the very beginning of this conversation. I’m now obsessed; for the last two years I have been in a constant bootcamp of talking to all the experts and looking at the research on midlife and ageing. There aren’t many sign posts on any of this yet in our culture because this is a whole new phase. Now that we are living longer we need to adjust our expectations about the inherent structure of our lives. The cutting edge thinking around this comes from such books as The Hundred Year Life by Professor Linda Gratton and Andrew Scott of the LSE, or the work of Avivah Wittenberg Cox, who has just been at Harvard studying this and writes a regular column for Forbes from London about 4-Quarter Lives and is the doyenne of this new conversation about ageing. (She is also on the Noon Advisory Board)
“In the first quarter,” explains Wittenberg Cox, “we get educated and established, then in the second quarter, ie from 25-50, it is the Age of Achievement, we tick off all the boxes that our society and our parents encouraged us to fulfil; then at 50 we enter the third quarter, the Age of Becoming - in America they call it Self Actualising- it’s when we finally slough off all that earlier baggage and become the people we always wanted to be, in some ways it is the most exciting bit. Then we enter the fourth quarter 75-100, which is more like traditional retirement as we used to know it.”
I love the idea of the third quarter and it totally chimes both with what I know about you Queenagers from our research, and what I have experienced myself over the last three years. At 52 I feel happier, professionally more excited, fitter, more joyous and generally far more myself than I ever have before. Helena Bonham Carter said earlier this month on Woman’s Hour she felt “Like I am coming into my prime at 56” – that is the flowering of the Third Quarter. Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is right that a generation of fit and active 50 and 60 somethings shouldn’t be sitting at home watering the garden. 55Redefined show in their research that over half of us would like to be working but are facing ageism and an algorithm which knocks us out of the process before we even have a chance to show our resilience, hard work and growth mindset (that means a willingness to solve problems and acquire new skills). What we saw in our Noon research was a hunger for purpose in our members. They want to feel engaged and to make a difference, to put their experience to work for the greater good. They need some flexibility (that was 16 times more important to them than status) and they want to be honoured and valued for their experience, not be condescended to.
So what can those of us embarking on our third quarter do to make sure it is as enjoyable, profitable and purposeful as possible? Take our Queenager Midlife MOT quiz to find out.
The QUEENAGER MIDLIFE QUIZ
Health and Wellbeing
1. Are you fitter now than you were ten years ago?
a) You must be joking, my tummy hides my toes and I puff just walking up the stairs
b) Well I try and walk 5000 steps a day and I pootle around with the dog and play tennis occasionally so I don’t think I am in bad shape
c) Yes. I walk 10,000 steps at least every day, I lift weights and do resistance exercise because it helps preserve muscle mass and stimulates stem cell production. My motto is use it or lose it. And it’s never too late to expand your Health Span (what’s the point of living longer if you aren’t healthy?).
2. Do you pay proper attention to what you eat?
a) Yes of course, food is the exlir of life – I love a roast and lashings of cream on my pudding, not to mention lots of cheese and the odd biscuit. Sure I’ve got a bit of a gut but hey, life is for living! Cholesterol? Who cares…granny ate cream and she lived till she was 90. I’ve got great genes.
b) I try to lay off the ready meals and convenience foods and usually get my five a day, though I do fall down a bit on the odd take-away.
c) I’ve started eating 30 fruits and vegetables a week, I tick them off on my phone. I know protein builds muscle at this stage in my life and I eat only a little sugar and mostly a Mediterranean diet. I’ve also started supplementing with the five ferments, Kefir, Kimchi, Kraut (or sauerkraut), Kombucha and Kamut (sourdough). Little and often is the key not only for better gut health and especially for women at this point to support the estrobolome, the newly-named group of gut bacteria that influence the activity of estrogen, very important in menopause
3. Now what about the booze? Be honest
a) Can’t be bothered to count my units, like a big glass of wine at 6pm and sometimes a G&T at lunchtime too… don’t be a kill joy
b) I try and have a few days a week where I don’t drink and do dry January every year
c) I drink only at special occasions never at home – I find it reacts really badly to the menopause and keeps me awake at night so I’ve basically stopped
4. Now, what’s going on with your sleep?
a) I toss and turn a bit but I find a good tot of whiskey and maybe a glug of nightnurse helps me sleep like a baby
b) I’ve got block-out blinds, I have a hot bath and do a special destressing meditation before bed and if I stick to the routine that usually works
c) Sleep is the basis of midlife health, I prioritise it always. I rely on custom-moulded silicone ear plugs (from any local audiology clinic), a supportive Tempur neck pillow with a silk pillowcase, a travel eyeshade, 240mg magnesium glycinate supplement at bedtime and a few drops of lavender essential oil on my pillow. The ultimate sleep ritual I travel with wherever I lay my head. I don’t leave home without these ever
5. How are your hormones? Are you menopausal? Do you know?
a) Well I had a few hot flushes they aren’t so bad anymore but I don’t sleep that well
b) I feel a bit flat, and find myself crying when I don’t really know why and my joints ache
c) My eyes are dry, I have a burning mouth, recurrent UTIs, severe headaches and tinnitus
Liz Earle says: “Queenagers - ALL of the above could be dues to lowering oestrogen levels – if you have any of these symptoms go to your doctor and have a conversation about HRT. Despite earlier scare stories more modern formulations are very safe – don’t suffer in silence.” If you’re not sure try Stella (special deal for subscribers to this email) which is a great way to what you might need online. All info on this link
6. What about your relationships – are you getting enough love and physical contact?
a) I can’t remember the last time someone held my hand or gave me a hug. I live on my own and my family live far away and aren’t very demonstrative at the best of times
b) I hug my spouse when we’re watching TV and in bed sometimes. My children aren’t very keen on cuddles anymore but I love my dog/cat and stroke them most days
c) Humans are designed for hugging. In Japan they don’t talk about kinship but skinship. Life is stressful it’s so important to make time for a hug or three – my kids, my loved ones, my furry friends. If I am alone I hug myself. The very act of wrapping your arms around your body and giving yourself a good squeeze stimulates the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin, lowers cortisol and can even reduce pain.
6. When was the last time you felt seriously out of your comfort zone and learnt something new?
a) Can’t teach an old dog new tricks – I’m good at what I do, leave the stuff I don’t know about to the kids. What’s wrong with being a creature of habit? And anyway I get a bit anxious about new things, better the devil you know and all that
b) Well it’s funny you should ask I was just sent on a course at work and it felt so exciting to pick up a new skill, it made me feel like a student again. I met a person there who was telling me about how they go wild swimming in a lake near my house and I always liked a dip so I am going to go with her next week. I’m finding I am enjoying spreading my wings and doing something new
c) I’m a great believer in do something new every day. In fact I have a card on my desk which says: Do something that scares you every day – which my friend crossed out and wrote: ‘only one?’ Midlife is all about finding a new tribe, embracing new things. I’ve just started a new company taking everything I knew from my corporate job and applying it to a new tech niche. Did you know that companies started by 50 somethings are twice as successful as those founded by younger entrepreneurs? My motto is Seize the Day – I’m fascinated by what I don’t yet know
7. How do you feel about the influence of your own family and their expectations of your life – are they still relevant?
a) What a ridiculous question – loved my family, but I’ve just got on with things… well yes now you mention it my father was a lawyer too, and they always wanted me to be a member of the golf club and we still holiday exactly where I did as a child. But no I’ve made all my own decisions, of course
b) it’s funny how as you get older lots of those sibling rivalries or the old kind of conditioning from your parents comes back again. My parents are getting older and I’m finding myself locked in the same kind of rows with my brothers and sisters as we did as children, only somehow more bitter as it is about looking after mum and dad and the inheritance. I’m more thoughtful about all of that
c) Now I am 50 I finally feel like I am throwing off the shackles of my family. I realised that I had been driven to be successful for them and now that job is over I wonder why I stuck at it for so long – it’s not really me at all. For that matter, I feel like I am finally asking myself for the first time who I am and what I really want to do with the next chunk of my life. Now my parents have died I am sad, but I finally feel free to be me and make my own decisions
Work and Career
8. Thinking about getting a new job – how would you start going about it?
a) Dust off the old CV – maybe update it a bit, it is about thirty years since I did my degree and A levels so maybe they aren’t so relevant. Maybe call a few people I know and see if they have any work that might be suitable. Umm I tried applying for some jobs online but they wanted me to upload a CV and that is a bit tricky as mine is printed out – and even when I got my son to help me upload it no-one ever got back to me. Bit depressing really, I’ve kind of given up. Garden needs some attention
b)Well I emailed a headhunter the other day and was a bit embarrassed because my email is email@example.com and she suggested I get my own email address and Zoom account as it came up with a silly face on it because the kids were using it. And when my daughter saw my photo she screamed with horror and took a lovely new one for me which is much more flattering.
c) I’ve got myself a souped up LinkedIn profile and every week I reach out to five new people and introduce myself and add them to my network. My profile leads with my skills, how I am a great problem solver, am super resilient and have a growth mindset and I’ve created a narrative about my life up till now which fills in some of the gaps in my CV. It’s all about a convincing story and I’ve also practiced telling it.
8. Ok – let’s talk about technology – how do you rate your tech skills, what can you do?
a) Well one of the great things about being senior in the office is that I have minions who do all of that for me. If my computer breaks down someone from IT pops up to fix it. My EA calls my Ubers, I can do a Teams call because I just click on the link when I am at home though I’m not great if I have to share something, I get that all set up for me in advance. I love a bit of Whatsapp I can even do the Facetime with my kids
b) I’m pretty handy on Zoom, Team, Excel spreadsheets, Google Docs, Adobe – I can even work that tool that lets you sign documents online and I can load up photographs and manipulate them. My team works on Slack and I can manage that. Wouldn’t say I am great on social media, though I do a bit of Facebook to keep up with old friends and my wife is never off Instagram, always scrolling and buying stuff
c) I just bought a load of Fungible tokens and am using Streamyard to broadcast simultaneously to LinkedIn and Facebook for my thought leadership. I update my socials – LinkedIn, Twitter, Telegraph, Instagram I’ve given up on Facebook – at least three times a week. I’ve built my new business on LinkedIn, invaluable for contacts, creating leads and buzz, don’t know how anyone could be without it. Haven’t got my head round TikTok yet
9. How about your personal finances pension etc?
a) Oh god, I never look at any of that, it’s all stuffed into a drawer somewhere, think I got a statement the other day, bloody terrifying how am I going to live on £8k a year which is what my pension seems to be. I find it a mixture of incredibly boring and anxiety including – pass me the wine will you?
b) I got it all out the other day and we went through it. We’ve got all sorts of different pensions from different places we have worked and we spoke to a financial advisor who suggested putting them all into one pot. I’ve made an appointment to go and sort it next month
c) We’ve unified all our pensions, one of mine has an assured-benefit aspect so I’ve left the money in that one but put all the others together and we manage them on Transact. We updated our Wills and did powers of attorney to each other, have appointed an executor and have spoken to the children about gifts to avoid inheritance tax etc. I’ve also taken out some new life insurance to cover the mortgage. I hate thinking about this stuff but accidents can happen at any time
Purpose and Legacy
10. What have you always wanted to do? What is your purpose? What is your legacy?
a) Crikey, those are big concepts, I have no idea.. I’ve just kept working to pay the bills and keep the family hadn’t really got any further than that and now I just want to watch telly and mooch about
b) It’s funny, when I was young I had such big dreams to be a ….. I loved doing…. I always thought that was my true skill and passion. I was wondering the other day whether I might try my hand at it again. It’s like an itch that needs to be scratched
c) This time of life is all about purpose – doing something I feel good about, that makes the world a better place, which takes all my experience and skills and puts them to good use. It’s funny I work a lot of hours on this passion project but because I LOVE it, I feel so engaged and proud to be having an impact. I’ve never felt so happy.
How did you do?
Mostly As: It’s time you got to grips with the world around you. You are fifty not 90 – start thinking about your third quarter and the things you might do. Particularly get fitter or you won’t have one. It’s about Health Span not Life Span…
Mostly Bs: Well done, you are on the right track and beginning to head in the right direction for a successful third quarter – now just nudge yourself out of your comfort zone and ask yourself some big questions about what you really want to do with the last chunk of your life and what that might look like - and you’ll be on your way
Mostly Cs: Well done you are motoring through your midlife and all set for a successful third quarter and an active Fourth Quarter. Now you need to spread the word and motivate all the midlifers and Queenagers around you to get with the programme! Isn’t it fun having a purpose, a mission, being engaged with the world, having a new life. Bet you’ve never felt happier. Enjoy being in your prime.
Hope you enjoyed the quiz!
(PS The information in the questions and answers comes from a brilliant posse of midlife experts including Liz Earle, doyenne of midlife Wellbeing, Avivah Wittenberg Cox, Lyndsey Simpson CEO of 55Redefined, Lisa Unwin, CEO of Reignite which places midlifers back in professional jobs, particularly law, after career breaks, BKL Accountants (for tax and pension advice) and many other members of the Noon.org.uk advisory board of experts).
The Queenager with Eleanor Mills is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I REALLY love the idea of four quarters of life. I feel like the after 50 years have been the most interesting time so far, and I hadn't had a boring life up until then either. I'm in my mid-60s now and in the past 15 years have changed countries twice and enjoyed several multiple year activities that - except for the fact that they weren't paid roles - have been fascinating work experiences. Glad to see you taking on the challenge of giving us a voice and a visibility in the working world. Many thanks.