Child feet in red sneakers

How I Reinvented Myself at 61

The summer I turned 61, I was still licking my wounds from the day my boss called me into his office and said, “I’m sorry. We’re letting you go.” I was still fighting the urge every morning to get into my work clothes and start my day the way I had for years. I was still explaining to people who hadn’t heard the news that my ego had been bruised, yes, but I was hopeful something great would come along.

By autumn, it occurred to me that my severance package would stop arriving in my checking account in six short months, and although I’ve never worried much about money, I began thinking of ways to cut back, something I’ve never been known for. I tried not to surrender to my bent for the dramatic, but once in a while—usually awake in the middle of the night— I’d see a vision of me in the future, popping open a little can of gourmet cat food, spreading it on some crackers and calling it a day.

Then I had an idea.

I tried out my idea on my neighbor, who’d kindly wondered why he’d seen me home so much. I told him I’d lost my job and had been applying for new ones, but nothing was happening. Of course I didn’t say it exactly that way. I think I used words like “transitioning” and “turning point.” The phrase that was my actual launching pad, “letting you go,” was still coming to me regularly in my dreams,—the dreams where I’d show up at my office and everyone there would have to remind me that they’d already “let me go,” and, ashamed (and, yes, naked of course), I’d slump back to my car and drive home.

I’d just met this neighbor, so he was a natural tabula rasa candidate. “I’ve decided I’m going to write,” I said, listening to how self-important that sentence sounded wafting through the air.

“Really?” he said. “I didn’t know you were a writer.”

If he meant had I ever made a comfortable living as a writer—or even an uncomfortable one—the answer was “no.” If he meant had anyone ever heard of me, nope. I didn’t mention that I’d won third place in my sixth-grade short story contest, but it was one of the consequential events on which I was building this new career. It’s amazing how reality hardly ever has anything to do with being a writer.

Then I sat down at my computer every day and wrote. Nothing much at first, and nothing good. As I worked at my writing, I tried not to replay in my mind those interviews—the few I got—that had not gone well. The ones where I could tell I was being seen as an overpriced worker with a depth of experience that no one was particularly interested in. As I felt the mediocre handshake that ended each of those interviews, I wanted to scream: “Just hire me. I’m a hard worker. I can do this.” Then I waited for the emails that all ended with the same sentence: “Best of luck in your search.”

That search had ended. Now I was writing and editing and querying editors with abandon. I celebrated every little success, even the pieces that could get my writing “out there” but offered no money. I wrote harder. I got better. And I waited for a sign.

Sometimes, when nothing was coming to me, I’d walk out my back door and sit in the little park next to my house. I’d jot down what I heard or saw in the notebook that I carry everywhere. One day a boy, about ten, sat down next to me on the bench. His dad was off to the side, watching expectantly. I’d seen him nod in my direction and say quietly to his son, “Go ahead.” The boy cleared his throat a little and held out a stack of copy paper, mercilessly stapled down one side. The cover read ROBOTS in bold lettering and had an ambitious illustration.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m a writer. I have this book for sale. It costs $1 if you want to buy it. But just to warn you, it might be scary in some parts for your kids.” I loved that he didn’t have a clue that my kids are now in their 30s. I loved his confidence, even when his voice faltered a little.

I took the book in my hands and thumbed through. “Stay right here,” I said, and I ran back to my house and got a dollar. After our transaction was complete, he kindly showed me where the scary parts were so I’d be prepared. His eyes were bright, the way I wanted mine to be. He was putting it all “out there,” while I was still struggling to do just that.

“Is it hard to be a writer?” I asked.

“Not one bit,” he said. And he took off for the swings.

headshot-linda-hummel

 

Linda Hummel’s work has appeared in Newsweek, Newsday, the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and many women’s magazines. 

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great story i really love it thanks for sharing

I love reading stories about people over 65 who land in a foreign country, make friends, create new work for themselves and generally flourish! Me next.

Michele

so inspired! Thank you for sharing this great story. We have to be fearless! NEVER TOO LATE to climb that mountain.

Deborah

I adore this article for so many reasons. Thank you. And the story about the boy at the end is PERFECT. Well done and I’m so thrilled you have found this fulfilling and new path.

Great story! Thank you for the reminder that we must be fearless and bold when going after our dreams. Age doesn’t matter. Courage does.

Hi Linda,

I thoroughly enjoyed your story. I’m a retirement consultant and author. (Yes, I too got up the courage to call myself a writer!) When I speak to audiences I encourage them to get in touch with their 10-year-old selves. I believe we can learn a lot from what we enjoyed doing as 5th and 6th graders, as well as from the confidence and courage we exhibited at that age, and use this to shape our retirement years.

Im speechless at the moment. I worked as a secretary from 17, was fortunate enough to wind up in the music industry and became quite successful in something I loved. It all started because I was creative, a hard worker, had common sense, was quiet, but loved music and was so grateful someone gave me a chance. What I became provided me with the opportunity to help my family in many ways, mentor, and give opportunities to others. When there was new management and I was shown the door. I had no idea how very difficult it would be. How… Read more »

Elizabeth Rogers

Things that are possible at 60 usually aren’t at 80, but the stories are still interesting to read. (Pleeeze: no superlative-laden reports of 85 year old CEOs or high altitude rock climbers!) I was fortunate enough to work in the nonprofit sector until I was 78. When I “retired”/got laid off after 40 years of service, I lost a big chunk of my life’s purpose and legacy. I’ve moved on but without much of a transition plan at this stage of my life. I volunteer and take care of our home and our 3 rescue kitties. Not sure where I… Read more »

Maggie

I don’t really see the point of this story. A little boy had less fear of failure than a 61 year old: no surprise there, you expect less fear from a younger, less self-aware person. His failure would be totally different than hers. Context matters. I’m happy the writer got some inspiration from this, but it’s a bit thin for me!

mildred lane

I retired at age 56 from 38 years of being a registered nurse but just sitting home w/ a book or tv was not enough. I tried being a cashier at a restaurant ,carrying a tray for an elderly lady to her seat an her son gave me a quarter. Next I took a doll making course and made 4 dolls but not a life time experience. Then I got custody of my great great nephew, age 3 months. This was fulfilling but not enough to keep me busy. So I added another couple of children where the government was… Read more »

Hi Mildred, thanks for sharing your story!

Linda DeMers Hummel

What a story! I am sending it to my best friend who, at 63, is adopting her grandson. Thanks! Linda

Twyla

I love your story. Thank you so much for sharing.

Sylvia Kaplan

What an inspiring story! Thank you.

It always takes so much longer than we feel it should though. After not getting any traction on my job search, I moved to Mexico to save money. Since then I’ve written two books, including one on learning Spanish after 50 (one of the best things to do for your brain BTW, even if you never go to another country) Kerry Baker, Ventanas Mexico.

Linda DeMers Hummel

I love your story!

Thanks!

Know exactly where you are coming from. Hub and I relocated and I left my job at age 60. It took time to reinvent myself, but now I am glad I went through the transition.

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