When we think “career reinvention,” we tend to panic at the enormity of that prospect. Maybe we’ve been downsized from a job that we’ve held for a long time, or (less stressful) we realize it is time to move on and we know we need to find something else, or maybe our retirement savings won’t be providing what we had hoped for, and we need to keep working.
Career reinvention can be a continuation, even an upgrade, to what we have been building for decades — part of an ongoing growth process that is actually going to get better. Often, what may seem like a humiliation and a defeat – the loss of a long-held, hard-won and high-placed position — may actually be the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. It’s just not quite in the form, or at the precise time that we had envisioned it.
This appears to be the case for Lynn Gray, who had been the Chief Administrative Officer for Lehman Brother’s Global Real Estate Group. When Lehman shut down, triggering the 2008 Great Recession, Gray found herself competing for a very diminished range of open jobs. At age 59, she decided that the best thing she could do was to start her own business and tough it out on her own. She found her way into a New York City entrepreneurship boot camp program specifically designed for employees displaced by the financial crisis. Offered in concert with the Kauffman Foundation by the State University of NY Levin Institute, this program, FastTrac NewVenture, gave Gray the knowledge, skills and the confidence she needed to go out and found Campus Scout. As she explained to the New York Times in the first months of her new venture, “I guess I had an entrepreneur simmering inside me because I’ve always been very creative.” As a great resource for budding Boomer entrepreneurs, the FastTrac program has continued to yield results. Of the thousands of participants completing its programs since 2009, on average, 35% start a business within six months, 58% who already have businesses grow revenues, and 15% of these expand by hiring additional staff.
Did you know that in high growth industries, there are twice as many successful entrepreneurs over 50 as there are under 25? With all due respect to Millennials, let’s take them off the pedestal in this department. Boomers are sitting on top of, in many cases, a wealth of domain and life experience (and the wisdom to make good decisions as a result), along with a long list of people and other resources that they have been able to accumulate over their decades in the workforce. The self-employment rate for adults 55 and older is about 1/3 higher than it is for the rest of the population, according to one Bureau of Labor Statistics study. Maybe this is something we’re really good at.
Success requires hard work, of course, and Gray has put in an enormous amount of work to take Campus Scout from the germ of an idea to an ongoing business. Leveraging her Boomer advantages, she networked with former Lehman colleagues, vendors and clients, and hit the road to attend, and ultimately speak, at conferences and conventions in her space. It took about nine months for the first client to sign on, and in the 4+ years since, she continues to build her business. As reported by CNN in late-2013, she is now making over 6 figures. It may not be quite what she was making back in the Lehman days, but it is her own business, and it’s what she loves doing.
Time and again, this issue of meaning and job satisfaction vs. income defines how our generation is going to pivot to our “encore” or “third act” careers. For those of us who are still in long-held jobs, but growing older and sensing an impending career shift (whether we fear getting downsized, or just because we’ve had enough), Lyn Gray’s experience is another great lesson that the answers and the solutions are out there for us. We have more capacity for change, and more ability to bounce back than we (think we) know.