The fact is, you are forty-eight years old and you are unemployed. You have lived long enough that you have begun to see ageism work against you. Who wants to hire someone who is forty-eight when they can hire someone in their twenties or thirties? The kind of person who runs marathons (even half-marathons) and looks like it? The kind of person who knows what is in style, and wears it well. And there’s that, of course…
You are overweight. You have lived long enough to see what people think of those who are not thin. They are lazy. They are slovenly. They don’t care about themselves. The overweight person is not the person you want to hire. Why would you, when you can hire the marathon runner? That person has energy. That person is driven. And then there’s your gender…
No one wants to hire a middle-aged, overweight woman. A man can get away with it. His grey hair is distinguished, his paunch means he is out drinking with friends and work associates. It’s okay, on him. He is living his life. You are unsuccessful.
Being unemployed means you have to cut down on the things other ageing women around you do. You stretch out time between hair appointments. You are miserly with getting your nails done. You have to be, because the family needs stuff and you are not contributing.
And then you feel awful and guilty because you actually have a good life. You are blessed, and you know it. You are middle-aged and overweight and unemployed, but you know women of color have it harder than you do. You know that it’s difficult to be living in poverty. You know life is harder if you’re homosexual, or trans-gendered, or from a non-English speaking culture, or not able-bodied. So you should just be grateful for what you have. And you are. You are educated, and you are married to your best friend, and have kids who are good people. So what if you’re doing nothing with that Master’s degree?
You never really had a career. People have careers. You could have had one. You could have had several. But you made other choices. And now you are forty-eight, and unemployed.
You could have stayed in Chicago and stayed in the Ph.D. program. You could be teaching now, and doing research, and you’d have a career.
Or, you could have stayed in the workforce five years ago and not given up your job because your kids needed a parent at home. You’d still be there, maybe. You’d have an office and an income and go on business trips. You’d mentor junior staff, you’d have a say. You’d make decisions, and ask questions other than: Do you want me to make you lunch or do you want to buy today? and Do you need help with your homework tonight? and What snacks do you want from the supermarket? Because the fact is, you are lucky…
You are lucky that you can go to a supermarket and buy food. You are lucky that you have kids that can do things and can respond to your questions. What’s that in the face of being forty-eight, overweight, and unemployed?
You’ve lived long enough to know living means acquiring scars. The kinds that hide inside, simmering below the surface. The kinds that make you the kind of person who doesn’t run marathons or simultaneously work full-time while going back to school for an MBA. You’ve had clinical depression, you’ve had post-partum depression. You’ve been unable to work for small chunks of time. You’ve been unable to feel fully alive for chunks of time.
The writing has always been there, of course. Even though you’ve now lived almost half a century, the writing has been there for as long as you can remember. But you’ve never figured out how to be successful, while all of your writing friends manage to Figure It Out and do it and you have no idea what the magic sauce is. You have your suspicions…
Many of them don’t have kids. Most of them don’t. Or they have spouses who do the family stuff. Or they only need four hours’ sleep a night. Or they write. Every day, or most days, and you don’t. So they get it done, and you don’t.
You also see, in many of them, that they ARE NOT AFRAID. They speak their truths. THEY LIVE OUT LOUD. You are not this unafraid. You never have been, and you want to be, because you suspect this is part of the magic. Even now, as you write this, you are thinking: What will my mother say? What will people think? You didn’t type above that you have fibromyalgia, because what if a prospective employer reads this and doesn’t hire you? Afraid, always afraid. You want to be fearless, and a lot of people–most people–think you are fearless. Because you got a nostril piercing when you were in your late thirties. Because that’s when you got a tattoo. Because you dye your hair various shades of red, or purple, or something in between.
People think you are fearless, because of some of the choices you’ve made. You’re not conventional. You never really have been. And people think that’s brave. But it’s just self-preservation. Because if you didn’t live your life being you to at least that extent, you’d shrivel up inside. So you do just enough. You toe the line between conforming and living.
And here you are, forty-eight (although you feel younger), overweight (although you haven’t always been) and unemployed. And the guilt and the shame weigh you down, zap your energy, and make you less likely to do all the things you should be doing to feel better and to really be you. The excuses and the realities get all mixed up, tangled together, obscuring how you view and judge everything with a gauzy web of confusion.
You are forty-eight, and want to be the kind of person who will post this. But you probably won’t.