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  • Helen Tyrrell

Older, female and not working? What’s the rap?



How many women out there, close to or over 50, are experiencing deep changes in their working life? A redundancy? A restructuring? An unwelcome sideways move? A personal decision to step away after many years in employment?


Earlier this year I read that the number of women aged 50-64 who had left the workforce entirely and become ‘economically inactive’ had risen sharply in the last 2 years. Statistics can be opaque, with so many datapoints and variables being measured. Nonetheless the idea of rising ‘economic inactivity’ in older women, whether by choice or necessity, piques my interest.


Whether it is as a result of my age and demographic, the work I do as a creative change coach, or simply the law of attraction, I tend to meet people navigating such changes. I am interested in helping them do it creatively.


Losing a job can be very destabilising, and the freedom that follows can quickly become daunting. If, being over 50, you suddenly find certain doors strangely closed, you may find you have to radically rethink your finances and/or contemplate what happens next from quite a different angle.


Maybe you were brave enough, or financially stable enough to step out of conventional employment by choice? The results can still be hard to navigate. An inner voice of authority, reinforced by many outer voices, still demands that we fit in with societal norms. You may want to be an artist, but you tell yourself must also be a businesswoman – that your art must support you financially straight away– leading to sell out or burn out.


Perhaps you have a partner able to financially support you, or you could support yourself without regular earning? There is still a point of pride to be addressed. Women have spent so long learning the rules of living in a man’s world that we have often swallowed them whole. Our measures of success are the ones we inherited from men and our hard-won financial independence has become an unassailable rule in every circumstance. It would be anti-feminist to suggest otherwise. I dare not even think it. And yet, unless we step out of hard and fast rules, and into creative interaction within our responsive environment, and allow ourselves freedom to think what we want, we have no chance of changing.


All the while our Earth ails. We know we need to find more regenerative ways living on this planet. If we never step out of the rules of the game, we can’t hope to establish new ones.


Work is important. There are many things to be done and getting on with it is a virtue. On the other hand, work as a route to status, high income and power over others is an aspiration, and a hard and fast tenet of our society. In stepping out of this system you risk invisibility, irrelevance and low income, a position women have a too long history of occupying. Its an unattractive prospect. Most women would never choose this, and this is where the midlife exodus from work is interesting.


Women over 50 who walk the edge of this potential abyss, while seeking something else, truer to their inner needs, are courageous. I meet these people in my practice, people choosing to break out and go their own way. Their inner voice of authority needs careful management while they take the time to go deep and find a new way of living – and making a living – which chimes with their inner needs. It is in this conflict between external ‘rules’ and inner needs that the potential for a creative third way emerges, if only you can remain aware of both sides and hold the tension.

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Whether you are choosing change, or having it foisted upon you, take heart that your outer circumstances correspond to a deeply buried inner need. Look at what might be trying to emerge through these trials and pay attention to the conflicting voices within and without. Go deep, and, where you can, take your time. It may be that you need a different approach to work, one that is deeply satisfying, healing you and those around you – and society as a whole.


I don’t know what your way might be and that is the point. Nobody really knows how to heal us and our planet, despite us acting so smart. I do know that we need to respond to whatever is presenting for us creatively, and that what we do as individuals counts.


If you are facing deep changes like this, be confident that your circumstances are potentially highly creative and exactly right for you. I am not saying it is easy. It’s not. But the invitation to live creatively is stronger than ever and how you choose to respond is important for you, for those around you and for society as a whole.

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