Finding your purpose later in life

Troubling evidence suggests that people over the age of 50 are not only more likely to be made redundant than younger people, but that they find it considerably more difficult to find a new position afterwards. If you’ve been made redundant and you feel that you’ve been singled out because of your age, then Age UK or Citizens Advice should be the first places you turn for free advice and support. Whatever the reason you find yourself without a job, however, it can be a great time to take a break and reflect on what will actually make you happy moving forward. For tips on finding your purpose later in life, we’ve spoken to some people who were faced with job loss over the age of 50 but went on to find joy and fulfilment.

Marjorie, 60, had worked in Asda for 15 years when she was made redundant, and before that, she’d owned her own bakery. Having lost her husband to cancer at the age of 45, she was used to being independent, and prided herself on staying out of debt since 1971. She tells us:

"Back in 2008, I was working in our local supermarket. I loved it actually, had loads of friends, and I always used to keep them entertained with my storytelling. They’d say to me, “Marjorie, you should write a book!” and we’d laugh. When I was made redundant that year, I realised I was sick of working for other people. I thought about what would make me happy, and what I was good at. Then it came to me: telling stories.

"Before I started, I thought it’d be best if I brushed up on my writing skills a little, so I found a course in creative writing. I finished it in six months, and had an absolute blast. Still, I doubted whether I’d actually be any good, but I surprised myself! I never knew I was a writer until I sat down and started typing. The piece I submitted for my coursework was even published in Reader’s Digest! Now, I work part-time in my local newsagent’s but writing is my main passion; I’m halfway through writing my own Mills and Boon-style romance novel, and two publishers are interested!"

“I never knew I was a writer until I sat down and started typing.”

What can we learn from Marjorie’s story? Well, when it comes to finding your purpose later in life, you might have been missing your true calling all along. Is there something that friends and family often say you’re good at? Perhaps there’s a certain hobby you’ve always thought you’d be great at? Now is the time to explore it; you’ve likely hidden talents you’ve no idea about! Unless you try, you’ll never know. Furthermore, you might have a natural talent that you can explore and develop through further training and guidance from an expert.

Rashid, 51, had been working in a barbers’ for seven years, but was forced to leave due to poor health. He explains:

"If you’ve ever worked in a barbers’, you’ll know that it’s a tiring job, and lunchtime is a big deal. At 1 o’clock, my manager would go out on the lunch run and inevitably I’d ask for cod and chips. Unfortunately, over the years, this led to me piling the weight on, and by the time I was 50, I was diagnosed with type two diabetes. Within a few months, I just couldn’t stand up for hours on end anymore, and I had to quit. I saw my doctor again and he told me if things didn’t change, I could have a heart attack at any minute. My daughter was with me and she was in tears; I knew I had to do something.

"My doctor recommended a personal trainer, and I discovered that I actually loved exercise – before I knew it I was running 10k in under an hour! I lost five stone that year, and although I was much healthier, I was starting to feel the financial pressure from not working. Then I had a flash of inspiration: why not help others do what I did? I had a look online and found some courses in personal training and fitness instruction which would allow me to become registered and qualified to work with clients, and I really enjoyed the challenge. These days, I see around seven clients a week, business is great, and I’ve genuinely never been happier."

“I lost five stone in one year, and now I help others to do the same!”

Rashid’s story is an important reminder that unfortunate circumstances can offer surprising silver linings. No matter why you’ve lost your job, it’s certain that there’s a hidden opportunity out there that you’ve yet to discover. Although it’s tough not to focus on the negative, try to examine your circumstances objectively – you might be able to forge success from a crisis. Not only that, some people at Rashid’s age might assume that it’s too late for them to retrain in a new career, especially if they haven’t done any studying since they were at school. However, at Oxbridge we know that simply isn’t true – our oldest student is 92, and she completed her chosen course quicker than some students half her age! Rashid’s story also reminds us of the power of good nutrition and exercise, which has been proven to contribute to improved physical and mental wellbeing.

Joyce, 65, had a turbulent upbringing. Born in Scotland in 1955, her mother died giving birth to her, and her father struggled to take care of her as they lived below the poverty line. He also passed away when Joyce was just 13 after a short battle with cancer, and Joyce moved in with an aunt she’d never met in Bolton. From there, she trained to become a secretary, eventually working as an office manager at a large construction firm for over twenty-five years. Joyce explains:

"Despite the setbacks I’d suffered in life, I managed to reach a place of happiness and felt settled, especially in my job. I liked it, I was good at it, and I had a lot of great friends. Then the financial crash of 2008 happened, and the company went under. For the first time in my life since I was 18, I had no job and no income. Not only that, but the same year, my husband Malcolm was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and given just one year to live, I was devastated, I already felt I’d suffered more loss than most. After he died, I became depressed for a long time, until my sister-in-law eventually forced me to see the GP, who prescribed some pills. After a while, I began to feel better, and I started to think that there must be a way I could put all the grief I’d had to endure to good use. Then it hit me: I could become a grief counsellor.

"I didn’t know where to start, so I chose a course that would teach me the basics - the Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills -  and went from there, before finally gaining my level four counselling diploma while I volunteered at a local counselling centre. As strange as it sounds, dealing with people’s problems gave me a new lease of life, and it also meant I was able to take my mind off my own suffering. Even though I’m at retirement age now, I’ve started seeing clients over Zoom who have lost loved ones. I share my experiences with them and it helps put them at ease; they know I’ve been where they have, and that I can help guide them out of the darkness into the light."

“I’ve suffered so much loss in my life, but now I help bring peace to others”

Joyce’s story is a stark reminder that often, life simply isn’t fair and that some people suffer an unfair amount of tragedy and loss. It was very difficult for Joyce to admit she was suffering from depression and see her GP, and it’s important to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, rather than weakness, and that only by taking care of your mental health can you move on to bigger and better things. As with Joyce’s experience, however, unfortunate events in life can endow us with skills that we can use to help others who’ve suffered similarly. For instance, if you’ve ever had to deal with financial hardship, you’re probably fantastic at making your money go as far as possible. If you’ve ever had to help a loved one through illness, you probably have a fantastic understanding of how to support people going through a similar order both mentally and physically. Is there a way you can put your newfound knowledge and skills to good use?

Although on the surface, their stories appear very different, Marjorie, Rashid, and Joyce have quite a bit in common: all three were thrust into very difficult circumstances, and all three were forced to examine their life very closely in order to determine what would make them happy and give them a sense of purpose. For some people, thinking about what to do next after job loss might be incredibly daunting, whereas others might find it exciting.

To help focus your thoughts and ideas, try downloading our free Job Ready goal planner and diary, where you’ll be asked specific questions that will allow you to think more clearly about your life and career goals moving forward; what are you good at? What makes you happy in life? If your job loss is still new, however, the most important thing you can do is slow down, keep communicating with your friends and family about how you’re feeling. Remember: you might be at a crossroads right now, but life might be about to get a whole lot more exciting.

Enrol on our free Job Ready Pack, a short course created with experts to help you deal with redundancy, create a winning CV, and increase your chances of job interview success!