Mid-life, Mid-career

I’ve spent most of my life in the financial/investment business, working for brokerage firms right out of college, a research consulting firm in the late 80s after getting my MBA at Boston University, and, for the past 20 years, in the mutual fund industry. 16 of those years were spent as a writer, a position I took after some serious career counseling. I had been in marketing at a fund company, and I realized I could not be a salesman. It just wasn’t in me to travel all the time, repeating the same story over and over and being a punching bag when performance was bad, which it inevitably would be. I just wasn’t enough of a money-grubber to put up with that. And besides, I think the really good sales people are born that way – they are naturals. I was born…something else, but definitely not a salesman.

When I applied for the writing position, based on my liberal arts college background – I studied American history and did a lot of writing – my then boss took a chance on me. It was the best thing that could have happened to my career. I loved writing about the economy, the financial markets and investment performance. It was a challenge, but it was very interesting. Finally, I could put what I had learned from my MBA and work experience to good use, and I learned the craft of writing about the financial markets and mutual funds. All of the experience from the four years I spent  in marketing at the same company applied. Moreover, I had made a career transition without having to change firms, so all my benefits, retirement savings, etc, were untouched. It was a huge break, and I was thrilled.

That was 1996, and I was 36. I spent the next several years trying to do the corporate ladder-climb thing. Feeling that I was in a dead-end job at my firm (I was), I moved in 1998 to another company, wanting to broaden the scope of my writing into marketing stuff – brochures, etc. – and away from my staple, shareholder reports. That job wasn’t great, but the late 1990s were good for the investment business, and I got another, much better job at a larger, well known company. That went well for about a year and a half; then the company started what would become a long decline, and the communications department became a snake pit. I don’t do well in those environments. I was shown the door after about another year and a half, and I used the opportunity to freelance – the company having offered to become a client. I wrote shareholder reports, which pay well and are freelanceable. I did that for two and a half years, during which I spent a lot of time with my young kids. My son was 7 and my daughter was 3 1/2 when I began, so those were crucial years. I also could train hard for rowing, which had changed from a recreational passion to a competitive passion a few years before. I won the Head of the Charles, attended a National Team Selection Regatta (28th out of 32 – my goal was not to come in dead last!) and, at 44, got 2nd at Canadian Henley to Shane Madden, who would make the U.S. National Team the following year. It was somewhat of a struggle financially, however, since I had to pay for my own health & dental and had no retirement benefits. But I was able to pursue my competitive rowing dream and spend wonderful time with my family. It was a great period of my life.

In the fall of 2005, when I was starting to get tired of the freelance thing, my old company, where I began in marketing in 1992 and moved to the communications department four years later, offered me my job back as an officer with a very attractive salary, stock options and everything. I jumped all over it and was back working for my old boss, who was one of the best bosses I ever had. I pinched myself at my good fortune. My goal was to retire from this company. I had a good job, made good money, and was well respected in the firm. Unfortunately, things changed drastically a few years later, with management changes at the top and in the marketing department, which oversaw the editorial group.

Again, I don’t do well in management-change situations. I lasted 4 more tumultuous years in an increasingly difficult existence, as the marketing management turned over twice – each time resulting in a complete overhaul of the department, which caused great angst among the worker bees. When they eliminated my job last fall, having outsourced the shareholder report function, and offered me a one-year severance, I jumped all over it. I was 51 and had been burning out on the job, the company and corporate life in general during the four-year period. I had stopped worrying about climbing the corporate ladder years before, instead resigning myself to doing a good job at work to stay employed and seeking enjoyment outside of work, mainly through rowing and spending time with my family. But that goal would prove elusive.

The four years preceding my departure were also the hardest from a personal standpoint. Just when things were beginning to change at the company, my brother passed away suddenly and without warning, followed by my father 10 months later of a long battle with emphysema. Three months after that, my marriage blew up and I was on my own, a complete mess emotionally, in January of 2008. All of the company changes occurred from that point until I left in November 2012, so as I recovered from the divorce and its aftermath, the situation at work grew more perilous. As last fall rolled around, I was pretty much exhausted and was thrilled to take the severance, seeing it as the perfect time in my life to relax, chill out, pursue dreams, and hopefully find a career path that would make me happy and fulfilled – and, most importantly, over which I would have more control.

That’s where I stand. I am looking into different ideas. I love writing, but it’s exceedingly difficult to make a decent living – certainly, the kind of living I made in my last job – as a freelance writer, or even a staff writer. Even established staff writers at The New Yorker have to pay for their own health insurance! Crazy.

I don’t regret the severance or even what happened at my company for a minute. It was a blessing…I was able to keep my job just long enough to recover emotionally and (somewhat) financially from the divorce. Although divorce pretty much wrecks you financially, especially if you’re male, have children and live in Massachusetts. I will work til the day I die, in all likelihood. I just want it to be doing something I love.

But what will that be? Stay tuned.

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