It’s been almost two years since Venice Strachan-Singh accepted an early retirement package from Verizon /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ -0.49% , her employer for 28 years.
Strachan-Singh, 53, of the Bronx, N.Y., is not second-guessing her decision to take Verizon’s retirement offer. “The timing was right,” she says. “I was a client service program manager, and it was a high-pressure job. I was burned out and had family issues that needed my attention.”
The problem: she didn’t have a plan for what she was going to do next. “I left thinking I was incredibly marketable with tons of experience,” Strachan-Singh says. “I figured that as soon as I got the family stuff squared away, I would be back on the horse, back in the job market, and everyone would welcome me.”
That didn’t happen. When Strachan-Singh tried to land another similar position in client or customer service, it “was a rude awakening,” she says. “I went back to what I knew and had done for most of my life, and nothing came through.”
At 50+, it was “a growing up moment” for her, she says. Like many job seekers in this age cohort, trying to replicate a previous job is tricky, and the rejection can be shattering. “I thought I was such a star at what I did, and it would be a breeze to find another job, but it was a tremendous blow to my ego,” Strachan-Singh says. “My self-esteem went down the tubes.”
She focused on exercising, yoga, walking her dog, and praying. “And then COVID came, and there were people who were bigger stars than I thought I was who were losing their jobs,” Strachan-Singh says.
She couldn’t shake the nagging feeling of “woe is me,” she says. “But I realized that wasn’t going to get me very far.” She heard about a volunteer opportunity serving meals to children from a friend and signed up to help. “That has been my saving grace,” she says. And on the career front, she began attending online alumni events and seminars offered by her alma mater, Baruch College .
“The alumni sessions opened my eyes,” she says. “I realized there were a lot of people like me out there, a lot people trying to figure it out, a lot of people unemployed and frustrated, and it really helped. I just listened and realized that there is still hope for me.”
Importantly, it’s through that alumni outreach that Strachan-Singh connected with New York City-based career coach Nancy Ancowitz . “In many ways, working with her has been more therapeutic than career directional,” Strachan-Singh says. “It’s been lifechanging — like talking to a therapist.”
The biggest boost: Finding her focus. “Nancy has helped me narrow who I want to be when I grow up,” she says.
One of the first assignments, for instance, was to develop her elevator pitch. “I was looking at all of the things I know how to do,” Strachan-Singh says. “I can do this and that, but I couldn’t find where I would really shine because there was too much I felt I could do.”
The vision gradually began to emerge. “Nancy helped me realize that I want to be a college professor,” Strachan-Singh says.
And she advised her to double back to her circle for more support. So she’s picking up the phone and calling people. “I had networked early in my job search, but I was embarrassed at the beginning to not be employed,” she says. “I felt ashamed like I failed somehow when no one was hiring me. You have to be in the situation to realize how awful it is.”
One new mentor, for instance, is an acquaintance of her mother who has pushed her to look into ways to incorporate her business background with her degree in history as a pathway into teaching.
To dip her toe into the education field, she has begun earning some income as a substitute teacher in the New York City public schools. “It’s low hanging fruit, but I can make some money,” Strachan-Sigh says. “And there’s flexibility, while I work on the next steps in my career, which include pursuing my dream to teach history on a college level.”