I just turned 50 and being a macho guy I've kept my feelings inward. So it is hard for me to turn to someone for answers...
I just lost my job and I am feeling depressed. I've reflected on my life and realize that I have limited marketable skills. I want to return to school but have a fear that when I get done I'll be too old to find a job. The age factor is one that I know exists. I've been to all the discussion boards and see that we live in an age that promotes youth. So is my time up? Do I just plod along until I grow old? I am at a point that I really don't know if I should just say life is over for me. And give up. I am single; I have no family and few friends to use as a support system. I would appreciate any insight that you have.
Rick (50 year-old man) from Sarasota FL
First of all, good for you for having the guts to ask for help. Ultimately, you have to answer the question of whether or not to return to school (it wouldn't be fair for me to answer it since I don't have to live with the consequences) but I can ask some questions to help the thought process along. As to your question about whether to just consider that your life is over because you're 50, that I can answer - I certainly hope not. Grandma Moses didn't paint her first painting until she was in her 80s. If she'd given up and just "plodded" along at age 50, she would have missed her prime by at least 30 years!
There are two basic areas for you to think about as you make your decision. The first is some practical, information gathering stuff:
What would you like to study if you were to return to school? Can you do some research, talk with people in the field, and find out what the job market is like for other graduates of the programs you're interested in? Try contacting the career placement office of the schools and ask how graduates in your age group fare when looking for work after getting their degree.
Have you contacted programs to find out what they would cost? How is your current financial situation? How would you support yourself it you did return to school? How would you support yourself if you didn't return to school?
The other aspect that you need to focus on as you decide is turning inward and soul searching.
It sounds like you want to return to school, but are scared of the "what ifs" - what if you can't find a job, etc. It's normal to be scared when you're starting in a brand new direction. There are never any guarantees - to start something new is always a leap of faith to some degree. Sometimes it helps to do an exercise in which you examine the worst-case scenario. What's the worst that would happen if you do return to school? If you had trouble finding a job, could you live with that? Would you have pride in having returned to school and earned a degree at your age, or would you resent the time, energy, and money that you spent on your education? Would you enjoy the time in school learning new things, or is school just a "necessary evil" to get to the job you want to have? Could you have the job that you want without returning to school?
What if you don't return to school? Sounds like you see that as "giving up" and saying that "your life is over," which does not sound like an appealing prospect. Is there anything that you could do other than returning to school that would be fun and rewarding?
Another question that comes to mind is about the lack of family and friends. Why are there so few friends in your life? Is that something that you'd like to see change? If so, then going to school may help you to meet other people with similar interests, and you may find that you gain friendships as well as an education.
You mention feeling depressed, which is a natural reaction to having lost your job. You may want to think about entering counseling, especially as you have limited support systems in your life. You may need some encouragement to take the steps that you want to take, and a counselor could offer that encouragement as well as help you to explore the factors that are holding you back.
You're correct that we live in a society that promotes youth, and age can be a factor in finding a job. On the other hand, people are living longer, and 50 isn't considered to be that old anymore. Many other people have returned to school and started new careers at your age. Depending on the type of job/career that you'd like to have, life experience and maturity may be viewed as an asset.
I once read a letter in an Ann Landers column that was written by a woman who, at the age of 42, wanted to return to medical school. She wasn't sure it was a good idea because of her age, and she pointed out that by the time she would be finished school, she would be 46 and just starting out in her medical career. Ann Landers wrote back, "And how old will you be in 4 years if you don't go to medical school?" She makes a good point. You're going to get older, no matter what. It's your choice how you spend the time.
Susan Maroto, LCSW