5 steps to fighting back at forty … when life kicks you out of your comfort zone
“You are highly skilled and totally unemployable.” Those words don’t just resonate with me today, they are a desk plaque.
The counsellor at the unemployment office seemed almost as frustrated as me – almost.
I was an airline pilot with just about every flying qualification and twenty years of log books filled with neatly inked details of every single time that I had taken an airplane aloft. And now it all meant nothing. “…totally unemployable.”
I had dedicated my life to aviation, but now that my airline had gone bankrupt I was about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle. I was married and planning to start a family and now everything had come to a screeching halt. The only solace was to be found in my wife who simply said, “We’ll get through this”. And we did.
Today, we have four beautiful children and while I resurrected a career as a pilot, it is far from my sole focus. My life is far richer and far less vulnerable than I could ever have imagined that day in the unemployment office. I have travelled the world, authored books, raised funds for charities and seen sights that still amaze me. And should I find myself unemployed again, my writing is so much more than a safety net. It is not only my passion, but it generates a genuine income.
They say that the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire and I still believe that the steps I took to fight back in the immediate aftermath are the same steps that continue to deliver me the life that I am blessed with today.
1. Get Mad – Then Get Over It.
Unless stone cold blood runs in your veins there will be waves of anger and why-me-moments. It’s natural, so vent the pressure as soon as possible and move on. I have seen time and again that those who move on the quickest tend to have the better outcomes. I’m also convinced that if bitterness is allowed to fester, it cannot simply be concealed at subsequent job interviews, relationships or social gatherings. All of which can allow the situation to disintegrate into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. Get a Little Bit Selfish.
The safety video on an airliner always tells you to fit your own oxygen mask before helping others and so it is when life throws you a curve ball. Unless you stay healthy and spend time healing your wounds, you cannot move forward. Eat well, exercise and invest in yourself. Unless you are happy and healthy, you will be a liability for those that are closest to you. The next chapter of your life will undoubtedly be uphill initially, so you will need fuel in the tank and self-belief to conquer that incline.
3. Find Your Passion.
Days after my wife reassured me that we would get through this, she asked me what would I do if I could do anything in the world. We sat down and made a list that ranged from being an astronaut to owning a tropical resort. Absolutely nothing was out of bounds or left of the list. We then released our inner realist and narrowed our focus. My long-lost love of writing that had been submerged in a career of technical manuals and flight checks rose to the surface and I had not felt so excited for decades.
In order to follow your passion, there will undoubtedly be a need for education in the new field of endeavour. That may be a formal course, or simply moving in the circles of like-minded individuals who have already walked the path. Immerse yourself in the subject wherever you can find it. As you grow in knowledge, you grow in confidence and that leap into the unknown will not seem as much a leap as a series of attainable steps.
For all of the talk of passion and the preparation, the key that remains is to execute a plan. Just as we had previously made a list of every possible future vocation, my wife and I now drew up a series of goals to work towards. It was a long-term plan with each realistic goal followed by another that in turn was built upon. Nothing ever goes quite to plan and there were disappointments along the way, but with a vision that reached well into the future and knowing where we’d come from, we always moved forward.
I still revisit these five steps many years on from that dark day where my future was questionable. They not only set me on my path initially but continue to guide me as I move forward.
At forty years of age, I thought that my best years were behind me and that it was too late to change direction. I was so very, very wrong. In fact, personally, I am thankful that the airline collapsed as it kicked me out of my comfort zone and forced me to refocus rather than accept the treadmill that I was unwittingly walking on. What seemed like a setback at the time was indeed a career disadvantage to a degree, however without a word of a lie, it undoubtedly transpired into the greatest life advantage I could ever have wished for.
But more of that next time …