What age is deemed too old for a woman to return to work after a career break?

Apparently it is forty. So I have been reliably and rather bluntly informed this week by a head hunter.

Actually, the way he phrased it (“can I ask you a delicate question”) made him (note, ‘him’) come across as conspiratorially in my camp. He backed this up with declarations of his honesty and desire to minimise my disappointment in rejection.

My response followed a vague timeline of emotions.

The initial response was a typically British manner of apologetic embarrassment. I am terribly sorry to be wasting your precious time when you could be speaking to a more worthy (younger) candidate; do please forgive my imposition.

This was probably concurrent with the second (or joint first) sense of shock. It had never crossed my mind that I might be deemed technically over the hill when I am hell-bent on still viewing myself as in my thirties.

Which leads to my third reaction of defensiveness. Not wanting to labour the technicality but I am technically speaking still clinging on to the vestiges of my thirties, albeit by a few fingernails.

Calming the rising flush (not menopausal before you ask), I responded in a deliberately controlled tone, that surely a woman in her forties is no less employable than one in the 25-35 age bracket (his specified optimum hire-ability age range); posing the question, is it really better to hire someone likely to embark on a career break or someone returning from a career break? Neither of whom deserve to be discriminated against for heeding the call of nature to reproduce.

Mr Headhunter, not enjoying the direction of conversation, proceeded to chivy along the call to a close. I offered him my contact details (again) in the hope of being considered for any future roles that arise, which he was polite enough not to decline. Whether or not he even jotted them down I don’t know. Hastily wishing me luck in my future ventures (a true indicator that I shall not hear from him any time soon with any job offerings) he hung up.

With the passing of adequate hours to stew over the accusation and implication that a five or so year career hiatus, combined with being on the precipice of my Big Four-Oh, renders me ultimately redundant and unemployable, now gives rise to a sense of injustice. A twelve year career reduced to scrap fodder.

Would a man having taken a similar break be deemed equally unfit? I can’t answer that.

Despite the ongoing talk of encouraging women back into the workplace, the evidence is glaring that there is a long way to go. Mindsets need to evolve and embrace not just the notion of mothers reintegrating into careers they spent hard years building, but also the reality.

It is no new news that women are breaking glass ceilings left, right and centre, as the business pages tirelessly and tantalisingly remind us. And certainly there is nothing new about women engendering the next generation. But if depicted in my six year old’s Venn Diagram, I wonder how big the overlap set would be? And if we added a third hypothetical circle, ‘women who take a career break to raise a family’ to the diagram as a subset of ‘women who have children’, how would that affect the overlap? (Note Diagram is for purely hypothetical illustrative purposes and is not based on scale nor statistics).

Answers on a postcard.

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My drug of choice

Key ingredients of one portion of redundancy, mixed with several large handfuls of rejection, plus lashings of alone time to stew over personal shortcomings and failures, can be the recipe to only one dish: depression.

I have the urge to take up drinking, drugs or some other equally shamefully self-destructive vice, to ease this gulf of loneliness that threatens to swallow me whole.

I long to forget who I was and who I’ve become. Sadly I’ve already forgotten who I really am. I am goalless, worthless, pointless and soulless – a walking shell of an existence. How easy it is for the memory to dissipate – the feelings of a life half full, limited by a boundless horizon. Now there is only a barren brick wall – endlessly wide and terminally tall.

Obviously all my days aren’t plagued by this maudlin moroseness – because surely I’d have taken a fast track to purgatory (or some equivalent place for wandering spirits of the dead) if they were. But today I feel lost. And unfathomably sad.

I suspect, until my life regains more purpose, that I will always be at risk of a relapse into this dreaded zone of despair and desperation. And I sense the tut tuts pounding at my blog door already dishing out their disapproval that motherhood should be sufficient in itself as a standalone purpose. But tut all you want; for me it just isn’t.

But tomorrow is another day and until then there’s always the option of drugs or drink – or for wimps like me bound by the shackles of parental responsibility, more likely a slab of Green and Blacks’ finest.

The other R word

[This article was first published on 1st May 2009, on http://life.hereisthecity.com/the_soul_clinic/at_work/941.cntns.]

First Redundancy and now Rejection – numbering in excess of the fingers I can count. On both hands.

I am learning (the hard way) that getting writing published is more onerous than pinning down a job in banking – and in this era of financial Armageddon, that really holds some considerable weight.

Once upon a time, in a moment of whimsical aberration, a bright(ish), young twentysomething fancifully decided it would be jolly fun to join the banking clique. She’d been a long time hearing of its bountiful bonuses hanging from every gilded tree, like low hanging fruit ripe for the picking by any ambitious, industrious go-getter. So she decided to see for herself and indeed endeavour to ‘go get’ some of the tempting fruit from the ‘Pick Your Own’ Garden of Financial Eden. In a surprisingly short space of time – mere months and half a dozen interviews of soul-bartering haggling later, she sold her soul for membership of the Square Mile sect.

Misguidedly she assumed that having attained membership, the subsequent process of picking and eating would be as taxing as a stroll through Cloud Nine. As it turned out, the Garden was prone to long bouts of famine, tempered only with fleetingly brief periods of feasting. And even the short-lived feasting would be a time of upheaval; hungry hoards battling for morsels of the transient banquet. Membership eventually expired with little notice; her now worthless soul flung back at her from the powers that be – having sucked it of its life blood.

So once more, the For Sale sign is being pinned to my soul. The resell value, as with a second hand car, well below the original untarnished version. This time, I am attempting to peddle my unworthy wares to the publishing posse, who so far seem marginally more discerning than their banking brothers, spurning my every awkward advance. As I battle on through my ‘death by a thousand paper (rejection letter) cuts’, it dawns on me that if banking has taught me one thing then it is the virtue of thick skin.

Catharsis

Do you remember the feeling of waiting interminably for a phone call from the boy you met the other night? The ‘will he, won’t he call’ anticipation – like a tidal wave of emotion; an initial surge of optimism accompanied by giddy euphoria, slowly tapering off to an unrelenting hopefulness by day 3, followed by mournful depression and plummeting the depths of defeat by day 5. Anyone who waits beyond day 5 is a loser – if he hasn’t called by now, it ain’t happening. Well, even though it’s been a long time since I’ve forayed the dating scene, I feel a bit like that now.

 

Well, today is that 5th day equivalent of the 5 day rule, since I submitted my meticulously scripted manuscript to a willing publisher. Willing to risk a perusal that is, rather than willing to risk a publish.

 

For what has seemed like the longest 4 days known to man, I have been busying myself with the business of going about my usual routine by day, ousting aside hopes and fears of a dream to be fulfilled or dashed. By night, on ceiling patrol in the wee small hours, with no excuse or distraction, pessimism pervades the solitary silence. My writing is set for a destiny of loneliness and abandon; cast aside for more interesting, clever, beautiful or simply more commercial literary offerings – fated for unrequited love.

 

To be fair, this is as kindly a publishing house as ever a writer is likely to come across: they promise to reply in a week (and they do); plus the reply is personal with even the bonus of constructive criticism (though all that registers is a big fat veto). A seeming chasm away from the months (yes, plural) wait endured for a reply from other industry insiders; capped off with a standard Average Joe ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter – prompting me to wonder whether my writing has even met the discerning gaze of anyone outside the mail room.

 

But the conclusion remains unchanged regardless of the means of delivery. Again, I am faced with the reality of rejection and wonder: at what point does the repetition of rejection render itself numbing? Surely a definitive reply is infinitely preferable to being consigned to a life sentence of unknowing. Or is it? Perhaps I’d rather live forever in hope than suffer a speedy execution.

 

As with all prior instances of scorned woman syndrome, and the accompanying hell-like fury unleashed, I will consign this unworthy recipient to the mounting debris of similar ilk, dust off my feather quill (laptop), and soldier on. But this fighting talk isn’t sounding too Herculean anymore. Once upon a time the thinking would follow the path of: just as I found Mr A, there will be someone who will appreciate my writing likewise for what it is. Now, I think of those doomed for a lifetime of lovelorn loneliness – like them, my writing is conceivably destined never to meet its yearned for Other Half: its desired mass readership.