by Sharon Williams
If you’re going to change vocations in your fifties or sixties, make sure you’re grounded on the Rock, because your world may be rocked. You might be like my husband, who switched with ease from an IT job to furniture sales at 61 years old. But if you’re like me, you’ll face a journey that will call into question your beliefs and identity in ways you never could have imagined.
When I was 50, I found myself wondering if I was too old to continue to work as a pharmacy technician. Maybe I should rephrase that. At 50, I wondered if others saw me as too old for the job. I had no better plan, so I kept driving to work.
A couple of years passed after the question first surfaced. I found myself faced with a difficult workplace situation. My manager, who had given me the highest raise possible one year earlier, began to turn on me. He constantly watched me, and began questioning and accusing me about my decisions. The experience wore me down and filled me with doubt, as I’d never faced anything like this before.
Prior to that experience, I’d really only experienced positive, interested responses from bosses, coworkers, and those I served. I’d worked successfully with special needs kids prior to my pharmacy tech job. Now I was helping people by solving insurance problems, counting pills, and dealing with difficult customers in the pharmacy. I took pride in my work.
After months of this manager challenging me, I bailed…to the Frozen/Dairy department of the store where I worked. I remember standing in the cooler and quietly crying, “God, how did this happen? Where are you?” Now instead of helping people get the medication they needed, I was putting yogurt on the shelf.
When a customer broke a jar of salsa all over the floor, I swept the glass and mopped the salsa. A sweet woman walked by and quietly said, “Thank you for what you are doing.” Though she was expressing kindness, trying to make me feel good because I had a humble, low-level job, I felt awful.
During this period, I leaned on truths I’d always known in new ways. I had to practice surrender and forgiveness toward my old manager. I learned to keep asking Jesus to be my Bread of Life, imparting to me everything I needed to survive emotionally and find meaning in these new, unwanted circumstances. I asked Him to be my God of resurrection, to bring life out of the death I was feeling. And I focused on themes of redemption as I worked. The root word “deem” (as in “redeem”) meant to declare something. I asked God to re-deem this twist of events, changing the declaration of failure and confusion I felt into something new. This was for me a midlife vocational crisis.
As I worked shelving dairy products, I sought to find meaning out of what felt like a forced demotion. I learned an important lesson. I am not my work. My job is not my identity.
Today, six years later, I’m back in pharmacy – but one on the other side of the country. It may not sound like a vocational change, but for me, it feels like I’m in an entirely new job. There different policies, procedures, and rules. The workplace has entirely different interpersonal dynamics. Now at age 60, I’m the new kid on the block. I sometimes feel slow and stupid. I’m struggling to learn how to best communicate with my new boss.
I’m asking new questions in this new job like “What does maturity look like in this situation? How can I choose healthy attitudes in the face of these difficult dynamics?” I’ll be honest – this new position has generated a lot of anxiety for me. I’ve even started having odd heartbeats. The truth is I just want to be a non-working grandmother like my friends. I struggle with motivation, and I wonder if I should stick with it. I hoped to coast into retirement, but instead I’m climbing a steep learning curve.
In the midst of these challenges, I am clinging to my foundation by remembering Biblical principles. I am asking God to give me a heart of love and take away my fear. Since I can’t attend church very often because of my workplace schedule, I listen to sermons online. I read Christian books that spur me to grow. I’m making every effort to honor and obey my boss and search for ways to bond with my co-workers.
I am trusting that God will make my path straight on this workplace journey. I am grateful for the all ways he has sustained me to this point, and is at work in my life as I fill the next prescription for a customer.
Sharon Williams lives with her husband Tom in Independence, Oregon. She enjoys reading, hiking, playing the piano, and seeing her grandson.