What To Do After Your Career Goes 'Poof'

Finding a new job: Gail Belsky's quest.

Gail Belsky will be blogging for AOL Jobs about her quest to find a new job -- and reinvent her career. This is the first post in her weekly series that will run Mondays.

At 51, I've become both a cliche and a victim of circumstance -- neither of which makes me happy. A cliche because I'm a middle-aged woman who left the workplace a decade ago to freelance from home and raise kids, and who now needs to worm her way back in. A victim of circumstance because while I was doing that, the recession and the rise of social media made my traditional print- and online-journalism career go poof. The editing gigs that used to routinely come my way have dried up; the writing work, now mostly online, pays half of what it used to.

Colleagues and contacts have disappeared -- sometimes without warning. I wrote a story for an editor who loved it and wanted to assign me another, but she was downsized before she had the chance. The editor who took over and processed my payment was downsized two weeks after that. It's gotten to the point where if I don't hear back from someone after a week or so, I call the company operator to make sure she or he is still working there.

More:Freelancers: 10 Ways To Get A Full-Time, Corporate Job

The whole thing is depressing. And scary. Because in order to make a decent living, send my kids to college, and save for retirement, I have to either win the lottery or shift my career.

On paper, I'm not qualified for many of the other types of positions I'd like to explore, such as teaching. While I've been an adjunct journalism professor for a decade, I can't get hired on staff without an M.A. or Ph.D. (I've never met a working journalist with a doctoral degree, but I'm sure one exists somewhere.) Many of the jobs I've seen posted involve social media, an area that I've avoided because it's not what I signed up for when I became a journalist. So now I have to figure out where and how to redirect my skills, and frankly, I'm stuck.

Here's what I know I'm looking for in a job:
  • A grown-up, steady income. I actually have bills to pay. On time. So no more piecemeal freelancing; only long-term contract work or a staff position.

  • Good benefits. I've never had a pension; boy, would that be great! But just a 401(k) plan where the employer kicks in a small percentage would be thrilling.

  • A renewed sense of professionalism. Not having to chase down the money I've earned would go a long way here.

  • Work that is varied, challenging and energizing. The best part of working independently is having the ability to stretch and do new things, and I'd hate to give that up.

  • Smart colleagues. The worst part of working independently is having nobody to talk to except the dog.

  • Joy in what I do. For three decades, I've loved almost everything I've done. I'd like to feel the same for the next two.

  • Decent vacation time. I'm an adult; two weeks doesn't cut it. In my last two jobs I had four weeks; I'd like to pick it up there.

This is where I'm starting. But I hope that within the next few months, I'll become another kind of cliche: the midlife worker who launches her second act.

Are you trying to shift your own career? What are you looking for in a new career? Share your experiences below.

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