55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal

When my job disappeared in my 50s, I didn’t worry. I’d been a good saver, the future was exciting, unknown – let the next adventure begin. I hadn’t even heard of ageism until it bit me, hard.

CVs were devoured whole by the internet job robots. And there was no asking former colleagues for an inside line on a shiny new job – most were long gone, clapped out or forced out of the TV news game I didn’t want to play anymore anyway.

When I started digging into the plight of older workers, I found “55, Unemployed, and Faking Normal”, the TEDx Talk and book of author and activist Elizabeth White.

She tells me her story of unexpected professional famine after decades of feasting. the survival lessons she’s had to learn, and the coping strategies she’s developed to help countless others who find themselves shut out of the labour market in their 50s.

Hear what when

  • Any regrets about how she reacted early on after losing her income?

    “Not recognising that the whole story had shifted on me suddenly, not recognising it soon enough. What happens is that you keep trying all the things that you used to try.. Networking, redoing your CV, you dye your hair, set up these little coffees (informal interviews), nothing is working. Some are doing it months if not years before you realise that you really need to shift gears.“

  • The sudden slide into downward mobility

    “When the game changes in the fourth quarter, I was not ready for it. We’re not having the conversation. So many of us are pretending we’re more okay than we are.”

  • The impossibility of one person prevailing when the system’s broken

    “Our ‘bootstrap ingenuity’ is no match for stagnant wages, for escalating costs in healthcare, housing. What’s happening to Boomers now is not a pesky little Boomer problem. Gen-Xers and Millennials also don’t have pensions. Bootstrap ingenuity is not going to address some of these large, systemic problems that are creating the situation we’re in.”

  • Her concept of ‘smalling up’ as one of several survival strategies for jobless +50s

    “Smalling up is really thinking about , in this new normal of financial insecurity, what does it really take for us to be contented, to be rooted, to be happy. It’s not about budgeting, it’s about what you need for your contentment.”

  • A competitive crisis game she played with other hard-up friends was the root of idea to set up ‘resilience circles’

    “My circle of women friends, older women, we are each other’s mental health insurance.”

  • How move the needle on global battle against ageism?
  • Inanity of lack of attention to bottom-line economic and social impact of healthy +50s out of work for years
  • Her hopes for future, her own and other marginalised +50s


Follow The Big Middle


2 Replies to “Elizabeth White”

  1. Adrian Juric

    I only got partway through your podcast with Elizabeth White. I found the reality of it so deliciously unsettling, so much like staring into the sun, that I actually had to stop midway. The essay she opens with is disturbing to the core. It is one that should be one that required reading early in life, e.g. for a college application, a driver’s license. Sort of like a memento mori: a skull you keep on your desk to keep you from sleeping your way through your life.

    • Susan Flory

      Wow Adrian. Indeed, all should learn early on that life serves up unsavoury surprises, esp in these days of employment insecurity at every age. Let us know how it hits you when you finish listening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *