Career Moves: Changing My Focus from Younger Adults to Older Adults

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The Generation Above Me

A post by Karen Austin of The Generation Above Me:

I spent the first three decades of my adult life on various college campuses—as a student, an adjunct and a clinical faculty member.

I taught a variety of undergraduate English courses and managed various student support services.  I enjoyed mentoring young adults and giving them tips on how to succeed in college and how to move on to graduate school or employment.

But this mentoring relationship shattered at midlife.

At age 48 I followed my husband half-way across the country to a new campus.

The students there didn’t view me as a mentor.  I was used to working with students who pursuing humanities majors; this new campus had a lot of students pursuing majors in the allied health professions.

Consequently, they found my area of expertise in English irrelevant for achieving in their fields.

Also, my age was moving me very far away from the near peer role I played for so long.  They would seek me out if they needed a tissue, a fork or an adhesive strip, but they didn’t ask me for advice about their career or graduate school.

Being ignored or being defined as campus mommy wasn’t working for me.

After my first year at this bad-fit campus, I spent summer vacation visiting all six of my parent figures: my mom and step-dad in Utah, my dad and step-mom in Texas, and my in-laws in Oklahoma.

I noticed that as they were entering their 70s, they were managing minor age-related challenges.  They are all still living independently and most of them were still working.

However, I could see that aging was going to soon get a bit tricky.

Because I was surrounded for decades by people 18-25, I had very little understanding of the challenges and opportunities of aging.

I found myself so deficient in this important area that I quit my job and started a graduate program in Aging Studies offered by a university across town.

I have changed gears and restated the unifying theme of my life: I am defined by my interest in growth and development across the lifespan.

Now I am hyper focused on issues related to healthy aging and supporting older adults in late adulthood.

And age is now on my side.

The older I get, the more I will become a near peer to the older adults I now work with as we support each other to age successfully.

KDAhelpingout

Karen writes: My blog ,The Generation Above Me, is aimed at midlife adults. It contains information on how to achieve active aging as well as how to support aging parents. Some of the posts are information rich with links to high quality sites about aging. Other posts are personal essays where I grumble or exult about midlife.

Aging Studies:  Colleges and Universities around the country offer programs in Aging Studies. Here’s a link to Karen’s  program at Wichita State.

Photo: Karen at work!

11 responses »

  1. This is very exciting! Boomers really are changing the landscape of aging. There are more opportunities out there than we realize! Thank you for sharing this information. Mary

    • Mary: When I was 20, I though people 60 plus didn’t experience growth or development. I thought they filled their days with golf, bridge and gardening. Boy, are older adults a lot more engaged than I ever imagined. After decades hanging out with young adults, I am thrilled to be spending time with people 10, 20, 30, 40 and even 50 years older than I. (I have a friend I visit weekly who is 102.) There are infinite possibilities for older adults.

  2. Good field to be in as there are so many baby boomers getting up there in age. And as I am one of them, I appreciate all the help I can get to make this stage of my life the best it can be. However one thing I have learned from my family and friends is that we all look differently at want we want our older years to be. Some of my family are perfectly content to be done with work and to relax in their recliner and watch TV or read. Others want to go and do all those things they have had to put off while raising children and working full-time. So we have to be accepting of the fact that some of us will just vegetate while others will be active way into their golden years. And both are okay. And of course, money and health will be big factors in how most of us will spend our elder years.

    • Gail: Yes, it’s amazing to see the diversity among older adults. I thought that I would be able to study patterns in health, psychology and family dynamics in order to better support the aging process. However, I am seeing that individuals defy patterns constantly. Now I see that my role is more and more to be an active listener, a witness to the lives of others, a person who validates others, and a person who learns from older adults. I’m eager to do this while there are still people older than I am. Time flies! I am excited to be focusing on late adulthood after three decades of so much focus on people 18-25. People amaze me every day.

  3. So aptly described what I have been feeling as a transfer student, finally finishing my undergrad degree. My fear has been to be seen as “campus mom,” and it often prevents me from attempting connections with other students.

  4. Karen, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. You and I have a few things in common. I was also 48 when I experienced a major change in my life. Yours was moving with your husband half way across the country and becoming disillusioned with your career, while mine was getting divorced (I was the one who wanted the divorce). Subsequently, I also decided to return to school to study aging adults, with the goal of changing careers upon receiving my degree. I will receive my Master’s in Gerontology this May. It has been an interesting and eventful two years of going to school full time and also working full time. I have to say that unlike Lisa Wiley who replied to your post before me, I never felt like the “campus mom” while I was back in school. I developed friendships with three fellow female gerontology grad students who were all young enough to be my daughters. I think because we were students together, we could relate to each other more than if I had been their professor. I agree with you that our age is actually a plus (I am now 53) for starting a career in gerontology. Older people may be able to relate to us a little easier than they could relate to someone in his or her twenties. I feel very fortunate that I have already found a job in the field of gerontology. I will be working for a brand new company called Assisted Vacations for Elders. I’d like to stay in touch with you and read your blog and hopefully contribute to it in the future. Thanks so much for sharing your story with all of us!

    Kathy Cox

  5. Kathy! Oh, we’re twins. Except you have a rockin’ job already. I need to figure out what to do next, but my kids are 11 and 15 (and don’t drive) so I’m hesitating about doing a 40 hour a week gig. I’m happy to hear you found some classmates that you connected with…and that the age difference didn’t hinder that. Yes, I love, love, this field because age is less of an issue (most of the time). Yes, let’s keep in touch so I can see how things are going for you. I have a FB account for my blog and a twitter account. The info is on my blog page (which is in a link right below my workplace picture above). Thanks for reading and commenting.

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