Of a Certain Age: Starting over, looking forward

I recently attended a gathering of State newspaper employees present and past, some just recently "past."

Many of the newly laid off were in their 40s and 50s - my contemporaries as well as my colleagues.

No one said it, but I imagine many of us were thinking:

Wasn't this supposed to be the time we were counting the years toward retirement and not looking for new jobs?

About welcoming grandchildren instead of worrying about how to pay for our grown children to finish college - and, perhaps, for us to join them?

I feel very lucky that I quit newspapering a few years ago to return to school.

This probably would have been "my" round of layoffs, and I'd have been caught flat-footed.

Instead of looking for a new job or retraining, though, I'm a fledgling teacher.

That means I have an income - though not nearly enough to pay the bills accrued during three years of student loans and part-time jobs.

(Who wants to be nearly 58 and owe more than $50,000 in college loans? Will I live long enough to pay them off, do you think?)

It's a humbling experience, starting over - assuming you CAN start over - in midlife.

Even tiny little things grow big.

How do you dress for your new job? (Newsroom denizens are not sartorially enviable.) Do you call your boss by her first name, as you would have in the newsroom? (In my case, no. Teachers and principals don't have first names at school.) Everything you used to do by rote has gone out the window.

Your lifetime colleagues and friends have dispersed - in the case of journalists, most likely to other states since that's where the more viable papers and PR jobs are.

And you have become the bottom person on the totem pole, an experience you haven't had for 30 or so years.

Forget your life experience - you're the new guy on the team of whatever business you enter. You're not there to impart the "wisdom" of your years of experience because you don't HAVE any years of experience.

It's an incredibly tough row to hoe for the first little while.

I've watched friends with degrees working newfound retail jobs, being "managed" by inexperienced "bosses" who know more about bossing than managing.

I am lucky to be teaching, where everything is new every year - the kids, the technology, the techniques - and every year is dedicated to learning.

In some ways, it's a blessing not to know "the old ways" and to start fresh.

In others, it's humbling.

It's embarrassing to have to ask how to do something that everyone else takes for granted. (In my case, it's almost always computer related.)

Embarrassing, too, to ask to do something and not to be first choice because of a lack of experience.

It's hard for me to remember that I could multitask in the newsroom because I'd been at it so long - here, I might try to take on too much and fail. (Bus and lunch duty, I can handle.) But starting over can be a blessing, too.

Meeting new people.

Building new skills.

Reinventing yourself just at the point at which you thought you might become bored with things, slogging through the last years till retirement.

For me, retirement is a thing in the far future, but that's just fine.

I feel rejuvenated, if not youthful.

I'm enjoying this new life of learning.

Even if I DO mess up every once in a while.

There's always a tomorrow to look forward to.