Two months ago I started a course called Preparing to Run Your Own Business. Or, as I like to tell it, ‘I’m doing a business start-up course’. Because start-ups are hip (hey, they’re what young people do), and being trained to be a ‘senior entrepreneur’ is not.
The course finished last week. I’m not in business yet because I accidentally got a temporary job (via an agency I’d forgotten I’d signed up with). It wasn’t part of the plan, but it might be useful. Or, as I like to say in my new role as business-type person, ‘strategically important’.
I might not have launched a business yet, but I’m portfolio working and I like the notion. More to the point, I’m learning not to say no. To allow life to be an adventure.
Meanwhile, I still had to finish the coursework, and take a day off work to go to the last training day. But on this third day of the course we listened to each other instead of the trainer: we each had to do a ten-minute presentation about our business.
It was rather good hearing people who were hesitant two months ago talk with confidence and credibility about what they plan to do. But the best bit was hearing people who have discovered what I call ‘their thing’: the thing that makes them light up, the thing that gives them confidence, the thing that means something special to them. In some cases, the thing they should have been doing all their lives but never had the chance.
There’s energy in those discoveries. When you’ve dismissed the point of job applications, there is, as one of my classmates inspiringly said, a more creative way of looking at the future.
There was another kind of energy there too. We’d bonded a bit by the end of the course and could say things we couldn’t at the beginning. And there’s a lot of anger out there. About being ignored in favour of the young. About being pigeon-holed and patronised. About being written off.
For years, I’ve been working on websites for a living. When I go to an industry event everyone is 35. And I can’t disguise myself as 35 any more. I’m not sure I can even disguise myself as 45, these days. It makes you feel you don’t fit.
The job I’m doing at the moment is something I can do without thinking (and I literally don’t get paid to think, which is a bit of a novelty). The last person who did the job was 29. My boss is younger than me. And I imagine that I know more about the job I’m doing than they do. I have experience, knowledge and wisdom. I have enthusiasm, because this is my ‘thing’. But young people are supposed to have these jobs, not over-50s.
When I started this course I did it because it was free and being over 50 meant I was eligible. Other than that, I didn’t think my age would have anything to do with it. And it didn’t, in the sense that the course content was standard advice. But what it’s done is brought me together with a load of people in the same age group, and it surprised me how rarely that happens. (I have a lot of online friends my age, because I’ve sought them out, but - because my old friends are scattered - very few who I see in everyday life.)
Bringing together older people. Bringing out their anger. You could be on dangerous ground. You might make entrepreneurs of us all. Or you might just start something...