Happy birthday, President Obama! We hope you have a fun celebration, because after all the candles are blown out you’ve got some hard facts to confront: You’re 55 today, August 4, 2016, and you’ll be losing your job soon.
As we generally tell readers who are in your situation, your next phase will bring new freedoms, but it may also involve some anxiety. After all, the job market can be an unforgiving place for midlife job seekers. The average duration of unemployment for those 55 and over is 37.4 weeks, compared to 23.7 weeks for those under 55, according to an analysis by Sara Rix, formerly of the AARP Public Policy Institute. “Age discrimination is real,” says Chris Farrell, author of Unretirement and senior economics contributor to Marketplace.
Sure, you’ve got some advantages over your peers. Most people looking for work don’t have a global network of world leaders who will pick up the phone whenever they call. And most lack a fat savings cushion. With resources include your presidential pension and your book profits, you have the luxury of time as you plot your encore career.
We consulted experts for some advice about what to do in your position. Before you take action, do nothing, says Nancy Collamer, author of Second-Act Careers and founder of MyLifestyleCareer.com. “Take time off and get away,” Collamer says. “Give yourself time to decompress, to recharge your batteries and to give yourself some distance from your old routines.”
While this advice applies to everyone embarking on an encore career, you might need more decompressing than most, given the nature of the job you’re leaving: Think months, not weeks, Collamer says. Then get down to business.
Tap your network, with a twist
You can skip setting up a LinkedIn profile, a critical step for most job seekers. People know your credentials. (For everyone else who does have to consider their social media footprint during the job search, here are some tips.)
Before you reach out to your current network, Mr. President, spend some time with people who knew you before your White House years, Farrell suggests. Like most busy professionals, you’ve likely had little time for introspection. You may need to do some soul searching to figure out what you’ll do next, and the people who can really help you are the ones who knew you before you became Commander in Chief.
College friends, as well as those from your community organizing days, can remind you of who you used to be. They might remember goals that you once held but have long forgotten.
This is an opportunity to look at the big picture, Collamer says. Consider your next paid job, yes, but also your legacy, your relationships, and your own personal growth and development.
Communicate with your spouse
You and Michelle will be making a big transition at the same time. More often, one spouse will change jobs or retire while the other continues for a while as before. The same rules of communication apply in either circumstance, says Ken Moraif, a certified financial planner with Money Matters in Plano, Texas. “It’s important for the couple to sit down and discuss what this means to them,” Moraif says. He practices what he preaches, holding monthly “state of the union” talks with his wife of 31 years.
Moraif has seen clients split when their children leave the house, or when they retire. Transitions are a natural inflection point for couples, and to avoid growing apart spouses must make an extra effort to understand each other’s expectations, Moraif says. Emotional devastation aside, divorce in later life can wreak havoc on your retirement.
Perhaps Michelle wants to hit the accelerator on her career after eight years as First Lady. Perhaps you want to focus exclusively on your golf game for your first six months out of office. You’ll want to make sure you understand and support one another’s goals.
Keep in mind that it’s much easier to add activities than to subtract ones already begun, Farrell says. Often, people who leave their careers for retirement or an encore career fill up their schedules out of enthusiasm and perhaps a fear of too much free time.
High-powered professionals who leave their posts are often approached to join corporate or nonprofit boards, and you will likely field such invitations. If you’re not careful, you’ll be running around just as much as you did when you worked full time. (Well maybe not in your case, because no schedule can be quite as grueling as the one you’re leaving.)
Take a slow and deliberate approach, realizing that it’s hard to cut back once you’ve made commitments. “Treat this transition as a sabbatical and don’t accept much until you’ve decided what you want to do,” Farrell says.
While you’ll be leaving the comforts of the White House—no more chef on call, or private indoor basketball court—you’ve got a lot to look forward to, Collamer says: “This can be a rich period in a person’s life.”