With Ginny Brzezinski
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An Essential Guide for Reentering, Reinventing, or Rebooting Your Career at Any Age
So many women hit their 40s or 50s and realize: it’s time for a career change. Maybe you’re yearning to try something new, or you’re sensing that layoffs are coming and you need a backup plan. Perhaps you paused, or downsized your career to raise children, and you’re ready to rejoin the workforce. How do you reboot, relaunch, return to, or reinvent a career at age 40? Or 50? Or 60? And how can you create a career and life that will provide you with purpose and financial security for years to come? In Comeback Careers, New York Times bestselling author and co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe Mika Brzezinski and her sister-in-law Ginny Brzezinski have teamed up toshow you that career reinvention is possibleat any age. You have the skills, experience,and maturity; it’s time to own them. For thisbook, Mika and Ginny interviewed dozens ofcareer-changers working in a variety of fields,from finance to academics to the arts. Theyshare successful relaunchers’ secrets to overcomingobstacles, both internal and external, andtheir step-by-step processes and candid advice.They also reveal key strategies from top jobcoaches, résumé-writers, and LinkedIn experts,tailored to the special challenges of mid-careerjobseekers. It’s time to rewrite the narrative. You are stronger, wiser, and better at the midpoint, and Comeback Careers is a roadmap to your career reinvention and fulfillment.
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Stronger, Wiser, Better
I used to think my career would be over by the time I hit my forties.
EVERYONE IN TELEVISION knows this truth: time is not on your side. My attitude was that I needed to save enough money by the time I turned fifty because then my career would be over. In an industry that values youth and beauty, another birthday often signals another step toward your own expiration date.
But the funny thing is that what I’ve learned in my forties and beyond is what has prepared me for reinvention. What makes me feel powerful right now is all the knocks I have taken over the past decade. Whether it’s being publicly fired and starting my career all over again, or being mocked on social media (by the president of the United States, among countless others), or just everyday failures and frustrations—I’ve gotten better at taking a punch, I’ve gotten better at punching back, and I’ve gotten stronger as a result. I’m far less traumatized when something changes completely and I then have to redevelop a project I’ve been working on for six months. The daily knocks that you’ve endured by this point in your life—that’s how you develop a thick skin, and it makes all the difference.
So now, as I enter my fifties, I may have some battle scars, but I truly feel like I’m in the prime of my life. I love my work on Morning Joe, interviewing some of the most interesting people in the world and addressing big questions about the direction of our country. I’ve worked my way up (and down and back up) the corporate ladder. I’ve used my own experience—along with expert advice and research—to write a series of best-selling books that empower women to take control of their careers and maybe even their lives. I am proud of the movement I started with Know Your Value, the book I wrote about the forces—both internal and external—that are holding women back in the workplace. It took me so long to truly understand my value, to communicate it effectively, and to get what I deserved—not just money but also recognition, influence, and the power to dictate my own terms. I wanted to empower other women to find their voice and get the raises and promotions they deserve. Know Your Value is now the basis of a women’s conference series, a bustling online community, and more. To this day, everywhere I go, women from all walks of life want to talk to me about that book and how its message resonated with them.
All this is to say: this is not what I expected my career or life to look like at my age. Perhaps I was wrong about the limitations I thought I would face. A generation ago a woman like me might be the only woman in the room, if she got there at all. There just weren’t a lot of role models of powerful women working and thriving well beyond our life’s midpoint. But times have changed. Now we’re seeing more. And our runway is extending—Susan Zirinsky taking over CBS at sixty-six, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, incredibly powerful at seventy-nine, and my own mother, still working as an artist at eighty-eight.
These are women who know their value and are shattering all kinds of ceilings and stereotypes about women and power. Their age and experience are assets, not liabilities.
Midlife doesn’t have to be a career killer for women after all… right?
IT’S SEVEN O’CLOCK on a cold morning in December 2016. I’m on set talking about Donald Trump’s surprise victory, which, though a month old, still boggles everyone’s mind. I’ve been up since 3:30 A.M. as usual—hair, makeup, six newspapers, and coffee—and we’ve been at it for an hour. The bright lights on set, combined with my early-morning wake-up call, make it seem like it’s noon. Someone on set brings up Know Your Value, and I am thrilled because my Know Your Value movement is on a roll. NBCUniversal is rolling out conferences nationwide with me—we are bringing my empowerment message to working women around the country, and I am feeling great.
Then my phone buzzes. It’s a text from my sister-in-law Ginny.
Hey Mika—Can KYV address women like me who downshifted to take care of kids and now want to pivot careers or return to work? We have value too!
This came as a bit of a bubble-bursting shock. It had never dawned on me that my own sister-in-law and many other women felt left out by Know Your Value.
I realized in that moment that so much of my attention had been on women who were in the first half of their careers, struggling to move up. But what about midcareer women, women in their forties and fifties, and, especially, women who aren’t currently working—women who had been laid off, or were trying to pivot to something new, or had off-ramped or back-burnered their careers because of the often-incompatible demands of caregiving and work? I know very well what it feels like to be going through a career change and to wonder whether I have any value at all. How could I address these women, help them feel fierce, help them take control over their work life?
Slightly bruised ego aside, I realized immediately that this was something I needed to address as we continued to expand Know Your Value. Clearly, because my employment had been pretty steady in recent years, I also needed a trusted, talented ally with firsthand experience to help me reach women returning to or transitioning in the workforce. As fast as my fingers could type, I replied YES! and asked Ginny to take on the project: Create a new silo for Know Your Value. Become the Know Your Value voice for this group of women. Be our Comeback Career blogger. And, of course, write a book with me. This was an opportunity to help Know Your Value reach out to the many women out there who were feeling just like Ginny and to shine a spotlight on the challenges they face and the value they possess.
And so that December day Comeback Careers was born.
GINNY AND I SPENT the next year and more working on this project, digging deep into the subject of women at midlife, their careers, and how to articulate the special value a seasoned woman can bring to new ventures. We interviewed scores of women who have taken career breaks, transitioned, or started something entirely new at midlife. We talked to career-transition experts and coaches. We asked the critical question: How can women past the midpoint of their lives make this part of their careers the best part?
We began by focusing on moms like Ginny who were returning to work after a career break or downshift. We found that she was far from alone, that time-outs, downshifts, gigs, pivots, and work-arounds are necessary features—not bugs—in many women’s career trajectories. Today close to 30 percent of women report that at some point they have taken a significant (more than a two-year) career break to care for family (children, parents, spouse). Statistics show that the overwhelming majority who take time off will want to return to the workforce. After three or ten or even twenty years, when the work-life balance becomes easier or the kids are in school, or when the nest is emptying and the tuition bills are exploding, or when divorce or illness or even the death of a spouse brings loss of the family income, many women want and need to reboot their careers or forge a new career path—but they aren’t sure how to make their next move.
We quickly discovered it’s not just the stay-at-home moms and downshifters who need a hand with a career reboot. There’s a whole midlife career crisis going on for scores of women in their forties and fifties. In our conversations with these women we heard the word “invisible” a few too many times. Midlife is a time of numerous life transitions, many of them difficult, painful, and frustrating. Turns out that there are a whole lot of women—not just the women who took a career break—who today are trying to figure out their value and career path at midlife.
The truth is that knowing your value is more complicated as you get older. Sure, by now you probably have a track record of experience—you know what you’re good at and, as my friend and former senator Claire McCaskill says, “you have receipts to prove it.” You have more patience, deeper networks, more practical knowledge. You’re at the apex of your capabilities. You should be killing it. But just as women at midlife should be celebrating their strength, for so many of them the ground starts to shift under their feet. Sometimes their own values and priorities have shifted: what seemed important in the first half of their careers—glamour, travel, making that career-defining win—now seems less compelling. Sometimes they feel that their momentum at work has cooled, though not by choice, or that they’ve been sidelined altogether. And whether or not they would put a name to it, most women around age fifty operate under the convergence of gender bias and age bias. Their jobs are more insecure. They are more insecure.
Ginny and I wondered: How can we help women rewrite this narrative, take control of their careers, and make this a time of acceleration toward meaning and, while we’re at it, money? How can they operate from a power position instead of feeling increasingly vulnerable?
It seems like just last week we were freaking out about our ticking biological clocks. Now it’s our career clocks that we can’t stop hearing. Whether you’re a “fired at fifty” or the collateral damage of a corporate reorganization, you hear that clock. Maybe you heard that ticking when you hit a milestone birthday and said, “There is no way I can do this f*&king job for the next couple of decades.” Or your nest empties and your purpose leaves the house and you are ready to write your next chapter but don’t know how to start. Or you are trying to come up with a viable side hustle because you are worried sick about whether you’ve saved enough for retirement. Or you are simply looking for more meaning and fulfillment in life and have the skills and talent but are afraid you’re too old to try something new—and that damn clock just keeps ticking.
We see you, and we’re here to help.
It’s time for a Know Your Value intervention.
These years can be the best of your life, and that’s not just my own personal experience. In our research we talked to many women who told us exactly that. Their enthusiasm came as a bit of a shock after all the angst-ridden testimony we’d heard from women who hadn’t taken steps to launch their own comeback career. The women who were thriving had started businesses after forty-five, gone back to school, reinvented themselves, returned to work after career breaks. They used terms like stronger, wiser, badass, and primetime to reassess their midlife from a new perspective.
We’re going to help you get your groove back too.
I’ve spent a decade telling women that if they want a raise or a promotion, they need to know and be able to articulate their value. It worked for thousands of women, and it is a message that women in the second half of their careers need to hear as well.
You are stronger, wiser, and better at the midpoint. You have skills, experience, and maturity, and you need to tap into that power. We are going to show you how.
I believe that if you can identify and articulate your value, you can rebound from any setback or career break into a new, more fulfilling career—whether you are thirty-five or sixty. Knowing your value is the key. Finding work that you love will make you happier, more fulfilled, and more financially secure. It will put you back in control.
We wrote this book for you. We wanted to create a guidebook to help women rediscover and learn how to show their value, to reboot their confidence, and to figure out a new path. It’s the book I wish I’d had when I was fired and sitting at home, trying to figure out my next move.
It’s all here.
With this book we will help you rewire your mindset and create your action plan for getting to the next chapter. You’ll find résumé strategies, social media advice, dos and don’ts for interviewing, negotiating guidance, and recommendations to ensure that your digital footprint complements your IRL (in real life) goals.
We’ll show you how networking now is as much about brainstorming with your girlfriends over coffee or wine as it is about making awkward small talk with strangers at conferences. Having a “squad” at midlife to seek in-person support and guidance from is now more important than ever. Let the women in your life power charge your next steps. We’ll show you how.
We tackle the issue of ageism and get the best advice for combating its many forms. We’ve got advice for working in today’s multigenerational workplace—where your boss and many colleagues may be decades younger.
Beyond advice, inspiration, and an action plan, at the end of the book we’ve listed more than a hundred resources to help with your return, reinvention, or rebound—from websites that detail midcareer re-entry programs, to resources with support for starting your own business, to the new crop of women’s freelance job boards and free online class sites to power up your tech skills.
We won’t tell you that this journey will be easy or painless. But from our experience working on this project, what we will tell you is that returning, reinventing, or rebooting a career is eminently possible. Getting started is half the battle. One woman who successfully returned after eighteen years out of work told us, “Fear was my biggest obstacle. When I got past that, I was all set.”
As women, we’re fierce when it comes to protecting, defending, and amplifying the success of others. We go to the mat for our spouses, our children, and our colleagues. But when it comes to knowing, articulating, and defending our own value, we go silent. Or we self-deprecate and apologize our way through the conversation.
That changes today.
Read this guide, mark it up, dog-ear the pages, do a deep dive into the Resources. Whether you are headed back to familiar business terrain or considering a pivot to a new career, whether this is about the paycheck or the fulfillment, this book will help you find your own successful comeback career. We want the stories of the women in this book to inspire you to rewrite yours.
Let’s call BS on “invisible” once and for all.
It’s your time to be fierce—this time for you. Get ready to begin your comeback career. You have value too.
RESTLESS AND READY TO REVOLT
Today’s Midlife Career Crisis Is Real
Experienced, accomplished, and skilled professional forty-five-plus woman seeks to reinvent/return to a fulfilling career and paycheck. No problem, right?
ONCE AGAIN, IT’S SEVEN O’CLOCK on that cold morning in December 2016, but three hundred miles south of the Morning Joe New York studio. My sister-in-law Ginny is alone in her home in Northern Virginia. Her teenagers, Will and Sophie, have just left for school and won’t be back until dinnertime. Her husband, my brother Ian, left for work at 6:30 A.M. Ginny’s a realtor, and a day of showing houses to potential clients looms ahead.
She’s not looking forward to it.
Ginny and I have known each other since 1998, when she and my brother Ian started dating. Ginny worked on Capitol Hill, and I worked as a reporter for a TV station in Hartford, Connecticut. She chose a different career and life path from my own. After thirteen years in politics and policy, she off-ramped for a few years when her children were young. When they hit school age, she began what would become an eight-year career working in residential real estate. For that time in her life, real estate was the perfect fit.
Now her “mom duties” are waning—no more chauffeuring kids to games and doctors’ appointments. Her schedule is about to be wide open, which, depending on her mood and hormone levels, can either make her cry (the kids are gone!) or ecstatic (the kids are gone!). With both kids about to be in college, she now has the opportunity to devote herself to a new career or passion or project—or all of the above. Real estate, her business for nearly the past decade, was the perfect work when the kids were younger, but it had always left her wanting more. She figures she’s got two decades of work ahead, and she wants to make them count.
Just one problem: she has no idea how to begin. After all, who changes careers in her fifties?
It is all at once thrilling and overwhelming and scary.
What should she do? What can she do? How can she get there from here? The past near decade she’s spent in real estate, but now she wants to make a sharp turn into something different. She’d had a top press secretary job on Capitol Hill, but that was back in the days of the fax machine. Her most recent experience, real estate, added negotiating, marketing, and a fair amount of real estate expertise to her bag of tricks. But the zigs and zags left her completely confounded, trying to figure out her next chapter. Where would she fit in today? What does she bring to the table in an organization? What industries or jobs might be adjacent to her previous work? Where would she need to upskill? How could she identify what industry or company or organization she should target? How could she convince a company or an organization that she could be an asset? Or, if she wanted to start her own business or something with friends, what would that look like?
And how do you begin all over again at the age of—gasp!—fifty-something? She’d had plenty of friends who’d paused and zigged and zagged, started new businesses, returned to work, or changed careers. Many were clearly crushing it—careers in high gear or embracing new paths and diving into entrepreneurial ventures or nonprofits or even raising chickens. These weren’t necessarily people who had stayed on the same career path, always leaning in, and now they, even after pausing, were hitting new heights.
Clearly, it could be done.
And fifty-(anything) is not what it used to be. Women—and men—are now rocking fifty. And sixty. And seventy. And seventy-nine (hello, Speaker Pelosi!).
Ginny was determined to move from the category of stuck and frustrated to leaping out of bed every morning and crushing it—she just needed to figure out how. She didn’t need to be a CEO (yet); she just wanted a steady paycheck and meaningful work. She was tired of simply steering into the skid of a job that was no longer filling her tank, and now she had the time and bandwidth to do it. She knew she could add value somewhere. She just needed to find the right place and convince the right person. She needed a game plan—stat.
And that’s when she texted me that December morning.
AS WE BEGAN RESEARCHING THIS BOOK, Ginny and I spoke with scores of women who were starting over, either by choice or by force. We heard inspiring, exasperating, courageous stories of women who had made the break with their lifelong career trajectory and set an entirely new course. Their individual circumstances may have been unique, but they shared common challenges. Despite some unexpected turns and early failures, the ones who were most successful had been proactive, strategic, and optimistic; they were able to shift toward something they wanted to do, not just needed to do. Most of them landed in a place that was better than where they were before in many ways—they truly felt they had made a comeback. They were back in control over their careers—and their lives.
These women fell into three general categories.
Like Ginny, many women we spoke to felt a strong and growing urge for a career change. Some felt job-vulnerable, some were bored out of their minds, some yearned to finally do something with meaning. But the majority were experienced, accomplished, and skilled professional women hitting midlife and suddenly realizing they needed to make a career adjustment immediately.
“Sometimes I sit in these endless meetings, and I just think: I cannot possibly do this for the next couple of decades. This job is not me anymore,” a fifty-something in banking told us.
Researchers say there’s a U-shaped happiness curve in life that hits its nadir sometime in one’s late forties or early fifties. The studies show that it is universal, regardless of socioeconomics. They say even chimps’ and orangutans’ happiness seems to plummet at their midlife, then head back up. This means that, if it’s really a thing, maybe this midlife anxiety is biological, not societal. U curve or not, for many, the forties and fifties are a time of transitions and recalibration.
There’s a parallel curve in work, say economists who have found that job satisfaction deteriorates at midlife. Former NPR journalist Barbara Bradley Hagerty wrote in the Atlantic that only one-third of Gen X and Baby Boomer workers like their jobs, and 20 percent are “actively disengaged” or hate what they are doing.
Some of us are just profoundly burned out after decades of climbing the corporate ladder. Still others just feel a great restlessness and sense it’s time to do something different. For Julianna Richter, former COO of PR at marketing consultancy firm Edelman, the realization that it was time to make a change came on slowly, as did the transition that followed. After several years at the same company, she had successfully worked her way up through five different high-level jobs. But then, in her late forties, with one child in college, she realized that although she loved her company, it was time, in her words, for a “conscious uncoupling” with her long-term work relationship.
“I didn’t know what it was for a long time. I knew I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t unhappy either,” she told us. “I wasn’t sitting there crying or hating my job. I was just restless. When the discussion of taking on a new role came up—which was very common at my company: every couple of years we’d be encouraged to move into a different role—instead of eliciting excitement the way it had in the past, I was resistant. That was the moment when I began to realize: I need a real change. The thing that had been bubbling up inside me that I couldn’t even name. All of a sudden I was faced with a decision: Do I take a different role at the same company where I was comfortable, or do I leave? That was when I said, ‘No, I think I need to break up.’”
After coming to this realization, Richter told her employer she wanted to “consciously uncouple,” and over the next several months she transitioned out of her leadership position. She went through various “stages of grief” as she said goodbye to the company she helped grow, to her long-term colleagues (many who had become friends), and to the person she’d been for the last two decades. She worried about maintaining important relationships, and at times she struggled with doubts about her decision, but the more she talked about the transition, the more support she received from women wrestling with their own desire for change. Richter wrote on LinkedIn and Medium about the process of deliberately “uncoupling” from a long-term work relationship, and her piece went viral, with more than twenty thousand views. She was shocked by the number of women who reached out to tell her they were feeling the same thing and wanted to know exactly how she made the break. Clearly, she had hit a nerve.
Others reach midlife and sense their window of opportunity to do something they truly love is starting to close. “We were going through a difficult fundraise. If we didn’t get this fund raised, I would have had to figure out what I would do next,” a successful venture-capital partner told us. “I started thinking about that. I have a lot of different interests—sports, theater. I just started thinking, What would I do? We got through the fundraiser. But I kept thinking about it.” She found herself searching for a new path, one with more meaning and creative expression. “I realized that every time I read about someone who had a really cool job or was doing something that I admired, they had risked something. And maybe at this age I really needed to reassess my relationship with risk.”
Your definition of who you are—and who you should be—can be a sticking point for women at midlife. Consider: When you’ve been the same person for twenty-five-plus years, are you self-actualized, or are you just stuck in a routine? After an exhaustive job search, the venture-capital partner just couldn’t find the right fit. “Then a woman friend of mine who had gone out on her own at the age of forty-nine said, ‘Why don’t you just do something on your own?’ And I thought, Why was I taking this option off the table? You’re increasingly hearing that women have to create the job they want because there are none out there.” Now she’s starting a lifestyle business for women forty-five and older.
All of these women hear the drumbeat of change and the voice inside that says, “It’s time to move on.” They’re thinking about trying something different in their field or even an entirely different career, but starting over at midlife is daunting. But then the inner voice says, “If not now, when?”
Then there are those who have taken a career break, either to raise children, care for aging relatives, or for myriad other reasons.
Anywhere from 2.4 to 3 million women have taken a career break and want to return to work. Many have advanced degrees and a decade or more of serious professional experience. They’ve been out of the workforce for one year—or maybe twenty. Now, by choice or necessity, it’s time to get back to work. They are an untapped pool of talent, says Carol Fishman Cohen, who coined the term relaunchers for this group; in 2007 cowrote the original guide on returning to work, Back on the Career Track
- PARADE, "25 Self-Help Books To Get Your 2020 Off on The Right Foot"
- "Whether you are running for elected office, asking for a promotion, or returning to work after time off raising your children, you need to know your power, know your value, and know your 'why.' Have confidence in what you have to say, in what you bring to the table, and have a vision for what you are going to do. This book is the guide to help craft your plan.Read it and know your power, at any age."—SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI
- "Women leave the workforce for many reasons, but they face a common challenge when they try to re-enter. This is a critical, empowering, and practical book for any woman who wants to jump back in the workplace. As Mika shows, you can be the author of the next chapter of your life."—ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, Founderand CEO of Thrive Global
- "Mika has done it again! Mika has partnered with Ginny to offer additional pertinent, valuable, and practical advice for anyone contemplating a career reinvention or extension of a current job."—MARTHA STEWART, Founder ofMartha Stewart Living Omnimedia
- "An immensely useful blueprint for any woman thinking about a professional reinvention."—INDRA NOOYI, Former CEO ofPepsiCo.
- "WARNING! Don't pick up this book unless you are prepared to actually take your career to the next level, return to work, or reinvent your work life...The Brzezinskis have created a modern bible for anyone trying to launch themselves back into the workforce: 33% empathy and sympathy, 33% inspiration, plus the 33% kick-in-the butt you need to get moving in the right direction."—LESLEY JANE SEYMOUR,Founder of CoveyClub and former editor in chief of More and MarieClaire
- On Sale
- Jan 14, 2020
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Legacy Lit