Figure Out What's Next

Laid Off at 55, Choosing to Become a Nurse

back to school career change whatsnext Mar 30, 2009

by WhatsNext

photo by Online Marketing

Bob Seymore lost his job in medical-equipment sales then found his calling in a second career

After more than two decades working for a medical-equipment company, Bob Seymore struggled to absorb the news that his entire department had been laid off. "I was 55 and out of a job," Bob says. He'd just finished renovating the kitchen in his Florida home. He had a mortgage, child support and other assorted expenses of a vigorous family man -- including the bills for his hobby, skydiving. "For the first time in 25 years, I started looking for work." Three years before the axe fell, Seymore's company had named him Salesman of the Year. He consistently placed in the top 10 percent of the sales force. Still, Bob was philosophical about what had happened. "They could hire three younger guys for what they were paying me, and those guys could probably bump into enough business to equal what I did," he says. "Business is about the bottom line. From a moral standpoint, it stinks, but I understand."

Every day for a month, Seymore put on a suit and tie, and went to his home office and sent out resumes -- hundreds of them. The result: nothing, nada, not a nibble. "I discovered that, if you are over 45, you cannot get a job." After about a year, Seymore found one. It paid a quarter of what he'd been earning and it lasted about six months. Then the company moved out of Florida. "It was just before Christmas. We were so despondent we didn't have a Christmas tree for three years." He continued to struggle. "I worked in grocery stores, I worked in pet stores. For a while I tried to start a pet-sitting business." His wife was a comfort. "She'd seen the same thing happen to her father at IBM."

Retraining for a Second Career

Seymore investigated government retraining programs. "If I'd wanted to become a welder or a massage therapist, I could get help. But for a white-collar worker like me, there was nothing." After too many job fairs at which he was the oldest guy in the room, Seymore realized he needed a plan for a career change with some security. He decided to become a surgical lab technician, until a friend suggested he go to school a little longer and become a nurse.

"I wanted ICU or emergency-room work, but the special units are resistant to older people." The jobs he found in Florida were too far away to justify their commuting costs. It was time to relocate. Seymore and his wife settled on Johnson City, Tennessee -- an inexpensive place to live within easy reach of Richmond, Virginia, where both have family. They moved in November 2005 and Seymore found a job on the night shift in the ER of Northside Hospital. It was a difficult transition, but Seymore's new job is a perfect fit. "I'm 60 and I've got a whole new career. To get it, I had to go to school for two years, and I earn what I used to pay in taxes." Yet he doesn't mind. Why should he? He's doing work he loves. "I am highly motivated and I don't like the mundane," he says. Working in the ER scratches that itch in a way selling medical equipment never could. Seymore lost his job but found his calling. "A lot of people get trapped in their jobs," he says. "I know I was."


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