My job as a director of human resources was eliminated in 2007 when another company acquired my employer. When I left, severance package in hand, I had the future before me.
A position as a part-time, graduate-level lecturer opened up at Stony Brook University. I taught -- call me "professor" -- one day a week. There was plenty of time left for hitting a bucket of balls and playing a round or two of golf every week at Middle Island Country club and other courses. My game was the best it had ever been, my homeowner chores were getting done at my leisure, I took the dog for daily walks and had time to read the newspaper. I began writing the next great American novel, about a doctor trying to cure a childhood disease. (The book was published in April.)
Life was good. Someone was paying me to teach. I enjoyed the students and contemplated a new, slower-paced career. I stayed up late or slept in if I wanted to.
But it soon got too cold to play much golf. The glamour of teaching wore off based on the small stipend they paid me divided by the number of hours I worked at it.
Come spring, the realization of needing full-time employment, with decent pay and benefits, became foremost in my wife's mind. I'd lived the fantasy of the workingman for a few months. I'd had my sabbatical. I felt good, reinvigorated even. I was ready to climb the biggest human-resources mountain I could find.
I had never been out of work. I polished my resume, added the impressive graduate-level adjunct work, and hit the online job boards. I had worked in several industries. I was 50 -- only 50.
I'm not sure exactly when I began to worry. I knew there were fewer jobs around, but I was certain some company that needed an HR guy would consider me "a find."
It's been several years, and I've been fortunate, very fortunate. I started my own HR consulting company. That's what out-of-work, 50-year-old guys do. We consult.
I picked up a one-year contract with a small third-party benefits administrator. After that, I found another steady client. A 100-employee, privately held business hired me on the cheap. It was part time, but better than the bread line. I negotiated health benefits for myself and my wife. I worked for less than half a salary, but I could have done worse. I could have driven a taxi or greeted customers at Walmart.
Now I'm older than 50, physically fit, fairly gray, nearly bald, but with a wealth of experience in my field -- and still looking. I don't care what the title is; I really don't. I'm not fixed on a certain salary level. I don't expect to replace my former director-level, six-figure-salary-and-a-bonus job. That's ancient history.
I was at an industry meeting recently. The room was filled mostly with women, baby boomers like me. Their makeup looked good and I envied the color in their hair.
Me? I'm a bald man with a gray beard, at a disadvantage because of my older appearance. But I have never been better equipped to do the job I'm trained for than I am today.
So in this age of anti-discrimination and acceptance, can somebody tell me why it's so hard to find gainful employment?
Reader Anthony Morena of Coram is the author of "Hope: A Story of Devotion"