Why Relocating When You're Older Can Be A Nightmare

John Stark relocating jobsBy John Stark

Two years ago, at age 62, I accepted a job offer 1,500 miles from home.

When relocating for work, "You're not just transitioning to a new job, you're transitioning to a new life," career coach Paul Bernard recently said in his Next Avenue column ("When Is Relocating for Work a Good Idea?"). He offers some great advice. Too bad I didn't consult him before I made my move.

It's not as if I had never relocated. I've done it many times -- when I was younger. This last move was different. Blame it on my age.

When I was in my early 30s, I left my hometown of San Francisco to work for a magazine in New York City. I figured New York would be an exciting adventure for someone in the prime of his life. Ten years later I left New York to take a job on a magazine in Birmingham, Ala. My Manhattan friends thought I was crazy to relocate to the Deep South, but I had my reasons. I could finally afford to buy a house and a car. Four years later I accepted an editorial position in Boston. I sold my southern home for a nice profit, which allowed me to buy a spacious, third-floor condo in my new city.

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So far, so good: My changing locales proved the smart thing to do. (Of course, being single and not having children made these transitions easier.) Because I was younger, and working with people my age, I made friends easily in my new workplaces. Because I bought my homes in both Birmingham and Boston, I became involved in neighborhood activities and issues.

I lived in Boston for 14 years. For most of that time I worked on two magazines -- one until it went under, the other until it got sold and I was laid off. In 2008, like so many others, I found myself without full-time work or health benefits. I figured my newspaper and magazine days were pretty much behind me. So at age 60 I changed careers and became a real estate agent.

I kept my hand in the writing business by doing freelance work. I did such a good job for a Minnesota-based magazine that its editor-in-chief offered me a full-time position -- one high on its masthead. It paid unusually well and came with generous benefits. But it meant moving halfway across the country.

At first I thought: No way. Not at my age. I had put down roots in Boston. I went to Red Sox games at Fenway Park. I took weekend trips to Maine. I loved the smell of the ocean. I had cool friends. I couldn't give this up, even if I had to struggle financially.

But I have to say it's very seductive to be pursued, especially at an older age. The magazine's editor came to Boston. Over dinner at a trendy restaurant she told me why she wanted to hire me. I had the experience and creative talent that could help her local publication go national. The young staff wasn't trained in journalism. I could mentor them; make them better writers. For the last 10 years I had been an adjunct writing professor at Emmanuel College in Boston.

I knew that at my age an opportunity like this wasn't going to come along again. Still, the risks of uprooting my life were scary. But so were the risks of not seizing the moment. After thinking it over, I decided to go for it. I quit my real estate job. I called the editor in Minnesota. "When do I start?" I asked.

"As soon as you can," she replied.

I told her two months. During that period I learned the painful limitations of my not-so-young body. Even though my move was being paid for, I still had to pack boxes and boxes -- and still more boxes. Rather than sell my condo, I decided to rent it. I had to get it in shape, install new appliances and find tenants. Every day I went up and down my stairs hauling stuff that had to be sold or given away. By the time I got on the plane to Minnesota (my dog in cargo), I was physically worn out.

More: 7 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Up To $40 An Hour

Adjusting to My New Environment
I arrived in Minneapolis in the dead of winter. While looking for a place to rent, I stayed with a friend's mother, who lives in the suburbs. Three months later, as spring broke through, I signed a lease on a charming bungalow with a fireplace, Jacuzzi, garage and a yard for my dog. A place like this would cost twice as much in Boston.

Yes, I had made the right decision to relocate. The risks paid off.

Or had they? By the time summer rolled around, that "yes" became a "maybe." The magazine wasn't turning out to be the creative environment I had envisioned.

My boss, who founded the publication, was a micro-manager. It was always her way, not mine or anyone else's.

To my constant frustration most of the young staff had no desire to be mentored by me. They weren't like my college students who were eager to improve their writing skills. When I edited their copy these very green journalists became indignant. "But this is how we've always done it!" they'd whine. Some went out of their way not to speak to me. Lesson learned: If you take a job where you're twice the age as most everyone else, you may not fit in.

When I moved to New York, Birmingham and Boston, I made friends quickly. Not so in Minneapolis. I learned that after a certain age it doesn't happen easily. Parties dwindle, bars lose their allure and just hanging out doesn't seem to be an option.

I missed my old friends, terribly.

But most of all, I missed working in a collaborative, welcoming atmosphere.

By fall I knew the job was never going to live up to my expectations. My "maybe" had become a "no." We parted ways, which was hard, but also a relief.

How could things have gone so terribly wrong? I kept asking myself this question as I sat at home in disbelief.

What employment options did someone my age have in a strange city? I could go back to Boston, but my place was rented. Besides, it would cost a lot to move back, and I'm way past the U-Haul stage. I was obligated to a year's lease on my bungalow. It was winter now -- how bleak the landscape looked.

But who knew the Twin Cities was a hotbed of publishing? I got two full-time job offers shortly after the New Year began. I was lucky to have rebounded so quickly. But nevertheless it was dumb of me not to have researched the job market before moving here. A little networking would have told me whether there were additional options in my field and if local employers were prone to hiring older workers.

The job I took is this one: Articles editor at Next Avenue. I work from my home, which is still in Minneapolis. Once again I'm the oldest one on the staff, but not by much. It's good to be working with seasoned pros. (Virtual operations are rampant and proliferating. If you're older, that may be the route to go.)

I do have options: I can stay in Minneapolis or go back to Boston. I'm also old enough to retire if I want to. But I'm not quite ready to make that transition. I will one day, but not before I find out everything I can about how and where I want to spend the rest of my life.

This time I'll be sure to do my homework.

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February 19 2013 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am 63 and have been working for the same company 11 years and plan to retire from here in a few years. This was an instructive article. Not all of us can afford to retire whether because of income or heath benefits needs. Medicare doesn't cover everything. I'm fortunate to have found a stable job, but I'm now the oldest person in my department. When I first arrived, I was about the median age. In fact our entire company is getting younger. I admire the energy and enthusiasm of our younger employees. But our 20-something managers and 30-something directors do not necessarily have the life experience or wisdom to lead others maturely. My husband and I will move when I retire (he's already retired) but we will welcome the change as we've researched extensively the location and what it offers older citizens. I like change. And embracing it, even if it isn't perfect, is more peaceful than fighting it!

February 19 2013 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

62 and still working--how long does he expect to live--retire

February 19 2013 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After a year of underemployment because of downsizing leading into 2 years of unemployment I was offered a job 1200 miles away in a large city. I experienced much of the same things being one of the older employees. I quickly found out no one was really interested in anything I had to say or suggested. My paid for reliable but beater of a SUV was stolen so I had to purchase a newer car with the pittance of money the insurance company paid me. Long story short I have 72 months of car payments, no friends, no social outlet, I go to work, I eat and I sleep. At nearly 61 years old my options are limited and the best I can hope for is that I can stick it out until I can retire. There is an old saying that you can never really go home again. By the time I'm able to I fear my old social life will not be the same there.

February 18 2013 at 10:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One thing that can help is calling a good mover, like TWO MEN AND A TRUCK, to help you pack and ease the stress of the move.

February 18 2013 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Meat man

I became unemployed after 19 years with food lion in north florida i had worked for albertson and skaggs alpha beta before that all in management still am with another company that recruited me right away. as meat department manager and 30 years of knowledge in this field i applied at a gainesville publix for a cutters job which i can still out cut most guys younger than me they shot me down. dont get me wrong store manager and market manager wanted me after the interview but when the store manager contacted his boss he said no with out even talking to me to give me a chance makes me wonder if it was a age thing or or what im not gonna give up though. but yeah making a change is rough and in a rural area finding a decent paying job is hard oh and to take this job i was will to start at a lower wage just to get in .

February 18 2013 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm just 41 and I here what he's saying about relocation and working in an environment where the young think they know it all. I have interns and young managers working for me and the minute you give them any negative input, it's whine, moan and complain. My husband and I moved for work out to LA, where we are now and believe me even if you're not 60 plus, it's still an adjustment. Luckily this guy is in the Twin Cities area, LA is a completely different animal. Anything out here over 25 is old, over 30 is ancient, over 40 you're a fossil and a person his age should already be embalmed. I think the best thing to do is really do your research on the environment, the job market, the culture and what not because if you don't the very things this gentlemen referred to in his piece will definitely happen to you. If my husband and I knew then what we know now, LA would have been a no-go.

February 18 2013 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Worth the risk, all depends. Many US cities are economically stagnant so if you are in one of those places, that is the real mess so to speak, not moving.

February 18 2013 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You might lose your rent controlled living quarters an start paying extra why earning less if you accept a job which may likely disapear anyway.

February 18 2013 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Most workers especially older ones with little assets cannot afford relocations. The cost of moving, the change of different insurances, and the cost of new living arrangements may be unaffordable or increase your debts.

February 18 2013 at 2:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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