Two months ago I started a course called Preparing to Run Your Own Business. Or, as I like to tell it, ‘I’m doing a business start-up course’. Because start-ups are hip (hey, they’re what young people do), and being trained to be a ‘senior entrepreneur’ is not.
The course finished last week. I’m not in business yet because I accidentally got a temporary job (via an agency I’d forgotten I’d signed up with). It wasn’t part of the plan, but it might be useful. Or, as I like to say in my new role as business-type person, ‘strategically important’.
I might not have launched a business yet, but I’m portfolio working and I like the notion. More to the point, I’m learning not to say no. To allow life to be an adventure.
Meanwhile, I still had to finish the coursework, and take a day off work to go to the last training day. But on this third day of the course we listened to each other instead of the trainer: we each had to do a ten-minute presentation about our business.
It was rather good hearing people who were hesitant two months ago talk with confidence and credibility about what they plan to do. But the best bit was hearing people who have discovered what I call ‘their thing’: the thing that makes them light up, the thing that gives them confidence, the thing that means something special to them. In some cases, the thing they should have been doing all their lives but never had the chance.
There’s energy in those discoveries. When you’ve dismissed the point of job applications, there is, as one of my classmates inspiringly said, a more creative way of looking at the future.
There was another kind of energy there too. We’d bonded a bit by the end of the course and could say things we couldn’t at the beginning. And there’s a lot of anger out there. About being ignored in favour of the young. About being pigeon-holed and patronised. About being written off.
For years, I’ve been working on websites for a living. When I go to an industry event everyone is 35. And I can’t disguise myself as 35 any more. I’m not sure I can even disguise myself as 45, these days. It makes you feel you don’t fit.
The job I’m doing at the moment is something I can do without thinking (and I literally don’t get paid to think, which is a bit of a novelty). The last person who did the job was 29. My boss is younger than me. And I imagine that I know more about the job I’m doing than they do. I have experience, knowledge and wisdom. I have enthusiasm, because this is my ‘thing’. But young people are supposed to have these jobs, not over-50s.
When I started this course I did it because it was free and being over 50 meant I was eligible. Other than that, I didn’t think my age would have anything to do with it. And it didn’t, in the sense that the course content was standard advice. But what it’s done is brought me together with a load of people in the same age group, and it surprised me how rarely that happens. (I have a lot of online friends my age, because I’ve sought them out, but - because my old friends are scattered - very few who I see in everyday life.)
Bringing together older people. Bringing out their anger. You could be on dangerous ground. You might make entrepreneurs of us all. Or you might just start something...
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
Monday, 18 February 2013
We're all supposed to be quoting George Orwell these days so here goes.
Facebook: 'How are you doing?'
Sainsbury's checkout person: 'How's it going?'
You can look from machine to man, and back again, and it's becoming impossible to say which is which.
Two things this week made me realise how phoney our everyday transactions have become, and how they've squeezed out any genuine human interaction. Courtesy? Treating a customer as a genuine human being? Forget it.
I was in Sainsbury's on Friday afternoon buying a few essentials, because the supermarkets have killed all the corner shops. As I started putting my shopping into a bag, the young man on the checkout asked asked 'How has your week been?' They've trained him to say that. If I'd told him I'd just lost my job or my mother had died, how would he have reacted? Have they trained him for that?
Neither of those things are true, but I suspect they are statistically likely to have been true for at least one of the people who passed through the supermarket this week. So how are these people expected to feel when a total stranger asks them their – painful – business?
Is that genuine good manners – courtesy and consideration – or is it the opposite?
It goes without saying that the young man also wished me to have a nice evening.
On Saturday, I visited what passes for a corner shop round here, the railway station Spar, and bought the Guardian. The woman said 'have a nice day' as she handed me my change. I thought for a moment that she might actually have meant it. Wrong.
Five minutes later I was back at the Spar, having unwrapped the Guardian and found there was a section missing. I thought it would be as simple as explaining the situation and getting a replacement. But no. Before the words were out of my mouth, the woman responded with 'It's nothing to do with us, you have to ring Smiths' (the distributors), followed closely by 'You can't have a replacement, you've opened it.'
You only have to google 'Sale of Goods Act' to know that these statements are wrong. But she's been trained to say this, just like she's been trained to wish me a good day.
I did get the replacement, because I'm stubborn. I didn't get a 'have a good day' this time. I didn't even get an apology.
Having a corporation try to do me out of £2.30 isn't, perhaps, a big deal. But knowing that corporations are so scared of admitting liability that they won't even allow their staff to use the word 'sorry' ought to be a huge deal.
This is what we have come to. They only want us when we fit the script. We're all just part of the machine.
Sunday, 10 February 2013
good things about being over 50. I recently found another one.
Everyone's heard of the Prince's Trust. Hardly anyone's heard of the Prince's Initiative, aka the Prince's Initiative for Mature Enterprise aka PRIME. Yes, I think it's one of those things where they chose the acronym first and then worked backwards.
At any rate, it's start-up support for over-50s. Which means that a few days ago I was in London with a dozen or so other people of around my own age all wanting help with starting their own business. It was the first day of a two-month course, three training days with lots of homework in between. And here's the best bit: it is all free.
OK, the course workbook has a photo of Prince Charles on the inside cover, but I'm not proud. I quite liked the idea of taking money from the royals for a change.
As it turns out, the money isn't coming out of Charles' pocket after all. Before we could get started, we had to fill in some forms in order to get some EU funding for the course. Cue grumbles from people too old to remember what was the last exam they took.
Then we had to work on defining the vision for our business. This is the hard bit: I struggled when I got made redundant and people asked what I was going to do next. Because all the books I've read (and I've read a lot) say you have to think very carefully about your 'elevator pitch'. And I'm still thinking.
Like most of my fellow students, I want do do something that uses what I already know about from previous jobs. After thirty-odd years at work, that's a lot of stuff: writing, editing, journalism, PR, managing websites, social media, plain English. I don't want to spread myself too thin, and I want to do something that will pay. And find people who will pay for it. So I need a plan.
This is something new for me: there was never a plan before. I fell into freelance writing after a bruising and inconclusive meeting with a university careers adviser, and followed my nose ever since. After a while that led to actual jobs. But I've never done the 'career ladder' thing: the only reason for doing anything was a) to earn and b) to learn.
So here I am: it's ten days since I left my job and I'm thinking now it was definitely a case of 'be careful what you wish for'. I was ready for a change, and excited about the chance, but I forgot I'd have to deal with The Fear.
Well, I'm motivated (because there is no alternative). And I'm determined. And I know that The Fear has never stopped me doing anything in the past.
It helps that there is support out there, too. I'm really glad I found it. But I just have one regret about starting on this programme: I wish they would not call us 'senior entrepreneurs'.