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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ilene Nathanson

The Path to Personal Reinvention – You Can’t Go It Alone

As I began taking my first steps towards reinvention, after a long and successful academic career, I started asking myself whether the opportunities exist for a woman ‘of a certain age’. Otherwise, really, why bother?

In this blog I am going to focus on the answer to two questions:

1. Why bother?

2. Where do I go from here and how do I get there?

In response to the first question, I discovered there’s a wealth of information regarding future employment trends for older workers. And the news is encouraging!

  • Higher Wage Position Holders More Secure According to a recent S&P Global survey, older employees occupying higher wage positions are less likely to have been negatively impacted than lower wage positions by the pandemic, highlighting the disparities in benefits, paid time off, health care or job security. However, the unevenness of the fallout has prompted reconsideration of the needs of workers in all wage positions.

  • Tech Savvy The S&P survey further points out that while often regarded as the purview of the young, the transition to greater reliance on technology in services, education, government and industry can be good news for tech-savvy older adults. The widespread use of technology translates into greater opportunity for people who can adapt (at any age) and who might prefer online employment. Another survey conducted by Andy Patrizio for Dropbox and Ipsos Mori, a London based market research firm, disputes the conception that older workers struggle with technology and reveals the surprising finding that older workers are less likely than their younger colleagues to find technology in the workplace stressful.

  • Higher Demand for Older Employees With the inversion of the age pyramid and the shrinking pool of younger qualified personnel, employers are beginning to recognize the need to maintain older skilled employees. The aging of the American workforce, resulting from many factors, including increased longevity, function and talent shortage is heavily documented, including in publications of the Labor Department and the American Society for Aging. Added value is also attached to the high level of engagement of older employees, as well as our openness to flex scheduling and online or part-time work options.

  • Career Path Flexibility A recent article by Avivah Wittenberg Cox in the Harvard Business Review identifies variations in the traditional ‘me focused’ phase of first adulthood and the ‘giving back’ phase of later life for women. Many women are reaching their career peaks in the second stage when they have more time to begin to prioritize their own ambitions. Roles are beginning to blend (albeit slowly) with younger men and women, particularly, experiencing “de-compartmentalization” of roles. The author cautions that business leaders need to understand that women’s career paths may be different than the still dominant up-or-out model and adapt to meet the demand for employees.

And so, the opportunities are mounting; but where do you turn when reinventing yourself while also seeking greater balance among the different sectors of your personal life such as travel and family?

Therein lies the rub!

You didn’t think I was going to leave you with a lecture on how you can find opportunity if you just look for it? Of course not. The answer to the question of where to go and parenthetically, how to get there, is the one that matters. And for that I draw on my own experience.

In my reflections on growth and successful aging, I often emphasize the need to balance leadership with teamwork or followership, or to put it bluntly, the need to accept guidance from others.

It wouldn’t be right to make this suggestion unless I had tested its validity. Yes, I have asked for help and I have received it over the years. I am fortunate in many ways to have been a member of a profession that expects people to grow and doesn’t stigmatize a person for asking for help. I also discovered humility through my accomplishments. I found that the more successful I became at achieving my goals, the more open I became to reflecting upon my own vulnerabilities and personal challenges.

But I did not do it all alone. I sometimes sought help to keep my anxieties at bay. Better understanding has led to clearer thinking and acting. I found that talking it out with a trusted colleague or mentor helped me to strategize more clearly. I also found that combining my strengths with the talents of others resulted in successful synergistic outcomes. But a lot of not going it alone had to do with underlying psychological factors.

As part of my psychodynamic education, I studied Heinz Kohut’s self psychology. He writes about the need throughout the life span for validation from significant others. These people are not experienced as separate and independent but serve to complete the self, something critical to the healthy development of the child, but also important to people of any age. You don’t need many people to “follow” as you paradoxically evolve your leadership capabilities. However, you do need Some One or Some Ones who can help with what Herminia Ibarra describes (in an April 27, 2020 article in the Harvard Business Review) as the “active experimentation” that is necessary “to clarify your thinking.”

You cannot and should not have to go this alone. We all need a coach or a counselor or a group with whom to “talk things out.”

One-on-one vs. group support?

I personally have a preference for one-on-one, but I was initially trained as a group worker and have learned the great advantages of group support and networking. (Oh, and by the way, I am a very private person and so I can empathize very well with resistance.) In exploring options for coaching or counseling, I advise that you ask yourself the question, “Do I prefer individual or group support?” I just know that I need other like-minded people to keep me strong. To provide validation for my experience. And to join me on our collective path to reinvention. LEANING OUT has provided me with the opportunity for “vision sharing” and mutual support. I am looking forward to meeting great women along the way.

To that end: LEANING OUT will be offering complimentary small virtual networking salons. The salons will focus on identifying common life stage issues associated with transition and reinvention. They will include discussions around establishing new avenues for personal and occupational fulfillment, managing multiple demands, anxieties associated with loss and uncertainty. I will be facilitating these sessions and I hope you will join me. I look forward to turning the next page with you. “Let us begin together!”

Check out the Spotlight section on for salon sign-up details. CLICK HERE



Ilene Nathanson just retired from full time employment as Co-Founder and Chief Administrator of the Long Island University Collaborative MSW Program where she served as a Full Professor, Social Work. Her specialties include gerontology, clinical social work and health policy. Ilene has been a pioneer in promoting multidisciplinary practice with older adults, as evidenced in the publication, Elder Practice: A Multidisciplinary Approach. She received her “induction into gerontology” at the Brookdale Center on Aging of Hunter College. She is also recognized for her contributions to the development of the Nathanson-Giffords ethics scale for the social work profession.



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