Brave New Workshop is an improv theater in downtown Minneapolis. Several years ago, I participated in its 55+ improv class taught by theater veteran Jim Robinson. A dozen students and I went through classic improv exercises, including spinning a tale one sentence at a time by saying “yes, and” before adding to the story.
The big lesson I took away about creativity from those classes is how vitally important the “yes, and” mindset is. Lately, I’ve come to realize that’s especially true when you’re looking for a job after 50.
Most of us, at work and at home, often respond to others with “yes, but,” pointing out what’s wrong with what we hear. The “yes, and” response instead encourages openness to new ideas and opportunities.
Then: Laid Off Travel Group Trainer; Now: Gold Mine Truck DriverI thought of the importance of improv and the “yes, and” approach to the job search in the second half of life after recently meeting Tom Zitzmann in a coffee shop in Plymouth, Minn. Zitzmann, who’s 66, drives a truck in an underground gold mine near Elko, Nevada. The job isn’t something he ever imagined doing. But he loves the work, and the income has stabilized his household finances.
“I was able to talk my way in,” he says. “I really like the job.”
For 23 years, Zitzmann worked with the Carlson Travel Franchise Group, mostly training owners, managers and agents. Then, he was unexpectedly laid off in 2009 at 56. Money was tight. Zitzmann kept applying for full-time positions while making ends meet with a variety of part-time jobs — for the 2010 Census, Best Buy and a small marketing company where he poured liquor on weekends. He was putting in 60 hour work weeks and not getting ahead. In 2011, his wife — now 68 — got laid off from her job at a computer company.
By January 2012, “I knew it was time for a big change,” Zitzmann says.
And that’s where his story takes a twist. Zitzmann, who was adopted right after birth, had later in life contacted members of his birth family (his birth mother and father had died). One birth brother lived in Elko, Nev. and owned a small trucking business. He encouraged Zitzmann to come and be a truck driver at one of the area’s underground gold mines; Zitzmann had some experience driving trucks and construction equipment, mostly in high school and college.
So, on April 15, 2012, he took a chance, drove to Elko and started some creative job hunting.
“I’d call people on the phone establishing contacts. I’d apply online with all the major mining companies working in Northern Nevada. I kept notes on everyone I talked to and used their name when I contacted someone else from that company. Jobs were there, but still tight for a rookie like me,” Zitzmann recalls.
To make himself a stronger job candidate, he read all the mining journals and newspapers he could find. That way, he’d know some of the jargon and be able to use it in job interviews. And, Zitzmann says, “I’d tell my story to everyone and try to make connections.”
It worked. He landed a job and started on June 7, 2012. Since then, he’s been driving a truck in the mines for seven days straight followed by seven days off, typically working 84 hours a week. Household finances have definitely improved and he’s contributing to the company’s 401(k). He returns to Minnesota whenever practical on his off weeks.
In 2018, he won a Safety Champion award from the Nevada State Mining Association.
I’m consistently amazed at the creativity some people over 50 exhibit when looking for work that offers them purpose and a paycheck. Park ranger. Housesitter for wealthy families. Work-camper, or modern-day nomads in RVs holding jobs at seasonal businesses.
But this kind of creativity and persistence by older job seekers is pretty unusual.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, people are conventional in their job search,” says Steve Jewell, a Twin Cities-based human resources consultant and corporate recruiter. “But five to ten percent say: ‘I’m going to get what I want in a different setting.”
Read more examples and the complete Forbes article