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How Blogging Solved My Mid-Life Career Crisis

Picture this: you’re 50 years old, your career is dying on the vine—your entire industry is on life support—and you need to find a new career to carry you through the rest of your life.

Sadly—and gladly—this situation was not hypothetical. It was my reality. I say “sadly” because it was an incredibly stressful situation to go through, especially having a family to support while it was unfolding. But I also say “gladly” because overcoming crisis is an amazingly empowering experience.

Rising out of the pile of economic statistics

I was one of the millions of career casualties of the financial meltdown that you no doubt heard tell of from the news media and assorted talking heads. In fact, I was at the epicenter of the storm, working many years as a loan originator in the mortgage industry. (When I wrote in the first paragraph that “your entire industry is on life support” I’m sure you can appreciate that I wasn’t exaggerating!)

That was my situation at the tail end of 2008/beginning of 2009. But by the beginning of 2012 I had a career designation unlike any I ever expected to have in my life: professional blogger. Not a common job description, especially for someone over 50, but I blog and I make money doing it.

How much money? Enough to make a living! That’s plenty—for now—for a guy who based on age and career circumstances could have easily been considered to be “washed up”. But there’s something I’ve learned about blogging—something much more encouraging: it’s one of those fields where the farther you go, the farther you can go. Think of it as “success breading success”. It’s very real in blogging.

Oh, and here’s something else I’ve learned from this experience: you’re only washed up if you think you’re washed up. But let’s get back on topic…

Hundreds, maybe thousands of people are making money blogging—but what IS different in my case is my highly unlikely background. I don’t fit the description of the usual professional blogger, who is typically in his or her 20s or 30s, has grown up with computers the way people my age did with TVs, has few inhibitions in regard to “transparency”, navigates the social media with ease and confidence, and generally has at least some professional connection to the IT universe. I can lay claim to none of that.

For me, entering, continuing, and extending my blogging career has been akin to building a brick wall—one brick at a time. But the take away, I hope, is that you’ll see that you can turn something as casual sounding as blogging into a legitimate career. I’m telling my story in the hopes that it might motivate you if you feel trapped by economic or employment circumstances. There is a way out—there always is.

What do you do when all the doors are closing?

A career crisis is a disaster at any age but once you reach the half century mark all of the problems are magnified. You’re too young to retire, but too old to start a new career.

Going back to school to get a new degree costs time and money you don’t have, and the time horizon to use the new skills learned is too short if you could. Employers in new career fields are unwilling to take a chance hiring you into an entry level position when they can easily hire younger people who are uncorrupted by previous experience and generally willing to work for less money. And that jumping-into-a-parallel-field thing is vastly over-rated, especially in the “worst downturn since the Great Depression”.

And there’s one other thing that any refugee from the mortgage business will tell you: we were widely viewed as “damaged goods”. I even saw ads that said something to the effect of “If you’re coming out of the mortgage industry we don’t want you”. I’m not kidding!

When you’re facing a conundrum like that, you can either cave-in, lose your self-esteem and “settle for what ever you can get” to carry you to the day when you’ll be eligible to collect a meager Social Security check—or you can come out fighting.

I chose to come out fighting. It wasn’t even close. But one of the most difficult things for a suddenly disenfranchised person (a description I never thought would apply to me) to do is to find a way to think long term in a world where your economic underpinnings have been virtually annihilated. The only rational course in that situation is to make an end run around the immediate problem—the very real prospect of permanent un- or under-employment—and to take a chance on something completely new.

I chose blogging. In my world, that’s as new as it gets.

The 21st Century equivalent of the Wild West

Blogging doesn’t top the list of places to find career salvation—I’ll be the first to admit that. More typically teaching, government jobs, IT or “something in the medical field” come to mind when people look to re-tool. Then there are the usual mid-life rest stops: real estate, insurance and car sales, or the various assorted “franchise opportunities”—all of which seldom work for people who have no entrepreneurial background. But blogging has one quality that none of those have: it’s the modern equivalent of the Wild West. It’s a world so undefined that even a complete but determined novice like me has a chance make a go of it.

Chaos—that’s where I chose to cast my lot, but not without reason.

I think it was Ted Turner who said something along the lines of “If you want to make money, find the place where the action is, jump in the middle of it, and money will come to you”. That’s a very loose paraphrase and I might not have it completely right, but it actually makes sense when you don’t know what else to do—and I didn’t. Blogging seemed to be that place.

Being an analytical type, I actually sat down and did T-account analyses to determine what my next “gig” would be—positive qualities to the left, negatives to the right. If a given field seemed to have a much higher number of positives than negatives, it was in contention.

Some of the qualities the new field had to have were easy entry, low or no capital investment, abundant room for growth, ready adaptability to self-employment, geographic mobility, and little or no government regulation—I was coming out of the mortgage business and saw it regulated into oblivion, but that’s a story for a different day. Blogging came up better than any other field I could think of, making it the “logical choice”, if you can believe as much.

The new field also needed to fit my skill set, and that wasn’t as apparent. As I’ve already revealed, I didn’t fit within the blogging “demographic”, didn’t have any IT familiarity and came from a generation where bearing our souls (and personal information) to others was considered out of bounds.

But I did have some skills that I thought would help. Though I’d never made money writing at any time in my life, I always thought of myself as a closet writer. I’m also a deep and generally unrestrained thinker—that fits well in a Wild West environment. And I had business and finance related experience from my mortgage career, and an earlier stint in public accounting. Not a whole lot to go on, but it was a start. I figured that if nothing else, I’d get the content part of blogging down quickly.

And here’s one other seemingly unlikely factor I had in my favor: I literally had no place else to go. That can create a level of dedication that those with more options can never muster.

So I mounted my horse, and rode out into the sunrise of the modern equivalent of the Wild West. God help me in my journey—and I know He did!

The path forward isn’t usually a straight line

Blogging has only been around since roughly the early-2000s, so it’s very much a field that’s still in its infancy. Because of this newness, it’s very much a blank canvass, a place where a novice is free to take chances, and quite literally as many as he wants. You can even mess up, and still move on.

This is very unlike the current employment scene where work flows and procedures are becoming increasingly precise and technocratic, even in the simplest of jobs. That’s the whole reason blogging appealed to me. We all have hidden talents, and blogging looked like the place where I could tap mine.

But chaos has its price too. I read as many blogs and published sources on the business of blogging as I could find, and one thing became clear in the early going: blogging is NOT an exact science. What works for one blogger won’t necessarily work for another. Damn—no road map!

You should gather all the information you can, especially from successful bloggers—some of it WILL work for you, just don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t. Blogging is a work-in-progress and much of it will depend on plain, old trial-and-error.

What DID work for me

Finding success is often a matter of creating order out of chaos, and that seems to be the general rule in blogging. This is not the easiest climb in the business world, but here a few pieces of advice if you’d like to make the trip yourself:

Drop any thoughts of “get-rich-quick”. When you’re down and out there can be a tendency to look for quick solutions and you might begin thinking in terms of rages-to-riches scenarios. Don’t waste your time and your money. Get-rich-quick and building a business are not at all the same thing—especially when it comes to blogging. With that thought fresh in mind…

Adopt a LONG-term view. I didn’t start making even a few hundred dollars a month until I was blogging for at least a year. It took me two years to hit the $1,000 monthly level, but it’s grown quickly since. Some people start making money after just six months, but understand that these are exceptional cases. The vast majority of blogs never make any money at all, and most fail within the first year. I didn’t fail because I didn’t quit!

Find a way to support yourself while you’re building your blog. I was done with the mortgage business, but I took all kinds of temporary and contract jobs while I was building my blog. Some of them interfered with my blogging, but I needed the money. There’s a definite “starving artist” quality to building a blog, but if you think of the outside jobs as supporting the building of your business it can actually turn it into an adventure that also provides you with material for writing content. Footnote: I still work side jobs when I can.

Be open to what ever comes your way. I’ve been describing blogging as chaotic and while that can certainly confuse and even sabotage your efforts to succeed, it also presents opportunities. Once your blog begins to get traffic, others in related businesses begin to notice. Advertising and affiliate deals, partnerships, networking arrangements—you name it—will begin showing up in your email. Many of them will be a complete waste of your time, but some will be serious and profitable.

Carefully consider as many as you can. Because the web is wide open, blogging can take you in all kinds of directions that you never expected. For example, about a year after I started my blog, Paul Van Lierop at Fiscal Geek offered me a paid staff writing position for his site. I accepted, and within a few months I had paid writing gigs on several sites and was making a nice side income. Today, most of my blogging income is from freelance blog writing, which has turned into an incredible way to build my blogging income from multiple sites.

Network, network, network. Part of finding success on the road into the unknown is finding people to make the journey with. One of the greatest blessings of the blogging world is that there are so many people you can team up with. I’ve met dozens, and I’m going to say without reservation that this is the greatest group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. All are succeeding in their own ventures, all are entrepreneurs, and all need one another to make it work. I’m in a networking group now where we think of each other as “co-workers”—with all of the benefits of co-worker support, but none of the burdens. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Be relentless. If I could pick one quality that separates success from failure, it’s definitely this one. You have to become almost single-minded, blocking out and even ignoring distractions. No matter what, keep moving forward! While I was working in contract assignments—and enjoying the money of the moment—I never lost sight of the fact that the assignments were temporary but my blog was permanent! Constant forward motion has a way of getting you to where you want to go, even if it takes longer than you expect.

The Payoff

That may seem like a lot to summon up, especially if you’ve never built your own business in the past. But as difficult as it seems, the payoffs of succeeding are even greater. Here are some of the many benefits I’ve gotten from my blogging venture—you can expect the same if you decide to give it a serious try.

  1. I have my own business. An income generating blog is a legitimate business—some are even selling for substantial amounts of money. In today’s economy, being self-employed is more secure than being on someone else’s payroll—especially as you get older.
  2. My future is unlimited. I’m making money blogging and I haven’t even ventured into wide areas like affiliate marketing or multiple site ownership. While other people my age are worried about keeping their jobs, I’m working on growing my business. At an age where so many are planning on folding up their tents, I’m contemplating the infinite possibilities…
  3. I love what I do. I’ve never been able to say that about any job or career I’ve had in the past. When you love what you do, it doesn’t even feel like work.
  4. I don’t have to retire. The whole idea of “putting in your time” to retire at a given point never sat well with me. If I retire I want it to be because I want to, not because I have to.
  5. Blogging flows with my life. If another opportunity comes along, I can slow my blogging to a side business—or ramp it back up if the opportunity turns into a bust. I can take time to tend to family or personal matters, and I don’t have to ask HR for permission. All I need to do is pack up my laptop and go.
  6. I have geographic mobility. Since I’m no longer job dependent, I can live anywhere in the world that has electricity and an internet connection. No office to report to, no buildings to maintain, no inventory or heavy equipment to keep—my entire business can be “stored” in my head or on a flash drive. And both are portable.

Blogging Your Passion 101
Blogging Your Passion 101
I’m here to tell you that you can make money blogging, even if you don’t have any “prequalifications”. Or even if you think you’re too old. I was 50 when I started and I’m no whiz kid of any kind. But here I am, working through my mid-life career crisis with a plunge into what was—until three years ago—the complete unknown. If I can do this, so can you.

Blogging is more “art” than “science” but you still need a road map if you want to do it quickly and effectively. If you’re stepping into blogging or plan to soon, check out this step-by-step series from Bob Lotich and Jonathan Milligan, two of the best bloggers in the business. It will guide you through the process from start to profitability:

Blogging Your Passion University 101

Blogging Your Passion University 201

Blogging Your Passion University 5 Week Video Series:

Have you ever thought about blogging as a business? What keeps you from moving forward with it?

( Photo from Flickr by ElvertBarnes )

22 Responses to How Blogging Solved My Mid-Life Career Crisis

  1. Hi Weston–There’s hope at just about any age. I know several people who’ve made major career changes (usually into self-employment) in middle age, and I’m going to try to get them to share their stories.

    The media are ga-ga over 20-something whiz kids making billions out of the gate, but the success stories of more “ordinary” people are no less spectacular–and much more relevant for the majority of people.

  2. I am so glad you posted this article; you are not quite there yet in age but there are many seniors out there, and some them excellent writers no doubt, who should give blogging a whirl. I am certain many of them are just getting by and imagine how much of a difference an extra 1000 a month would make!

    It took me two and a half years to reach the monthly 1000 dollar mark, and there is no reason why others can’t do it. The trick is to focus on a niche or topic that is hot or up and coming, and stick with it; you will get there if you don’t quit. I felt like quitting many times but my pride and guts didn’t allow me to do it!

  3. Hi Sandra–thanks for sharing your own experience. I’ve written elsewhere on this site that many/most of us should consider developing some sort of business we can carry into retirement, to supplement a less-then-expected retirement income. You’re confirming that point (thanks again).

    I’ve also thought many times of the concept of one’s “life’s work”, which is a kind of dated concept but probably needs to be revived. We all have a contribution to make, and having some sort of business, whether it be blogging or something else, can keep us working, contributing and earning well past the age when employers think it’s time for us to be “put out to pasture”.

  4. I am so glad that I’ve found your blog. We need a lot of these down to earth, real life examples to have people understand: it is not coming in 30 days and it is not 1M buck it takes much longer and it brings unbelievable FREEDOM!

  5. Hi Attila–I couldn’t agree more. One of the problems we have right now with the disenfranchised is a sense of hopelessness, which is completely understandabble given the condition of the job market. But that means self-employment, as well as looking outside the box–become the only logical alternatives. And while that’s hard, especially if you’ve never been there, it’s very liberating when you get to the other side.

    I think the critical element is also converting the negative energy into forward motion. Get working on SOMETHING that offers a way forward, and keep going until you get there. For a lot of people–me included–there really is no other choice.

  6. Thank you for writing this. Your story sounds a bit like mine with few minor differences: I still have my job but am looking to change; I still have made less than $100 from my blog but that it is 10 months old this sounds OK; I am marginally younger than you and started blogging not long ago.

    I am not giving up anytime soon. My blog is growing, all my lines are going in the right direction and I am not going to let these young kids wipe the floor with me for long :). More seriously, I am so glad to have found a community that is so exciting and helpful.

  7. Hi Maria–Interesting point you make about having found a community. While the community aspect of the job world is breaking down in the every-man-for-himself struggle, it’s quite literally thriving on the web. Kindred souls seeking each other out I suppose.

    I agree, don’t give up even if the money isn’t coming in. There’s no right answer as to when money will flow in. When you’re starting out you need to concentrate on site content and networking. The money will come in it’s own time. Please be open to the opportunities that will come your way, some of them really are excellent arrangements.

  8. A good post and interesting to me – I was made redundant at 50, started working freelance; the business grew and I sold it 18 years later for what looked like a tidy sum. Then came the crunch, low return on investments + inflation.

    So I’ve started again, online and, you know what? I’m loving it! Hopefully, it will develop into an earner but, if it doesn’t, I’m having a ball!

  9. Hi Pat–Yes, that ability to follow your passions through self-employment can be addicting. I’ve noticed that some people are natural entrepreneurs–the idea of holding a job never occurs to them. Then there are the converts–like me–who cross that line and never come back. There’s so much that you can do with your own business, the flexibily is most definately one of the perks. And once you do it, you’re motivated to do it again. It isn’t a static situation in any way.

  10. Really interesting post, got the link from The Money Principle, and I have bookmarked your blog for further reading. I like your style, and I like that you have made a bad situation better on your own and seem to be thriving on it!! I will be reading more with interest.

  11. Hi Helen–Thank you for the compliments. I really believe that any of us can make a major transition, as long as we completely commit to doing it. While it could be that I had certain very subtle talents or skills that enabled me to make a change that seemed unlikely at first glance, I think that most people have hidden talents that will help them, and they may only discover them when they step out of their comfort zone and commit to doing something completely new.

    All of us are far more adaptable than we believe.

  12. Great post! All your points are valid and don’t quit really is the key. I’m almost 40 and will need to make some changes soon. Making money online is really like the wild wild west. People say what happens if something changed and your blog stop making money? I think we’re still in the frontier of making money online and we will be in a good position to take advantage of the next big thing.

  13. I think you’re hitting on the heart of the matter here. Earning a living on the web is more of a lifestyle than a career I think. You get into, recognize that it isn’t a “career” but way to make a living. It’s a dynamic environment, one that’s constantly evolving, and you learn to roll with the changes.

    You may not think you can do that before you get in, especially if you’ve always worked in traditional jobs. But you learn to go with the flow, and as you do you get better at it. Compared to many people making a living off the web, I’m an Old Dog, and yet I’m learning new tricks all the time. It actually feels good!

    If you’re flexible, you like change, and you’re open to learning, you can do this. That’s the part so many people miss. Knowing what I know now, if I had a full time job, I’d start doing something on the web as a side venture and be prepared to take as long as it does to make something start happening.

    I think this will only get bigger as time goes on. The world is now quite comfortable transacting business over thousands of miles, and the potential is endless.

  14. Kevin,

    Since you are 50, can you share with us how much you saved for the past 25+ years after school? Would give the rest of us something to shoot for.

    Also, please let me know your thoughts on the average net worth in the post below for a 50 year old.

    Thanks,

    Sam

  15. Hi Sam–I know it’s become the norm for 20-somethings to bare all when it comes to income, assets, debts, etc, even to the point of pasting them on a website for all to see forever more, but to those of us in the “older generation” that kind of transparency isn’t the world we grew up in.

    I did check out your post, and as to the average net worth, from the numbers I’ve seen on your site as well as on others, the “average” person will never retire, not completely. Just my opinion but Mr. and Mrs. Average need to concern themselves with lowering their cost of living, getting completely out of debt, saving every penny they can, and having a back-up career for retirement. Which brings us back to blogging…

  16. Not even a hint Kevin?

    You don’t have to bare all, as I haven’t bared all at all.

    I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but everyone should be able to retire and do nothing after 25-28 years of work. You don’t even need to blog to make money! 25-28 years of saving and investing!

  17. Hi Sam, the only thing I will say is that having money put aside definately helps in what ever you do, not just retirement.

    I agree that in THEORY everyone should be able to retire after 25 years of work, but real life doesn’t always cooperate with our best plans. Layoffs, medical problems, family crises, having kids (vs not having them) are all variables that do have an effect on the outcome. So do bear markets; one happening when you’re in your 50s is vastly different than having it happen in your 20s.

    Preparation–including saving and investing–is important, but flexibility when things don’t work according to plan is even more important. Do you agree?

  18. I think it’s a no brainer after 25 years. You’ll have to read my post, “Achieving Financial Freedom One Income Slice At A Time” for my thoughts. You’ll like it. Talks about around 10 different income streams.

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