“Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?” – Lennon and McCartney
Career reinvention is not for wimps
By John Lehndorff
I am 64 years old.
There, I admit it. I’m 64 and I’m looking for a job.
Again. (Insert favorite expletive here.)
This isn’t how it was supposed to go, vis a vis my American dream. Whatever I thought 64 would feel like when I was younger, this isn’t it. For one thing, 64 is the new 44 which means I won’t be retiring for 20 years.
I am Colorado’s veteran uh, senior/oldest and longest serving food journalist in history having written about culinary matters locally and nationally since the late 1970s. I’ve also hosted a weekly radio food show for several decades as a volunteer. For too long I refused to believe that there wasn’t a booming market for my unique skill set and excess culinary knowledge. I’m a believer now.
Before the turn of the century, I was a freelance writer who cooked in Boulder restaurant kitchens for seven years. I became the Food Editor of the Daily Camera for 15 years and Dining Critic for the Rocky Mountain News for eight until it closed in 2008. I was a writer/editor for two years at the Aurora Sentinel until I was laid off there. Since then I have worked as a freelance writer and active member of the gig economy.
Now I find myself between a rock and an even harder place financially as a writer even though I write a weekly food column for the Boulder Weekly and a monthly food column for Sensi magazine and other features for local and national publications about anything and everything. I pen un-bylined advertorial content and company profiles for clients. I teach an occasional class. My writing is in demand but even if I write for 75 hours a week, I don’t make enough to pay the overhead required to produce that product or my other bills.
I take full responsibility for my circumstances. I should have changed careers when the Rocky closed but I did not. Now I’m looking at anything and everything I can do to create income. I ponder Craigslist, Andrew’s Job List, LinkedIn and other sites, but I seldom see anything that fits my circumstances and abilities and age.
I’ve got to say that filling out a standard employment forms at this point in life is its own special form of torture. You want to know my high school? Really? My most recent job? And do I have any job references? It’s a humbling experience.
Last year I drove 100,000 miles for Lyft using a rental car from Hertz – my car was too beat up. I enjoy driving, and I made some money but paying the rental plus gas an overhead meant I had to drive a lot just to break even. Driving late at night on weekends in Boulder – the time which pays the best – is too scary on many levels. I’ve had some close calls. I’m not doing that any more.
I do a lot to maintain my visibility as a writer and optimize my name. I maintain a lively Facebook presence including a separate page devoted to food and my pie career. I have an active, updated LinkedIn page. I post stories I’ve written and links to the radio show podcasts I’ve produced. I also have a WordPress blog site where I republish stories I’ve written. I’m not sure that any one of these digital things work by themselves, but I believe that my collective effort at self-marketing helps keep me a viable hire.
By the way, I am not some cranky, old fart journalist lamenting the death of ink and newspapers. The technology of information delivery changed and it put people out of work as it has repeatedly in the past century. Ask the telegraph guys and the folks who poured hot lead to print papers. .
I have no complaints. I am a privileged and well-educated American white man. I have a good family, great support from friends and valuable resources I can access.
So, I am reinventing myself. My situation has forced me to take a long, hard look at the skills that I do possess. I’ve thought about temp agencies. I could work in the cannabis industry as a bud trimmer, but I think carpal tunnel syndrome would probably set in rapidly.
I am a pie expert. Seriously. Google “Lehndorff pie.” It does look cool on the resume, but there really aren’t a lot of paying jobs for pie experts. My dream job would be to curate and direct a national museum devoted to pie … if there were one.
I could provide useful services for a restaurant group as a private dining critic who anonymously visits eateries and critiques them for the chef and owner, not the public. I can provide food trend insights and create content for food websites and social media.
The other thing I know how to do is cook. That’s why I find myself back in the kitchen again recently working as a prep cook for a large catering company. I’m grateful they have given me a shot since the last time I worked in a commercial kitchen was around 1982 when I gave up cooking to write about food. I have discovered that my food knowledge may be vast but my knife skills needed sharpening. I’m also a tad slow.
I have found that I can stand up, chop, fry, saute and work for 8 hours without sitting down … but it hurts like hell. I’ve cut, burned and bruised myself, just like in the old days. A kitchen is no country for old cooks but I persist. I enjoy cooking … plus I’ve lost 10 pounds. Cutting up carrots can be more satisfying and less of a brain pain than writing and when I cook for an hour, I get paid for an hour even if the compensation is less than adequate.
I’m still looking for a company that can use the skills I’ve acquired over a lifetime. If you have a job, let me know. If you need more information about me, here are some sources:
Radio Nibbles: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles