Independently owned restaurants in America were significantly impacted by COVID-19. By late July, it was reported that roughly 16,000 restaurants had permanently closed, forcing people to seek unemployment or find new jobs. Paul, a 45-year old New York City chef, was laid off from work at the onset of the pandemic due to restaurant closures. Though he enjoyed his role in the food industry, being a chef was not his ultimate dream. Paul decided to return to college to earn a degree, pursuing his passion for landscape architecture.
A career switch during a pandemic can be intimidating, especially for older individuals in established professions. Paul wondered if this was the right time to go down a different path. He asked himself, “What have I got to lose?” Of his midlife career change, Paul explains, “When I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had decent skills in the kitchen, and I worked my way up to head chef. I spent long hours on my feet and worked hard. Then, the pandemic hit. We had to close the restaurant. It made me reevaluate what I wanted to do. I have always been interested in garden and landscape design and sustainability. I’m excited for my next chapter in life.”
The decision did not come easy. Paul read books on midlife career changes, listened to educational podcasts, and sought the advice of a career counselor to gain resources and develop a plan of action for his important life decision. He shared, “I was initially nervous about taking college courses. Being older than most students, I felt insecure.” He chuckled, “Ironically, no one cared about my age.” Paul revealed that what concerned him the most was garnering the support of family and friends. “Everyone knows me as a chef. I didn’t want them to think I was having a midlife crisis by changing careers now. Surprisingly, everyone was cool with my decision.”
Some middle-aged and older Americans have been the targets of ageism, the stereotyping and/or discrimination against individuals or groups based on age. Paul recalled that there was an age discrimination study done in 2017 by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The folks running the study created realistic (fake) resumes and concluded that older job seekers with similar backgrounds got less callbacks than younger job applicants. Paul said, “I’m not worried about ageism. People are working and living longer. I think we are growing more open-minded every day.” When asked if COVID-19 negatively affects his employment outlook, Paul referred to a quote by American business magnate John D. Rockefeller, “I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity.” Paul exclaimed, “That’s my plan, too.”