Despite popular stereotypes suggesting that older workers have less to contribute than their younger counterparts, the reality is that turning 50 often signals a phase of maturity and confidence where knowledge, expertise and life experience intersect in a powerful way. Society and business can only benefit from making the most of older workers and their knowledge and capabilities. Unfortunately this is not yet reflected in the workplace where employment rates fall gently once people are over the age of fifty and fairly dramatically beyond the age of sixty. Over the next few months on the blog, Blume’s Alexander Stevenson will be challenging the stereotype by profiling several older workers who are using their experience to great effect in the workplace.
In the first of these interviews with older workers, we meet Carolyn, a journalist and copywriter.
1) Tell us a bit about your career to date.
My career started in newspapers in Australia, where I grew up. Although I completed a science degree in physiology at the University of Melbourne, I was more interested in the performing arts. When I started working for the university paper, I became obsessed with journalism and went on from there to work on daily newspapers and jobs writing about film, TV and theatre. At one time I was a theatre critic and edited an entertainment section.
From there I went into publicity for a large arts centre, then sponsorship, event management and communications for the Australian telecom company Telstra. When I came to London I spent many years at The Times, two years at The Daily Mail, and worked on many magazines, with clients such as Microsoft, NatWest and BT.
Through journalism I’ve had opportunities to do some strange and interesting things, such as touring Graceland and eating fried peanut butter sandwiches (yuk) with people who once met Elvis, to having dinner with Carla Bruni’s personal trainer in Vichy. Another time I flew to Venice to interview Edward de Bono on one of his islands. When I was reviewing a concert, I got to meet Mick Jagger at a record company cocktail party too.
2) In what ways is having experience in your field important for your freelance work?
My journalism career has taught me a lot. The Times particularly was a tough, high pressure and male-dominated environment, but it taught me a lot about communicating with people. As a journalist, I think you’re trained to always be asking questions and I’ve always been a very curious person which I think is a very common trait amongst writers.
3) What made you decide to work as a freelancer?
Freelancing has always been a part of my career – it’s often a fundamental part of working in media – I’ve always picked up bits and pieces of work. I’ve been very lucky in that work in the past has always come to me.
I’m someone who always likes to have a project, so freelancing really appeals to me as you’re never quite sure what might come up next: there’s always something different around the corner!
4) What has surprised you most since you started freelancing?
The thing that was the biggest learning for me was that people aren’t always sure what they want. They can brief one thing in and then when you present that, they realise it wasn’t what they were looking for at all!
It takes practice, but you have to learn to ask the right questions and, above all, be flexible. You also have to make sure you know that criticism of your work isn’t personal, it’s just all part of the process. Your job is to realise what may well be a changing vision, so often you just have to be patient and let the client figure it out for themselves.
5) What has been your most satisfying moment since you started freelancing?
I think the freelance project that has been most satisfying for me so far would be work I did while I was still working in Australia to run promotional roadshows to launch a new range of mobile phones at five venues all across the country. It was a real test of my organisational and logistical skills as it involved lugging a race car prop across Australia! I learned something new from each show and it was such a great feeling knowing I had pulled off such a challenging brief in relatively little time.
6) What kinds of organisations would you most like to work with, and why?
As I’ve mentioned already, I love the performing arts so would love to do more work in that space. I’m also really interested in working with big corporations. Not only do the budgets in that space often allow for lots of scope, often those roles come with plenty of accountability and opportunity to make a project your own as well.
Above all, I’m looking to work with people who are interesting and have a sense of humour. It would be really rewarding to work with people who are happy to take a bit of a step back, listen to my ideas and let me have creative input into the project.
7) How would you describe yourself in three words?
Driven, enthusiastic, perfectionist.
8) What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
I have won prizes for equestrian events. I don’t ride so much these days as it’s challenging finding the time to get out of London but growing up I always had horses in my life. I had one particular pony when I was a child who was so naughty – he was always running off!
9) What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be an artist: I was always pretty creative and spent a lot of time drawing horses when I was growing up. Failing that, I wanted to be a writer, so I’m definitely in the right field now.
You can find Carolyn and many other older workers on Blume, which celebrates and showcases the abundant talents of older professionals – and helps them find freelancing opportunities.