Monday, September 23, 2013

The More Things Change. . .

Photo by Mr. Tea. 
After five decades, I've gone through several transformations.  I was shy as child. Now I am a chatterbox. I shunned athletics for years. Now I'm a gym rat.  I often argue that I have changed in deep and meaningful ways. Nevertheless, the words of French critic Jean-Baptiste Alphonese Karr echo in my mind: "The more things change, the more the stay the same." 

Despite changing jobs again and again within fields and between fields, I've always played the role of peer tutor. 

See the thumbnails below more posts by midlife women
on the topic of "Transformations." 

The links below will evaporate soon, so here are links to a few posts from this set
in case you visit after the blog hop expires.

Flourishing Post-divorce: Sharon "Reinvention for Real People" at Empty House Full Mind
Midlife Makeover: Pam "Transformation Stories: Here's Mine" at Over50Feeling40.
Battle of the Bulge: Joy Weese Moll "Reinvention" at Joy's Book Blog
Triumph over Brain Injury: Ruth "Reinvention by Chance" at Cranium Crunches 

Photo by MaineDOE
Karr is right. From about age 10 to age 48, I worked as a peer tutor in way form or another.

When I was 10 and 11, I volunteered to work without pay as a classroom helper during those summers.  I was a TA in high school. From 18 to 34, I tutored in various university writing centers to the point that calling me a peer was stretching the concept.

My fellow students and I not only explored how to best improve our academic performance, we also talked more generally about how to prepare and achieve as young adults. 

In my 30s and 40s, I spent a lot of time as an adjunct and then a clinical faculty member / administrator training and mentoring other educators.

However, when I moved to Kansas in 2008, I failed in my efforts to mentor students now 30 years younger than I.  Also, the students at my new university were primarily students of science. Previously the tutors working with me were studying language, literature, psychology and history (as I had done). The students working with me did not see how my experience would benefit their academic and career goals.

Also, I began seeing challenges to my aging parents' quality of life, challenges that I never considered while working for decades with young adults.  I didn't understand how to support my parents' development in late life. I didn't even understand how to manage my own growth in midlife.With all this disconnection, I quit higher ed at age 48 and earned a master's in Aging Studies.

After three decades in higher education with young adults, I now work as a gerontologist.

Photo by bouldevardrider
My midlife career change looks like a major transformation, but it really a return to my most comfortable role:  talking with peers about our growth and development in a shared life stage. Or talking with a near peer about how to transition in or out of a proximate life stage.  

Gerontology offers several theories about aging, including some that describe why I manipulated my externals to maintain a consistent identity / role. One such theory is called Selection, Optimization and Compensation Theory or SOC.

I see SOC theory in action when I watch the mature men in my weightlifting class choose to lift weights in a room of midlife women rather than joining the twentysomething young men in the free weight room. I see SOC theory in action when I attend a social club for mature business leaders who prefer networking with age mates who look past their wrinkles and gray hair to see their achievements, skills and insightful analysis of the local economy based on experience.  I see SOC theory in action when I see mature beautiful women hiring wardrobe consultants, updating their hair and make up, and for some undergoing minor surgery in order to turn heads as midlife women.

And I see SOC theory in action in myself in my career change as described above. I also see it in myself and other lifelong students / mature academics in our evolving work habits.  Many of my age mates from my university days are also learning how to maximize the plasticity of the brain and how to compensate for age-related changes to cognition such as Tip of the Tongue Syndrome.

I select how I use my attention by ignoring more and more media that doesn't match my interests. I optimize my cognitive strengths as a person who reads 1,000 words a minute, types 120 words a minute,  and draws on a lot of historical and cultural knowledge gained through decades of formal and informal study. And I compensate for age-related changes to cognition by taking more notes than I ever did before.

Photo by Tommy Hemmert Olesen
SOC is not the only available theory for explaining how older adults adjust to age-related challenges. And I don't imagine that I will stay wedded to this theory forever.

However, I do expect that in 30 years, you will find me sitting with a group of my peers or near peers, talking about how to most effectively manage our growth and development.


Tip of the Tongue Syndrome
Embracing My Age
Age-Related Changes to How We Write


  1. What a terrific insight to see yourself as a peer advisor and to make the change when your peers change! Great story! Thanks for SOC -- that's news I can use today!

    1. Thanks for reading. I have a friend from high school who is thinking about being a personal trainer. I shared your post with her, and she loved it.

  2. I am consistently amazed by those who, like you, change careers at midlife and find their true calling. I imagine those you work with find you to be such an inspiration.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed reading about your mother's triumphant reinvention at midlife.

  3. Your reinvention is a great inspiration.

    1. Thanks! I am in awe that you developed a business from the ground up. Go, you.

  4. Hi Karen....I agree with Haralee--your reinvention is a GREAT one! It makes so much sense to me that you've transitioned your life in the way you have. As you said, you always enjoyed teaching and learning along with your peers and you are still clearly doing that! I think you are a good example of how we can flow and adapt at any age and still hang on to those things that are important and helpful in the world. Thanks for being a host of the blog hop! They are so much fun! ~Kathy

    1. Thanks! Yes, my life took a turn I would have never, ever imagined as a kid or even a young adult. But I really enjoy my new field.

  5. Very interesting post, Karen. I think SOC is fascinating and explains a lot of what I see around me, and am experiencing within myself. And it is interesting that we as a culture see youth as the norm. I suppose that's always been true since older people were scarcer.

    Your reinvention says a lot about taking the potential we have and turning it into unseen opportunity. Few young people enter the field of gerontology, but it is a growing field. I think as lifespans lengthen it will become even more important.

  6. Hi Karen, I too, admire your career change, what a remarkable life and outlook. I absolutely love that you included this: "I select how I use my attention by ignoring more and more media that doesn't match my interests." The media has a way of shaping us and I love that you remind the reader that what you absorb walks hand in hand with what you choose! Last, to echo Laura Lee's words above: You ROCK!

  7. Isn't it wonderful when you find out the "real you" was there all along!