More time to exercise is silver lining in layoffs


For the Mirror

When the first career counseling client told me he was on the Atkins diet since he lost his job, I thought it was a good move, since he was over 50 and in serious need to take off pounds.

I didn’t pay much mind to it until a few weeks later when another executive, who’d just become a client, mentioned that he was doing the same thing. I wrote it off as a coincidence.

But now that many older job candidates have told me they are actively exercising several hours daily and have taken off 25, 50, even 60 pounds in the months since they’d been unemployed, I started to investigate. Sure enough, it seems being laid-off does have a plus side: The time to work out every day.

But on closer examination, something else was going on, too.

In my 20 years as a career consultant, I’ve come to realize that men really lose a sense of self when they are forced off the job. Their identify is often caught up in the job title and employer they work for. Being unemployed makes it especially hard when self-esteem goes with the job.

Although men often publicly put up a stiff upper lip, they confess to me that they are embarrassed and insecure to find themselves forced to job hunt again. This seems to be especially true for older workers in their 40s and 50s.

“On the job I got caught up in the demands to create and produce”, says Lew, a 52-year-old client who lost 22 pounds in eight weeks. “Now I had time to take a real hard look at me, and I’m stuck. I can’t push ahead any more, since job-hunting is such a long, slow process, but I can recreate me, and so I’m at the gym daily, even running, to trim down and look better so companies won’t see me as a worn-out has-been.”

Mac, also in his 50s, said it was fear that spurred him on.

“I got scared that a younger, fitter-looking person will beat me out for those few good jobs that are available. Especially when I accidentally heard someone say I was a heart attack waiting to happen,” he said. “So my personal shape-up plan got launched. Six months later, I’m interviewing 60 pounds lighter than when I lost the job, with a new positive energy when making contacts to interview.”

These over-40 men say they spend two to three hours at the gym each day. Their eagerness to do something seems to be working. The male clients (I don’t know of any female clients who took this activity on while unemployed) have lost weight and do present themselves better. They have also come into a position where their sense of self-esteem was damaged, and exercising daily is good therapy to sooth the pain job loss causes.

Counseling one client recently, I advised, “‘Your suit looks dated, and it doesn’t fit you at all. You need a new smaller size that looks stylish and fits well. I suggest you get a new suit.’” The man smiled and said, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in a long while.”

Self-esteem is so often projected in all we say and do. These slimmer men are active, and as a result are happier, seeming to send out a vitality and enthusiasm that is appealing to employers. They have regained their confidence and the endorphines from exercise, projecting a positive vital energy of being a key player employers would want on their team.

Drastic measures? Yes, but tough times require older workers to demonstrate that they bring highly productive leadership, innovative ideas and vitality to handle the workload and sometime long hours.

Robin Ryan, who lives in Newcastle, has appeared on national television as a career expert and written books on career counseling. She can be reached at (425) 226-0414 or

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