Getting Back in the Game Over 50

Looking to get back in the game over 50? The job game or the dating game?

When it comes to psyching myself up, dusting off the conversational cobwebs, and chasing a new project or heading out to meet new people, recent years have taught me a few things. Among them, I know that social skills have never been more essential.

However great our virtual virtuosity in the social media world, dealing with real human beings in the real world remains vitally important. So we shouldn't be surprised that she who is adept at communicating is likely to succeed in making critical connections.

And if you're making your way along Reinvention Road?

Likewise.

What's key to improving our communication skills?

Lesson 1: Know How Others See You

When this Forbes article found its way to my screen, I took immediate notice. "Why You Don't Need to Be Smart or Talented to Succeed" makes the case for a phenomenon that most of us have observed: Successful people are not necessarily intellectual giants, wildly creative, uniquely talented, or exceptional leaders. But they certainly are skilled in other ways.

The article points out that we should:


... Work on being an interesting person other people want to be around and are willing to open doors for... If the choice is between a well-qualified bore (or jerk) and someone who is personable, eager to learn and can tell a story about who they are and what they stand for, guess who wins?

Having something interesting and worthwhile to contribute?

I'd say we have a leg up at this stage in life. But we may need some work when it comes to confidence, not to mention knowing how others perceive us. And when you consider that one of the best ways to generate job opportunities is through personal connections -- can't we say the same for kickstarting a little romance? -- how you come across couldn't be more important.

For a better idea of what that means, you might enlist friends for their honest commentary, engage in a little "practice makes perfect" chatting in front of a mirror, and do put some effort into a midlife style makeover. (A few updates go a long way, and don't have to cost a bundle.)

No one to assist? You can manage all of the above on your own -- thanks to any number of websites, YouTube and apps, and don't forget to video yourself and check on your progress.

Lesson 2: Good Listening, Paying Attention

Becoming an interesting person? Being someone others are happy to help?

This is excellent advice, whatever the context. Whether you're stuck in an elevator with a stranger for an hour, interviewing on Skype, entering a new academic program, or out on a blind date.

As for that tendency to avoid the "bore" and rally round the storyteller, who doesn't want to be the one leading an entertaining tête-à-tête? But how do we cultivate the necessary skills? How do we know when to speak and when to pause? How do we learn the art of reading people, so we master the rhythm of an engaging exchange, so we know when to listen, and how to show empathy?

Remember empathy?

It's that thing you did with your kids. That thing you did with your ex. That thing that you want from your friends, too, especially when you're struggling through a rough patch or simply having a bad day.

Lesson 3: People Remember How You Make Them Feel

I don't recall where I heard or read this, but the message itself? I'll never forget it.

People remember how you make them feel.

It's critical that we sense and observe how others are feeling, and that we communicate with them accordingly. Are we providing the information they need? Are we the shoulder when they're hurting? Can we mirror their wonderful qualities if they're in need of a little boost?

As I consider the power of language, I realize that the satisfaction I experience as a writer -- my success as a writer -- is heavily reliant on how I make you feel as a reader. And not only when you're in the process of reading, but as you leave the page and go on about your day.

Have I managed to pique your curiosity? Have I offered new insights into a complex scenario? Have my words helped you feel better about yourself? Are you more informed, more encouraged, or feeling less alone?

I hope the answer to those questions is an unequivocal yes.

Lesson 4: Icebreakers to the Rescue!

Conversational finesse?

Speaking skills grow rusty, like anything else that isn't used. When we've been out of circulation for a time, or we're going through a period of unemployment, we may be particularly fearful of the dreaded "What do you do?" or "Who do you work for?" -- reaching for an appropriate response.

Frankly, so many of us over 50 are seeking to reinvent, living the "Gig Economy" or taking on new professional roles, there's nothing unusual or inappropriate about any of the following:
  • I'm in transition at the moment
  • I'm exploring public relations / new media / legal services (fill in the blank)
  • I'm currently looking. How about you? What do you do?
The good news, of course, is that
, and when we have a few at the ready, they ease anxiety. For example, these could come in handy at a social or professional event:
  • How do you know our host?
  • What do you think of this crowd?
  • What do you think of this venue?

Lesson 5: We're All People Who Need People

Is improving your interpersonal skills among your immediate goals?

If you're anything like me, the answer is yes. It's yes for practical purposes -- work and friends -- and it's yes for the pleasure that comes from knowing you're connecting with others. While the recommendations in Forbes are primarily targeted at 20-something job seekers, there's applicability for those of us pursuing midlife reinventions -- whether transitioning back into the workforce at 50, switching careers at 55, or seeking romance at 65.

As I note that I've neglected my own socializing skills -- too many hours at the laptop, too little time out in the world -- I'm keenly aware that my circles have narrowed, which is a common occurrence for women in midlife.

So as I set out the year's plans and make room for new projects, I'm also hoping to widen my circle of friends -- in part by adhering to these tried-and-true lessons to successfully get "back in the game."

A version of this column first appeared at Daily Plate of Crazy.