Lost your job and health insurance due to coronavirus? Here’s how to get coverage before time runs out

Workers facing a coronavirus-related loss of employer-based health insurance should move quickly to assess coverage alternatives, health-policy experts say — and be open to pursuing options they hadn’t considered.

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the economy and sets mass layoffs in motion, some 26.8 million workers and dependents in the U.S. could become uninsured after losing employer-based insurance if they don’t enroll in other coverage, according to a new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care think tank. Of those people, 12.7 million likely qualify for Medicaid coverage and 8.4 million likely qualify for Affordable Care Act marketplace subsidies, the report estimated.

“While most are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), not all will take it up,” the foundation added. “In addition, 5.7 million are not eligible for help under the ACA and would have to pay the full cost of their coverage, and many of them will likely remain uninsured.”

Employer plans cover about half the U.S. population, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports health-care issues.

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Those who lose health insurance through their jobs should prioritize finding a new plan, said Linda Blumberg, a health economist at the Urban Institute, a center-left think tank. After all, the research and decision-making process can take time, and some coverage options involve deadlines.

“People shouldn’t wait — they should start investigating,” Blumberg told MarketWatch last month. “It’s a shock, and it’s upsetting to lose your job and worry about income, but this is an important part of the puzzle.”

It’s especially important for people to make sure they have insurance coverage right now, Blumberg added, because they could be “at significant risk of incurring a serious health problem with this pandemic.” More than 1.3 million people in the U.S. had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and at least 82,000 had died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Here are your options for getting health-care coverage right now — plus tips for navigating what can be a lengthy and complicated process:

Look within your family

You might have access to employer-based coverage through a family member’s plan. If you’re younger than 26, the Affordable Care Act allows you to be covered under your parent’s insurance plan. And if your spouse has employer-based health insurance, see if you can be enrolled in their plan.

Check your Medicaid eligibility — even if you don’t think you qualify

This may not be your first instinct if you’re used to having job-based coverage, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, but it’s worth looking into. Medicaid offers free or low-cost care and comprehensive benefits, she said, and coverage can take retroactive effect as far back as three months, as long as you were eligible during that retroactive period.

‘Many more people will be eligible for Medicaid than will realize it.’

— Linda Blumberg, a health economist at the Urban Institute

This is a much more feasible option for adults living in places that have adopted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (36 states and District of Columbia), where they can qualify based on income if their household income is 138% of the federal poverty level. (This shakes out to $1,467 a month for individuals, $1,983 for a family of two and $3,013 for a family of four.)

“If you qualify, Medicaid is going to solve a lot of your problems,” Pollitz said. “I would really start with that.”

Eligibility is based on your current monthly income, Blumberg said — “so if you had a nice middle-class job with employer-based insurance last month, and now your wages have gone to zero or your income in your family has gone way down,” you could be eligible for Medicaid, she said. “Many more people will be eligible for Medicaid than will realize it.”

When counting your income, you’ll need to take into account unemployment benefits, but not the supplementary $600-a-week unemployment relief included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act or the $1,200 coronavirus rebate check, Pollitz said. You don’t need to include savings or retirement money either, she added.

Head to the marketplace

If you’ve lost job-based coverage but don’t qualify for Medicaid, consider the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. People whose expected 2020 incomes fall between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level ($12,490 to $49,960 for individuals, $16,910 to $67,640 for a family of two and $25,750 to $103,000 for a family of four) can qualify for subsidies on their insurance premiums.

Twelve states that run their own marketplaces, as well as the District of Columbia, have reopened their open enrollment so that workers stripped of their job-based health benefits can enroll in coverage. The Trump administration had mulled reopening the federal Healthcare.gov exchange, according to reports, but decided against it. (An unnamed White House official told Politico in March that the administration was “exploring other options.”)

‘Most people are going to find it’s just impossible to afford [COBRA], but for some people who can swing it, it may be worth the expense.’

— Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation

If open enrollment isn’t available to you, you can apply for a special enrollment period (SEP); loss of job-based coverage is a qualifying “life event” that makes you eligible for an SEP. You may have to submit documentation, such as a letter from your employer or insurance company or a notice about COBRA coverage, to confirm your loss of coverage. If you’re granted the SEP, you can finish your application for coverage, Pollitz said.

Time is of the essence: Make sure you apply for the SEP within 60 days of your qualifying event. (If you expect to lose your health coverage in the next 60 days, you may also be able to apply in advance.) If you don’t apply in time, you might have to wait until open enrollment begins again. “Don’t let 15 of the days go by and then start,” Pollitz said.

It’s possible to avoid a lapse in coverage if you apply in advance of losing your health plan, Pollitz said — but if you’re applying after your coverage ended, the new coverage will take effect only after your application is completed. For applications completed by the 15th of the month, coverage kicks in the first of the following month. But if you don’t complete the application until the second half of the month, your coverage won’t begin until the first of the subsequent following month, she said. “If you can’t get all this done by April 15,” Pollitz said by way of example, “your new coverage wouldn’t start until June 1.”

Consider COBRA (if you can afford it)

COBRA, short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets workers at companies of 20 or more employees extend their health coverage for up to 18 months after losing their jobs.

The catch, Blumberg said, is that you’re now responsible for paying both your portion and your employer’s portion of the premium — plus a 2% administrative fee. This is not a cheap prospect: Annual premiums for job-based health coverage in 2019 were $7,188 on average for single coverage and $20,576 for family coverage, according to Kaiser Family Foundation survey data; employers contributed about 83% and 71% of those premiums, respectively.

“Most people are going to find it’s just impossible to afford, but for some people who can swing it, it may be worth the expense,” Pollitz said. This option might be attractive to folks who are in the midst of a pregnancy or treatment for a chronic condition or cancer, for example, and don’t want to change health-care providers.

Be wary of short-term health plans

Both Pollitz and Blumberg warned against buying short-term insurance policies, for which the Trump administration relaxed restrictions in 2018. While the low cost of these plans can be appealing — monthly premiums are as low as $25 in some places — they can deny coverage to people based on preexisting conditions, offer relatively limited benefits, and can cancel your policy if you get sick, Pollitz said.

“If you get sick, these policies are kind of constructed to not pay claims whenever possible,” Pollitz added, which is why they’re cheaper and willing to sell to people year-round. These are not good policies for “people who are concerned about having coverage that will help them finance their care if they should get seriously ill,” Blumberg said.

Don’t give up

“It’s not a good idea to do nothing and just throw up your hands and say, ‘Oh, well,’” Pollitz said. “Just brace yourself: You’re going to have to fill out some forms, and if Medicaid doesn’t work, the other options available to you are going to cost you some money — maybe a lot of money.”

But “health insurance is your ticket to health care in the United States,” Pollitz added. People who don’t have health insurance face barriers to getting care and tend to suffer substantially from medical debt, she said, so “it is absolutely worth it to look into these options, and see if one works for you.”

This story was originally published April 4, 2020, and has been updated.

‘All the days are blurring together’: How to battle burnout and find a healthy work-life balance during the pandemic

Vanessa Bohns is one of the fortunate Americans who can work from home, but the blurring of lines between work and home life has sometimes taken its toll.

“I, for one, feel burned out by constant Zoom ZM, +5.18% meetings all day, so having Saturday and Sunday without them feels like a real break to me,” Bohns said. She also needs to set boundaries with co-workers. “When colleagues have suggested meeting over the weekend, I always ask to find another time,” she added. “It may feel like all the days are blurring together, but that doesn’t mean that we should operate as if every day is basically a work day now.”

‘I, for one, feel burned out by constant Zoom meetings all day, so having Saturday and Sunday without them feels like a real break to me.’

— Vanessa Bohns

Bohns, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University’s ILR School, said it helps when she forgoes checking email for set amounts of time. These times will vary depending on the person. “For example, I often have to respond to emails at odd hours because I have small kids at home,” she said. “But setting a period of time where you’re not allowed to work or check your work email, that is carved out for yourself, is key for recharging.”

She makes sure that family time stays that way, Bohns told MarketWatch in an email. She recommends avoiding scheduling evening/weekend meetings, and preserving traditional weekends to the extent possible. She is not alone. American workers were already vulnerable to burnout before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Confined to home with additional domestic responsibilities and increasingly fluid work-life boundaries, they face even greater stress and exhaustion.

With stay-at-home restrictions in many areas to slow the spread of coronavirus, “all of these things are intensified now,” Bohns said.

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The pressure to always be available is being felt nationwide. Forty-one percent of employees say they feel burned out from their work, 45% say they feel emotionally drained from their work, and 44% say they feel “used up at the end of their work day,” according to a survey of 1,099 U.S. workers conducted in mid-April by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Meanwhile, 23% report often feeling “down, depressed or hopeless.”

Women in particular are “maxing out and burning out” during this public-health crisis, the result of their taking on more housework and care-giving responsibilities than men, Facebook FB, -0.69% chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and her LeanIn.org co-founder, Rachel Thomas, wrote in a recent Fortune op-ed. Women are also more likely than men to report experiencing sleep issues and physical symptoms of severe anxiety, according to recent LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey research they cited.

“Before the coronavirus crisis hit in the U.S., many women already worked a ‘double shift,’ doing their jobs, then returning to a home where they were responsible for the majority of child care and domestic work,” Sandberg and Thomas wrote. “Now, homeschooling kids and caring for sick or elderly relatives during the pandemic is creating a ‘double-double shift.’ It’s pushing women to the breaking point.”

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook: ‘Now, homeschooling kids and caring for sick or elderly relatives during the pandemic is creating a ‘double-double shift,’ she wrote in an op-ed with her Lean In co-founder Rachel Thomas.

AFP/Getty Images
What is burnout?

Burnout, an occupational phenomenon defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” is marked by exhaustion or energy depletion; heightened mental distance or negative or cynical feelings related to a job, and “reduced professional efficacy,” according to the World Health Organization.

“Burnout is essentially feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by work, often to the point where you stop caring and start to disengage,” Bohns said. “It can be caused by, among other things, feeling ‘on’ all the time, the pressure to be the ideal worker, and the difficulty so many of us have maintaining work-life balance, even in the best of times.”

“People are finding it even harder to ‘log off’ from remote work. People are worried about layoffs and furloughs, and so feel even more pressure to demonstrate their value to the company, or prove they are an ideal worker,” she said. “And as we shift to doing all of our living and working at home — many of us with partners and children — work-life boundaries are blurred more than ever.”

The current situation also leaves us with fewer outlets for recovery and rejuvenation, such as blowing off steam at the gym or meeting up with friends, said Nancy Rothbard, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Workers now lack certain natural boundaries they once had between work and life, and even those accustomed to remote work can’t currently seek a change of scenery at a cafe or coworking space, she said.

“We have a lot of additional restrictions on us,” she said. “It’s a very different type of challenge than a normal work-from-home challenge.”

If you’re struggling to set boundaries, preserve your energy and mental health, and make time to recharge during this time, here are some expert-recommended strategies that might work for you:

Designate times, places and devices to not associate with work

For Rothbard, using different devices during different blocks of time helps to differentiate between “home time” and “work time,” she said. She generally tries to use her computer for work during the day, and use her iPad AAPL, +0.61% if she needs to look something up during the evening. Some people looking to create work-life boundaries also find it helpful to “wall themselves off” and set up a separate, dedicated workspace, Rothbard added.

Take care of yourself

“Self-care right now is essential,” said Lori Whatley, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the impacts of digital device usage. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, exercising and engaging with other people regularly, even if it’s only by text, she said.

Practicing mindfulness, she added, “is one of the very best tools we can have in our tool box to ease anxiety over the things we cannot accept.” Whatley recommends the meditation and relaxation app Calm. For more meditation apps, check out MarketWatch’s 2018 roundup.

Stop working when your work day ends

Make a plan and stick to it, Rothbard said: If you plan to work until 6 p.m., stop working at 6 p.m.. “If you’re really, really on a roll, fine — you can deviate from that,” she said. “But if you’re in a situation where you feel like you haven’t gotten enough done but you’re really dragging, you want to stop. You want to take a break.”

If you’re keeping normal work hours right now, follow the typical guidance on unplugging during the evening, Bohns said, such as setting your phone to not ping you for work emails and sleeping with your phone and laptop in a different room. When you get a chance to go for a walk or take a long bath, she added, leave your phone elsewhere.

“It’s a little harder for people whose work hours have had to shift, for example, because of child care. Sometimes the most productive time for those individuals is in the evening when the kids are asleep,” she said. “Nonetheless, carving out some of your evening, or some time during nap time, or a child’s allocated screen time, for yourself is key.”

if you’re a remote worker who puts on work clothes to feel more productive, changing out of those clothes at the end of the day can help you ‘turn off.’

If your job involves meeting deadlines, be proactive about scheduling in breaks. “In order to take enough breaks to keep your energy up, you have to plan that out,” Rothbard said. “Otherwise, you’re going to run out of time and you’re going to be up against the wall. Constantly chasing the deadline is another way to burn out.”

And if you’re a remote worker who puts on work clothes to feel more productive, changing out of those clothes at the end of the day can help you “turn off,” Bohns said. “It’s a physical signal that something has changed, you’re no longer in work mode, and that mode actually feels physically different,” she said.

Make each day a little different from the last

Humans enjoy structure, but we can also modify parts of our daily routine “so it’s not just trudging through one identical day after another,” Whatley said. Even small changes can make a significant difference, she said: Try swapping your coffee for green tea one day, she said, or instead of eating your usual 4 p.m. apple, try an orange.

‘Vary the walk you do, vary the TV show that you watch, vary the book you’re reading.’

Plan out variation in your social interactions too, Rothbard suggested: Maybe you can connect with an old college friend tomorrow, a work friend the next day, and a family member the day after that. “Vary the walk you do, vary the TV show that you watch, vary the book you’re reading,” she added. “Those are really good ways to build in variety and combat the monotony of the everyday experience in this more limited work-from-home world.”

For Bohns, having things to look forward to in the week ahead goes hand in hand with supporting local restaurants still offering takeout. “We’ve made plans to, say, have lattes and bagels delivered for breakfast on Wednesday, or order from our favorite pizza place on Friday,” she said. “Planning ahead like that allows for the anticipation, and it’s also a nice incentive to keep track of the days, as you count down to that latte from your favorite coffee shop.”

Don’t overwork yourself (and don’t be afraid ask for help)

More than one in five respondents to the SHRM survey said that the pandemic had threatened some aspects of their jobs, including personal opportunities, pay and benefits, job security and safe working conditions, “to a great or very great extent.”

‘Try to avoid preoccupation with how other people live their lives — especially as viewed through the incomplete lens of social media.’

But “these are the exact circumstances that can lead someone to feel pressure to work all the time to demonstrate their value, or to refrain from asking for help when they need it because they are worried about admitting any weakness,” Bohns said.

“Preventing burnout by ensuring you give yourself time to disconnect is consistent with maintaining productivity,” she said. “Burnout is the enemy of productivity, so working all the time isn’t good for either.” If you require extra flexibility to avoid burnout, she added, “you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it for fear of being judged harshly.”

Avoid comparing yourself to coworkers

Your coworkers might seem to have their act together, and even find time to bake bread and learn a new language on the weekends, said Cathleen Swody, an industrial/organizational psychologist and partner at the consulting firm Thrive Leadership. But try to avoid preoccupation with how other people live their lives — especially as viewed through the incomplete lens of social media — and focus on what’s doable for you and within your control, she said.

Find ways to make progress

During work time, focus on your major priorities rather than on busy work — tackling “the really big stuff that’s going to give us a sense of achievement,” Swody said. Off the clock, take up a small hobby or project (or even a puzzle) that helps you feel like you’re working toward an accomplishment or new skill. “Progress is so good for our brains,” she said. “It tells us we’re moving forward.”

Outside the Box: How to start on your financial independence journey

Regardless of the current state of your finances or how your career has progressed, true financial independence is something that appeals to all of us. Who wouldn’t want the ability to choose when and where you work rather than being forced to work out of need?

Retirement and financial independence can seem a million miles away in your 20s or 30s, but achieving financial independence, or FI, at a young age is possible, and many people are actively working toward that goal.

What is financial independence?

Financial independence could mean many different things, but here, we’ll be talking about accumulating enough money that you no longer need to work. You may choose to continue working, so retirement and financial independence are not necessarily synonymous.

The Trinity Study found that 4% is a safe withdrawal rate, and this has become a cornerstone of the FI community. That means that if you can live for a year on 4% of your investment portfolio, you’ve reached financial independence. For example, if you spend $50,000 a year, you would reach financial independence with $1,250,000 ($50,000 x 25 years).

Keep in mind that this is a general definition. The goal of pursuing financial independence is to gain freedom over your life and to feel free from the stress and worry of money. A simple formula alone can’t dictate when you feel true freedom over money. Your goal for achieving financial independence could be higher or lower.

This FIRE couple was down $232,000 as of April 1. Here’s their plan

Getting started toward financial independence

Now that we’ve covered what financial independence is, let’s take a look at how to get there.

Know your ‘why’

First, you need to understand why you want to pursue financial independence. Do you want to get out of a career that you don’t like? Do you want to be able to travel the world? Do you want more time with your family?

There is no right or wrong reason, but you should think about your own motivation because it can have a big impact along the way. Pursuing FI will require some sacrifices and it’s much easier to make those sacrifices when you realize why you’re doing it.

Calculate your annual spending

Before you can know how much money you need to save to reach financial independence, you’ll first need to know how much you spend each year. If you don’t know how much you spend each year, you can use things like your credit card and bank statements from the past year.

It’s also a good idea to start tracking your expenses on a regular basis to make sure you know exactly how much you’re spending.

Calculate your FI number

Once you know how much money you are spending, you can calculate your “FI number.” The calculation is simple. Just multiply your annual spending by 25 to get your FI number.

However, you should also consider coming changes that could affect your spending. For example, if you’re planning to have kids in the future, you should expect that your expenses will increase. If you’re spending $40,000 a year now, your true FI number is higher than $1 million ($40,000 x 25) because of this.

Increase your savings rate

Your savings rate is the percentage of your income that you have left after paying taxes and all other expenses. If you’re currently making $60,000 and saving $6,000 a year, you have a savings rate of 10%.

Many financial experts recommend that you should have a savings rate somewhere around 15%, but that advice is based on a plan that involves working until you’re 65 years old. If you want to reach FI earlier, you’ll need to increase your savings rate. Many people who are pursuing FI are able to reach a savings rate of 40% to 50%, or even more.

Don’t be intimidated if you’re nowhere close to that number right now. This is something that you can work on continually by finding more ways to cut expenses or by increasing your income.

Cut monthly expenses

When you’re looking for ways to increase your savings rate, take some time to evaluate all of your recurring monthly expenses. Reducing these expenses will allow you to save each and every month, and the cumulative impact of a few small changes can be a big increase in your savings rate.

Some recurring expenses like cable, expensive wireless service, insurance premiums, as well as memberships and subscriptions can usually be reduced if you’re willing to shop around and consider making some sacrifices.

Establish good spending and savings habits

At first, finding ways to save might seem difficult, but you’ll quickly develop some good habits that make it a lot easier going forward.

If you want to make the process more fun, you could take a money saving challenge that gives you some added motivation to save as much as possible. Once you get into the habit of regularly looking at your finances, you’ll find that saving money is easier and more a part of your normal life.

→ Increase your income

Reducing expenses should be one of your goals, but the other way to increase your savings rate is to make more money. Many people in the FI community use a side hustle, or second job, as a way to make extra money.

Another major benefit of a side hustle is that you can continue to do it (if you want to) after you retire from a traditional job. Many early retirees use this as a way to earn some income and to do something that they enjoy.

This extra income can also help to essentially reduce your FI number. For example, if you need $40,000 a year to live and you’re able to make $15,000 a year from a side job (and you’re going to continue making that much in the future), you’ll only need an additional $25,000 to cover your living expenses. That reduces your FI number from $1 million ($40,000 x 25) to $625,000 ($25,000 x 25).

Of course, that isn’t the only option for increasing your income. You may be able to get a raise at your current job by developing some high-income skills, getting a promotion, or taking a higher-paying job. Additionally, you can invest in various income-generating assets to increase your savings rate.

Have an investment plan

All of that money that you’re saving will need to be invested. There are a lot of different approaches that you can take. Most people who pursue FI take a simplified approach using investments like index funds, which are some of the best investments for young adults and others alike due to their low costs and diversification.

From here, you’ll want to start tracking your net worth on a regular basis so you can see where you stand and monitor your progress.

Don’t stop here

Although this covers the basics steps for getting started on your journey toward FI, you’ll want to keep learning and improving your financial literacy. This is a long-term journey that requires significant commitment, but those sacrifices will pay off when you gain control over your life instead of being controlled by money and work.

A version of this column was originally published on Young and the Invested blog. It was edited and published with permission.

Riley Adams, CPA, is a senior financial analyst at Google who writes at Young and the Invested, a site dedicated to helping young adults invest, manage and plan their money with confidence.

Marc Andre is a personal finance blogger at VitalDollar.com, where he writes about topics related to saving money, managing money, and making money.

Metals Stocks: Gold continues to hover above $1,7000 an ounce as traders look for drivers

Gold futures edged higher Wednesday but remained mired near the $1,700 an ounce level as traders look for a driver to push the yellow metal one way or the other.

Gold for June delivery on Comex GC.1, -0.14% GC00, +0.39% rose $6.80, or 0.4%, to $1,713.60 an ounce, while July silver SIN20, +0.48% was up 10.1 cents at $15.81 an ounce, a gain of 0.6%.

“Gold remains intractably near the $1,700 per ounce. Increased flight to safety and falling U.S. yields give support to the yellow metal below the $1,700 mark, but at the current levels, investors doubt about the gold’s hedging capacity against a renewed panic selloff across risk assets,” said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, analyst at Swissquote, in a note.

“In case of strong market headwinds, however, we are confident that the gold price could make that jump to the $1,800 level without too much hesitation,” the analyst said.

Next Avenue: Over 50 and looking for a job? Here’s the smart way to pitch yourself

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

Wendy Marx has had five careers: social worker, newspaper reporter, marketer, PR entrepreneur and now career coach and reinvention expert. In this excerpt from her new book, “Thriving at 50+,” Marx explains why knowing how to tell your story can help you find work in midlife or find your next act.

Imagine this scenario: You’re fired from a job you loved after 30 years. What do you tell yourself and others? How do you handle the pain, the upset and blow to your ego?

Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback, in a Harvard Business Review article, wrote that in the beginning of a transition when the future isn’t clear, you will need to “craft different stories for different possible selves (and the various audiences that relate to those selves).”

“You’ve been a banker, human resource specialist, salesperson, electrician, lawyer, whatever for a long time,” Marci Alboher, career and workplace trends expert and Encore.org vice president, wrote in her book The Encore Career. “So, expect to feel strange when you leave an identity behind and no longer have an easy way to describe yourself.”

Creating a story — or revising the one you’ve told — can help you accept your reinvention transition and see its best features. In a transition, your story is your road map. It needs to define both who you are and where you’re headed.

What is a story?

In their Harvard Business Review article, Ibarra and Lineback wrote about a networking event of senior managers who were downsized from lucrative jobs. Unfortunately, most of the managers, in sharing what they had done, simply recounted a laundry list of credentials and jobs. As a result, the audience didn’t care, because they weren’t clear on how to help.

The senior managers failed to distinguish between facts and a story.

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“All good stories have a characteristic so basic and necessary it’s often assumed,” said Ibarra and Lineback. “That quality is coherence, and it’s crucial to life stories of transition.”

If a story is meaningful, the past is related to the present and the present provides a window to the future.

Connecting your dots

But some people don’t connect the dots between their past, present and future. They will say: “I used to do this, and now I do that.”

Instead, they could explain how their skills will transfer, so they’ll be able to add value in the new job.

After losing her marketing job, a woman I know named Grace took some time off for self-analysis. That paid off in an ‘aha’ moment. Coaching, mentoring and teaching had always been a part of her career and were things she enjoyed. But they were minor notes, not the dominant soundtrack of her career.

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She asked herself: “‘Why don’t I figure out how to make that a more major part of my job?’ Learning. Adult education. I had been toying with that in my mind in prior years, but now the pieces fit. The story fit. And I was like, ‘Wow.’ I felt good about it. This does make sense. The pieces do hang together.”

Having her bearings, she could then ask herself what classes or certificates to take to compensate for any knowledge gaps and which people to talk with to pinpoint opportunities. Suddenly, what had seemed to be a closed world opened up.

Grace’s story has evolved. Where originally she had offered up a buffet of her skills and asked for feedback from people she networked with, she now talks about how her social science background, her understanding of people, her communications skills and her joy in turning “lightbulbs on in people” make her a good business educator.

While Grace’s story was becoming clearer, it wasn’t yet complete. She wanted to flesh it out so people would understand her desire to head in a new direction.

So, she revisited her résumé, thinking about how she could enhance her story. “Instead of just looking for work, why don’t I just do some work?” she told herself. Grace volunteered as the director of educational development for a nonprofit, advocating for women 50+ in the workplace. “It’s a project that I could put in my portfolio and say, ‘I did this from soup to nuts. I made this plan. I created these educational opportunities.’”

Practice makes perfect

Like any performance, a story gets better in the retelling. Don’t expect to have a great story off the bat. Wrote Ibarra and Lineback: “Tell and retell your story; rework it like a draft of an epic novel until the right version emerges.”

“I tell people to practice their story in phone calls,” said Sree Sreenivasan, Marshall R. Loeb visiting professor of digital innovation at Stony Brook University School of Journalism and a social media guru. “Why should people listen to you? If you can’t tell your own story, how can I believe you would be good at telling my story and my company’s story?”

A career story’s power is reinforced with examples and proof points. Grace planned to create a resource kit to showcase her volunteer work. She recognized that she had to sing her own song louder.

Also see: Why COVID-19’s impact on the job market is far worse for older workers

Don’t be afraid to tell your own story assertively and with gusto. Otherwise, you risk others misinterpreting, and even misunderstanding, your story.

Storytelling cheat sheet

Here are the five keys to good storytelling:

  • Initially, when what you want to do is not clear, craft different stories for different audiences.
  • Connect the dots linking your past to your future aspirations.
  • Create a story that’s logical yet engaging. Show some passion.
  • Enhance your story through volunteering and creating a resource kit.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice your story.

Wendy Marx is a career coach for people 50+, a public speaker and author of “Thriving at 50+: The 7 Principles to Reinvent and Brand Yourself.” You can download her free tips for creating a personal brand at 50+ on her website, Thrivingat50Plus.com.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.