Dynamo With a Blowtorch

Wearing a welder’s mask, clad in fireproof outerwear and sporting gloves the size of catcher’s mitts, the metal artist was quite a sight. It was only when Rochelle Ford began to peel off her protective gear that I realized this well-padded person is quite a petite woman, just over five feet tall. She’s found that her “work” outfit gets people to take her more seriously. But she shed her disguise to sit down for her interview. You’d never guess that this woman was 80+ years old and didn’t begin her career until the age of retirement for most people.

I first met Ford when I interviewed her for my book, The Vintage Years: Finding Your Inner Artist (Writer, Musician, Visual Artist) After 60. But I wanted to get another peek at her gorgeous artwork, so I took advantage of an annual weekend-long citywide artists’ event to visit her again. It also gave me the chance to enjoy the good weather, get some exercise walking and see several local artists’ works, including hers.

At 83, Ford, who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., is amazingly fit, maybe from lugging junk and other found objects such as car- and sewing machine parts to her studio for their makeover into art objects. Combine that with the steadiness needed to hold and painstakingly manage a blowtorch, and you have a combination that more than exceeds the recommended daily fitness challenge for older adults.

Ford is a metal artist who didn’t embark on her trade until later in life. In fact, she spent her working years in traditional ways — managing a household, raising children, supervising and later owning small businesses. But her creativity found expression when it pushed its way out in a big and dramatic fashion.

Time to Follow Her Passion

When you watch this dynamo wielding an acetylene torch to create art from bed springs repurposed, reshaped and reimagined, you forget her diminutive stature. She’s a self-taught sculptor who’s been at her trade since she was 58, deciding to follow her passion and ditch a more conventional lifestyle.

Ford took a leap by recalling the words of a former boss: “It’s never too soon and it’s never too late.”

Ford said, “Whenever someone decides to do something, it’s the right time, and I tried to remember that. I bought my welding equipment, and taught myself to weld. I remembered thinking, ‘I don’t have time.’”

For almost six decades, she has been married to former NFL football player, Henry Ford. There were years when his career determined moves and career options for Rochelle. But these days, he assists her in the business that burst out of a hobby. I met him at the artists’ event helping out with the money end of art purchases in her studio.

I hadn’t realized that some of Ford’s creations were for sale that day, which explains why parking was scarce. Not surprisingly, the other lookers were a combination of art seekers, artfully dressed browsers and folks from the neighborhood who had parts of objects they wished to contribute to the sculptor’s junk-to-art collection.

For example, she mentioned that the former owner of a local fabric store, closed for at least 20 years, had come by with some sewing machine parts he thought she could use. Ford never turns down a good piece of metal scrap. Can you imagine her picking her way through burned and broken parts in a salvage yard? It’s one of her favorite pastimes.

Re-Creating Herself

For this event, Ford was dressed exotically in a lavender silk ensemble, with sleeves that appeared to be tie-dyed. Consistent with this amazingly colorful woman, the outfit was tinted by her own hands. But what struck me most was the metal necklace, really a crescent-moon of a sculpture intricately welded and matching her clothing almost perfectly. I so admired that body art that I went indoors to her front room where she was exhibiting metal jewelry, also for sale, hoping to find a similar adornment.

I’m not someone who wears much jewelry. In fact, I’m a stripped-down version of a woman most at home in a pair of jeans or sweats. I’ve always preferred the super casual and comfortable, especially since retirement. I don’t require jewelry, but fell in love with the art in Ford’s neckpieces.

Of course, I wanted the one she was wearing, but I never asked and she didn’t offer it for sale. Instead I found another, less colorful (like me) but elegant and a reminder of my delight in Ford’s journey. Only recently did I learn that former President Obama saw a famous woman senator wearing a Rochelle Ford neck creation and was so struck by it that he bought a piece as a birthday present for First Lady Michelle Obama.

I asked Ford how she gets inspired. “Sometimes I can do exactly what I envision and other times the metal just won’t cooperate … it’s too strong,” she said. “Then I say ‘OK, you have to try something different.’”

But let’s not forget the takeaway message in all of this. It’s not about the art, or even the artist. It’s about self-discovery. If ever in life there were rules and roles to live by, it’s not in our post midlife years. This is a time for re-creating ourselves in any image we choose. If not now, then when? What’s in store for your future?

Francine Toder

5 Great New Books for Your Career


(They can help you switch jobs, get promoted or start a business)

With businesses hiring 200,000 people in January and consumer spending on the rise, 2018 looks to be a good year to switch jobs, get promoted or start your own business. So to help you make the most of this hot economy, I’d like to recommend five books published in the last few months that can help accelerate your career progress this year. You’ll find my descriptions in the accompanying slideshow.

And if you’re looking for other books about work, as well as psychology,  check out the Next Big Idea Club.

It’s a new online book club created by powerhouse authors Adam Grant, Susan Cain, Dan Pink and Malcolm Gladwell. Each quarter, they pick two new must-reads, discuss them online and donate 100 percent of the profits to The Future Project, which will give students in under resourced communities two books for every subscription.


Bored and Brilliant, by Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC’s podcast, Note to Self, is not technically a career book. But if like me, you’re concerned about how technology is impacting your focus at work, you’re going to love it.

Zomorodi pulls together cutting-edge research, neuroscience and real-life stories to make the somewhat counterintuitive argument that we need boredom to spark productivity in our lives. Her subtitle: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.

Yet, in today’s 24/7 wireless world, we’re rarely idle: we tweet walking down the street, scroll Facebook and Instagram while watching TV and check texts before going to sleep. All that busyness makes us feel productive, but in reality, it erodes our creativity and problem solving abilities.

Fortunately, Zomorodi serves up a slew of practical solutions, most of which were crowdsourced from her 2015 Bored and Brilliant challenge that helped her podcast listeners gain control over their tech-taskmasters. She discovered that even small tweaks to daily routines —taking a 15-minute phone-free walk or declaring the bedroom a screen-free zone — led to healthier digital habits and more free time for productive brainstorming.

million dollar_book.jpg

The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business by business writer Elaine Pofeldt is a helpful read if you’re thinking about starting a business, even if you don’t aim to earn a million dollars. While most books in this genre focus on how to grow a business and add employees, this one targets entrepreneurs who prefer to work on their own and have work/life balance, too. Its subtitle: Make Great Money. Work the Way You Like. Have the Life You Want.

Pofeldt identifies six categories of solo businesses that most often hit the million-dollar range — e-commerce, manufacturing, informational content creation, professional services and creative businesses, personal services firms (such as fitness coaching) and real estate. Plus, she provides helpful example of entrepreneurs who work in those sectors.

Best of all, this guide is filled with practical advice, thoughtful exercises to help you refine your business idea and many useful entrepreneurial resources.


Entering StartUpLand: An Essential Guide to Finding the Right Job by Jeffrey Bussgang, a serial entrepreneur and Harvard Business School professor, provides a fascinating peek into the workplaces of little-known world of startup ventures.

While there are many books written for people who want to create startups, this the first one I’ve read focusing on what it’s like to work for one. Bussgang does an outstanding job explaining how startup roles and responsibilities differ from those at more conventional companies, with entire chapters devoted to sales, business development, marketing, product management and finance.

Whether your goal is to get hired as a startup employee, adviser or contract worker, this book will help you understand what such firms look for, the skills you need to be successful and the best ways to find those elusive job openings.


For Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More, University of California Berkeley management professor Morten Hansen conducted an exhaustive study of over 5,000 managers and employees. The result: seven work principles that can help you be more successful at work.

As a career coach, I was fascinated by Hansen’s observation that people who are most satisfied with their careers combine both passion and purpose. Pursuing your passion is great, but it’s rarely enough, his study found. To enjoy sustained success, you need to match your passion with activities that add real value in personally meaningful ways.

For more about how to work less and achieve more, read this interview with Hansen by Next Avenue Work & Purpose channel editor Richard Eisenberg.


As the #MeToo movement continues dominating the news, I’d like to recommend Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Broke the Mold  by Patti Fletcher, a gender-equity advocate and leadership coach. Disrupters includes interviews with women of different races, industries and ages whose stories illustrate that there are many possible paths to crafting a fulfilling career.

Fletcher discusses the cruel role gender bias plays in today’s workplace, with plenty of depressing statistics to back up her observation. For example, she notes, women account for half of business school applicants and 67 percent of college graduates, but only 26 female CEOs lead the big S&P 500 companies.

While she acknowledges the obstacles women face, Fletcher puts far more emphasis on practical and tested ways they can thrive. One of my favorite tips is her observation that rule breakers “create their own network of like-minded people who are committed to mutual support — not the transactional what-can-you-do-for-me-now type of networking we usually see.”

Ultimately, the main message of Disrupters is that success doesn’t have to mean climbing the corporate ladder.

Lasting success, Fletcher notes, is about identifying priorities, finding a lifestyle that supports your goals and enlisting the help you need to support your goals.

7 Ways Employers Can Support Older Workers And Job Seekers

With the unemployment rate (4.1%) at its lowest since 2000, employers are struggling to retain their best workers and attract qualified new ones. Although their efforts are often directed at Millennials, in places where people in their 20s and 30s are increasingly hard to find, employers are equally focused on people in their 50s and 60s.

For example, in May, more than 170 New England employers, policymakers and business leaders came together for an event notably titled, Gray is the New Green: Unleashing the Power of Older Workers and Volunteers to Build a Stronger Northern New England. And at a recent Manchester, N.H., workforce strategies event, AARP-N.H. State Director Todd Fahey urged HR professionals to talk with older employees about the possibility of continuing to work on a flexible basis after they hit the traditional retirement age of 65.

As a boomer and a career coach, I’m heartened by this turn of the events. Of course, I’m not so naïve as to think age discrimination is over. I agree with what Chris Farrell just said in a Next Avenue post: “Older workers still face a serious uphill climb in the job market in many respects.”

So how can employers do a better job of finding, retaining and supporting older job applicants and employees?

To find out, I interviewed Greg Voorheis, the mature worker program coordinator and Governor’s Award coordinator for the state of Vermont. I also watched a video he conducted with executives from the 2017 Governor's Award winner, Chroma Technology Group, a manufacturing firm in the biotech space, based in Bellows Fall, Vt. Incidentally, workers 55 and over currently make up nearly 30% of Vermont's workforce.

7 Tips for Supporting Older Workers and Job Seekers

Here are seven tips from Voorheis and Chroma:

1. Advertise job openings in newspapers in addition to online outlets. “One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that the mature population still really likes written material, like newspapers,” says Voorheis.

The Chroma Technology Group advertises its openings in print and welcomes hard copy applications to accommodate people who might not be comfortable applying online.

2. Display photos and videos of older people in recruitment marketing materials. That helps make it very clear that all ages are welcome to apply.

3. Cut down on ageism by using a group-interview model. HR departments are often staffed by younger workers, and that can result in unnecessary age bias — conscious or otherwise. This is why Chroma uses teams of four to eight people to do its hiring. “That way, no one person’s perspective carries too much weight. And if there are biases, they are minimized,” says the company's HR director, Angela Earle Gray.

4. Encourage mentoring. When older workers mentor younger workers, that helps the employees and it’s good for the company, too.

“Experience is an important thing to pass on,” says Chroma President Paul Millman. “Work habits, ways of doing things, and attitudes towards work all mature over time.”

Chroma uses peer work trainers to both help onboard employees and to continue mentoring them until they’re able to demonstrate competency in their new roles.

5. Provide ample training for older workers. Experienced employees are usually eager to get training that will keep their skills sharp and make them more employable. Yet sometimes employers hesitate to provide it because they worry about the return on investment for workers who might retire soon. Chroma takes a different tack by encouraging all workers to seek training opportunities.

“If you can show us how that is going to benefit you, we’ll find a way to get you that training, or something similar,” says Gray.

6. Offer flexible work arrangements. Voorheis says seasonal work, such as the snowbird programs offered at IBM, can be especially attractive to older workers.

Even though Chroma prefers employees to work full-time, it offers telecommuting and flextime to accommodate workers’ needs. And when staffers have needed to go part-time for a stretch, the company has tried to make that work. “We’re not fond of ridding ourselves of employees,” says Millman.

Sabbaticals are another popular option at Chroma. Long-term employees have the option to take an extended leave, for up to 11 weeks. The leave is unpaid, but the company continues to pay for medical and dental coverage.

7. Provide a wide range of benefits. Chroma also offers generous retirement benefits, company stock and a variety of wellness programs, including reimbursement for gym memberships and fitness programs. It runs monthly employee education programs, too, on topics like retirement planning, wellness and advance-care planning.

“We take very good care of mature workers at Chroma,” says Gray. “But it was never a conscious choice to do that. The conscious choice was to take very good care of all our employees.”

Voorheis echoes that sentiment, saying: “Good behaviors and programs that benefit mature workers benefit workers of all ages

11 Sneaky Ways Companies Get Rid Of Older Workers

We found an article from a few years back that seems more true now than ever! Check it out!

Three friends of mine have lost their jobs this year under the pretense of a reorganization or been told that their positions were being eliminated. All are extremely accomplished professionals in their 50s. Is this the latest way companies are getting rid of older workers?

I asked Donna Ballman, a Florida employment lawyer and author of the book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastardsto answer that question, and offer insights about some of the stealth ways companies are ditching older workers. Little did I imagine that she would come up with 11 scenarios. Check this list to see if any of them sound familiar. Then take the steps she recommends to protect yourself.

Ballman's blog is Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home and she tweets as @EmployeeAtty. Her past articles for FORBES include, “Ten Things Your Boss Doesn’t Want You To Know.

By Donna Ballman

One of the most common excuses used to get rid of older workers is “job elimination.”

Older workers are still suffering in the aftermath of the Great Recession. More than half the people aged 50 and older who participated in a recent AARP survey said they had either experienced or witnessed age discrimination in the workplace. Yet four out of five Americans over 50 say that they are going to have to delay their retirement plans and work well into their golden years. These two factors together have created a crisis for baby boomers.

Companies looking to ditch older employees can be creative in the ways they try to avoid age discrimination claims. Here are 11 of their sneakiest ploys.

1. Job elimination. One of the most common excuses used to get rid of older employees is “job elimination.” However, that may just be an excuse for what is really age discrimination. If the company is not really eliminating the job, just changing the title and putting someone younger is your former position, you may have an age discrimination claim.

2. Layoff. The company is supposed to attach to a layoff notice a list of other employees included and excluded from the layoff, along with their ages. Employers can be sneaky about the way they put together these reports. Some will show only select departments or specific job titles, which don’t give the whole picture. More often, they’ll include a few under-40 employees to make the bloodletting look less like age discrimination.

Still, if you are selected for layoff and younger, less-qualified employees at your level are not, you might have an age discrimination claim. If you’re part of a one-person or small “layoff” and you can show that younger people are not being included, then you may be able to prove age discrimination.

3. Suddenly stupid. If, after years of great performance reviews, you’re getting reprimanded for things everyone does, or being nitpicked for things the company didn’t care about before, it’s possible that the company is gearing up for what I call the “suddenly stupid defense.” They’re building a case to get rid of you for poor performance – trying to show a “legitimate reason” other than age for firing you. If you’re being targeted for write-ups when younger employees do the same things and aren’t written up, you may have an age discrimination claim.

4. Threatening your pension. I’ve seen cases where the company threatened that if the employee didn’t retire right away, it would look for ways to go after that worker’s pension. That’s a scary threat, but it may be a hollow one. First of all, few people have what would be considered a “pension” (a lump sum paid out every month). Most people have 401(k)s or similar savings plans that your employer can’t touch.

Your employer may claim that you can lose your right to your vested pension if you’re fired “for cause,” but it’s not that easy. You have appeal rights if they deny your benefits, and you can sue if you aren’t satisfied with the administrator’s decision. If you’re being threatened, it’s time to run speedy-quick to an employment lawyer in your state who handles claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA – the law governing employee pension plans and other employee benefits.

5. Early retirement. One way employers get rid of older employees is offering a package that includes incentives to take early retirement. Some of these packages are too good to pass up on, so if you are offered one, consider it carefully. If you turn it down, remember you can still be fired at will. However, if the company only fires the older folks, you might have an age discrimination claim. If the early retirement is involuntary, such as when the only alternative offered is being fired, then it probably violates age discrimination laws.

6. Mandatory retirement age. If your employer still has a mandatory retirement age, it’s probably breaking the law. There are exceptions for firefighters and law enforcement. There is also a very limited exemption for employees who are at least 65 years old, who were bona fide executives or high-level policy-makers for their last two years, and who received an immediate nonforfeitable retirement benefit of at least $44,000.

7. Cutting job duties. One way to force older employees out is to cut job duties, limiting your authority and humiliating you with low-level tasks. You may have age an discrimination claim if this happens. So don’t just quit in disgust. (See "Is It Better To Quit Or Get Fired?”)

8. Isolation. Cutting you out of meetings, excluding you from lunches, and sticking you in a cubicle far from the action is another way employers try to get older employees to quit. If only younger employees are being included in activities from which you are excluded, this is evidence of age discrimination.

9. Denying promotions or opportunities for advancement. It’s illegal for an employer to deny you a promotion just because they think you’ll retire soon. Cutting job duties and isolating you are sneaky ways for them to claim you don’t have the experience or qualifications to get a promotion or to advance in the company. If your opportunities are limited after you hit one of those age milestones, it’s time to document what is happening and see whether they are also targeting younger employees for similar treatment.

10. Cutting hours. Another way to put senior employees under duress is to cut hours to the bone. Starving you to death is a way to force you to quit. Here, too, look around and see if older employees are being targeted.

11. Harassment. Cutting hours and job duties, isolating you and assigning menial tasks are all forms of harassment. Other examples of age-based harassment are: calling you the “old man,” or “old lady”; constantly asking when you’re going to retire; saying you’re senile; or making other comments related to age.

Follow the company’s policy for reporting harassment. I suggest you do that in writing. Title this document, “Formal Complaint of Age-Based Harassment and Discrimination.” Describe how you’re being singled out for treatment different than younger coworkers. Note any ageist comments that have been made to you; any other older employees being targeted; and whether there are any witnesses or evidence. Give the company a chance to investigate. If they don’t remedy the situation or if the harassment continues, it might be time to contact an employment lawyer.

If there are signs at work that you’re being targeted because of your age, make sure you document everything. Take steps to protect yourself before it’s too late.