Your Story Here: Turning 50

One thing’s for certain: Mawrters have a lot to say. This issue features four alumnae/i voices from the ’60s to the present decade.

Fifty! I couldn’t possibly be turning 50.

When you’re 50, you can no longer pretend that you have more life in front of you than you have behind you. 

I sat at my desk, contemplating the end of the universe. Coincidentally, the nonprofit HMO where I worked was going through its own dystopic scenario. We were in the midst of a merger; our top leadership was missing in action. The much-needed launch of an electronic medical record, my biggest project (I was an ex-pediatric oncology nurse transformed into a clinical information system project manager) was frustratingly adrift because the only item on the administrators’ agenda was not losing their jobs.

My work was stymied without the executive leverage it needed, and now there was this unavoidable fact of being 50. Clearly, it was my life that really needed project-managing. So I got right to it. Deadlines, effort estimates, failure points, interim measures—all my usual project management skills structured my thinking. The end result was clear: hang in there and pretend I had a useful job until the merger morass blew over. 

All well and good, but it just wasn’t how I wanted to spend my now-waning life. What I wanted was fresh air, new tricks, a chance to exercise different neurons and spark new synapses. How else to combat being 50? Feeling feisty, I decided to triple down: I would search for a job in another organization, in a dissimilar job category, and for an even larger stretch, I’d try to jump to where I had never been: the for-profit sector. 

I knew there were obstacles aplenty: Who would hire a 50-year-old woman with degrees in political science and nursing, who’d hopscotched from antiwar activism (think SDS and the Weather Underground) to pediatric nursing to clinical IT and who had two children at home (which interviewers weren’t supposed to ask about but always did)? 

I viewed this project as a test. I had the safety net of my existing job, which I knew wasn’t about to go away for at least a year or so (this was a very slow merger), so I had time for a couple of failures. I didn’t know which would be the greatest hurdle, being a woman or being 50, but added together, it got my adrenaline pumping. Win or lose, it would be an interesting examination of the American marketplace.

Turned out I didn’t need that safety net. I aced the test and had a great time doing it. I decided I’d try my hand at consulting—after all, as project manager I’d hired consultants; surely I could be one too. I was hired by a local consulting firm that wanted to grow its health care portfolio—who could be better than a nurse who knew everyone in the local community? I discovered that I didn’t know as much about being a consultant as I thought I did, so I was privileged to learn a lot. The most important lesson was learning how priceless it is to know what you want and to be willing to accept both the risk and the effort required to build a careful, structured plan to get there. 

That was 20 years ago. After a decade of consulting, I started to write. Fiction and nonfiction. Another new path, fraught with dead ends, speed bumps, and failures. My third book, Protest on Trial: The Seattle 7 Conspiracy, came out in March 2018.

Kit Bakke ’68 is a native Seattleite who spent five years as a full-time activist working to end the Vietnam War and reduce racism in the U.S., 13 years as a pediatric oncology nurse, eight years as a clinical information system specialist, 10 years as a systems and business consultant, and 15 years (and counting) as a freelance consultant and author. She is married and has two daughters and two grandchildren. 

All alumnae/i—undergraduate and graduate alike—are invited to submit essays to Being Bryn Mawr, a column that will reflect the broad range of experiences typical of a Mawrter’s life. Check out the submission guidelines.

More Stories:

Your Story Here: Smoker Journals

Your Story Here: Friday Morning at the P.O.

Your Story Here: Family Time