INTERVIEW: Changing jobs upstream, with Michael Loman

I think seniors have an advantage in one way: they are perceived to be more responsible, more reliable, more able to do excellent work with a positive attitude. Age and experience and responsibility definitely have impact in this area. People want to hire people who are reliable and who will do the job well.” – Michael Loman, Professor, Film and Television, Boston Unviersity

I’ve known Michael Loman, now a professor of film and television at Boston University, since we met in Los Angeles almost 20 years ago. We moved to New York City together in 1993 and have remained close friends ever since. When I wanted to do an interview with someone who changed careers later in life, Michael was the first person I thought of. He was faced with a sudden change, met the challenge and came out the other side doing just fine. Following is my interview with him, which he managed to do while preparing for his next semester in Boston.

lgbtSr: You had a successful career in television writing and producing, culminating with 10 years as the executive producer of Sesame Street. What was it like being faced with a career change in your 60s?

ML: It was like being knocked over and flattened by a big tornado. Now I know what Dorothy went through, but it could have been worse. I could have had a house fall on top of me. Obviously, it was devastating.

lgbtSr: When you found yourself having to think of the next step in your career, was there a process? Did you immediately think of teaching, or was there an evolution?

ML: There was an evolution. I tried several ventures that failed. One venture I tried was to set up private classes to teach television script writing. I paid a lot of money for brochures and ads and I hired a student to help place the brochures in colleges and private schools in New York. I later found out that she never placed any brochures anywhere but took the money I paid her each week. So this venture failed. Then you suggested I teach and I did have a background in teaching, but on a secondary school level before I began my writing career. I had no interest in teaching secondary school. Who wants to deal with those discipline problems at my age, or any age? Teachers go through hell. But teaching on a college level made much more sense. And besides, that is the appropriate level for teaching my subject matter which is writing television situation comedy scripts. So I created a syllabus for teaching this subject and applied to every college in the tri-state area that had a big television department. No one would hire me. One professor at Princeton University called me and almost had a stroke that I had had the temerity to suggest I might teach this at Princeton. Finally, the Co-chair of the Film department at Yale University actually picked up the phone when I called and suggested I apply to the seminar program that the various colleges at Yale sponsored.

This is a program that allows students to take courses that Yale does not teach. I did and my syllabus was accepted. The first day teaching I had over a hundred kids sitting in all the way down the hall trying to get one of the 15 spots in the class. The class worked out very well. The student evaluations were terrific. I taught this class for a few years and then the Co-Chair of the Film Department hired me to teach it and eventually other courses as an adjunct at Yale in the film department.

lgbtSr: Your career in teaching has gone very well. Is there any advice you’d have for people who find themselves having to re-create their careers?

ML: The world has changed. And you have to think out of the box. If you were an office manager and lost your job it doesn’t mean that you will ever get a job as office manager again. So you have to think of all the things you can do, and be inventive. And creative. And networking is a big help. Finding connections, asking people for help, following up on any lead is effective. And just not giving up but continuing to try in your field and out of your field – and again, be creative. Think of what you enjoy doing and what you CAN DO well, and new twists on that. I think seniors have an advantage in one way: they are perceived to be more responsible, more reliable, more able to do excellent work with a positive attitude. Age and experience and responsibility definitely have impact in this area. People want to hire people who are reliable and who will do the job well.

lgbtSr: You’re heading to London for your second Fulbright. It seems good things can come from uncertain times. What would you say to people – like me for that matter – who are anxious about their worklife future?

ML: The Fulbright was a challenge to me. It is a very difficult process to go through and I worked my tail off. But I really wanted to challenge myself, and I felt that if they are giving out Fulbrights (this is a Senior Specialist consultant) why shouldn’t I get one? I certainly know my area of expertise. So I think a positive attitude and a wish to challenge yourself is good. And what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t get it. But you tried. So in answer to your other question: I think determination and a positive image of oneself is extremely important. I have always been a go-getter when it comes to achieving anything I wanted to achieve. That means putting yourself out there, never stopping until you get what you want, and even if you fail, go on to something else that you can achieve.

lgbtSr: This is a website devoted to lgbt seniors (over 50). If you could say one best thing and one worst thing about being an older gay man, what would they be?

ML: Let me start with the negative and end with the positive. The worst is that it is very hard to find a partner. And also, dear friends that you’ve had for forty or fifty years move to other places and some die or just disappear from your life. Now for the positive. The best thing about being an older gay man: you see the dramatic changes that have happened as a result of the glbt community. What we have achieved in forty or fifty years is quite extraordinary. And that’s because we’ve come together as a community and helped each other. Look what we did with the AIDS crisis? Look what we’ve created with gay choruses, gay churches, gay centers, gay networks for every kind of person (even Republicans.) Look what we’ve done politically. We are now a force to be reckoned with. We are about to achieve gay marriage. All of this unthinkable forty years ago. We have ourselves to thank, and certain heroes like Larry Kramer who have helped us change the world for the better. When I was a young gay kid in a more homophobic time and world, I worried about what my life would be like, what I would have to go through, what pain and agony I would have to endure for being gay. Now I can look back on my life and say I have had the greatest life and am the luckiest person in the world for having been a gay man.