Careers for the silver workforce
Life was so simple then. You’re born, and you study, work, get married, have kids, retire, and die – all in a span of 50 years. In 1900, human life span averaged 47 years. Work lasted 20 to 25 years then. Today, life span has almost doubled. Working life is close to 60, as octogenarians continue to inhabit the workplace and seem to keep going and going – like the Energizer bunny.
Today’s Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are a lucky bunch. They were the first to enjoy childhood in the suburbs. Boomer women were the first to have real jobs – beyond childbearing and childrearing. Boomer youths enjoyed sexual freedom never experienced by their traditionalist parents. Boomer entrepreneurs enjoyed prolonged periods of prosperity even if they weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths.
As if these adventures and blessings weren’t enough, the Boomers will be the first generation to enjoy a dramatically new stage in life. They’re in for a significant period of healthy, active, non-childbearing adult life that’s not exactly devoid of sexual pleasures. Advances in science, health care, biogenetics, and medicine extended life expectancy, virility and potency. This means the Boomers will continue to be at work, at play, at home, and in social places -even in politics.
Baby Boomers constitute roughly one-fifth of workplace inhabitants today. Many are in high positions, including CEOs or COOs. Boomer retirees go back as Consultants in corporations, government and NGOs, often for a song, just to keep busy and keep Alzheimer away. In Hong Kong and Singapore, you see bussers in their 60s and 70s clearing tables in fast food outlets. In Hong Kong and Singapore, you also see a higher density of Gen X millionaires per square mile than in other parts of the world.
In 2000, Peter Drucker wrote about the growing importance of choice for a second or third career, “In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time, literally, substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. What is more, they will have more than one career, because the working life span of people is now close to 60 years – three times what it was in 1900.”
Why Boomers tick
Having a second life after retirement is not a must – it’s a choice. Growing old is obligatory – growing up is optional.
After amassing a hefty retirement package, it was customary for Boomers to simply prepare for departure. When Boomers already knew the answers, some crazy pep pill inventors and scientists changed the questions. Suddenly, Boomers will have to spend more time at the pre-departure area. Reading books on life’s lessons and lies aren’t enough to while the time away. Boomers need to decide what to do with the rest of their lives – next 20 years after retirement. That’s a long time to do nothing.
Here’s the reality. You don’t wake up one day and find yourself retired, and then you decide to do something different, something you’ve always wanted to do, barring economic constraints. How you proceed to reinvent your life will somehow tie up with what you’ve done at work for the longest time. After three early retirements from corporate slavery, the last at age 50, I set out to plan my stay at the pre-departure area. Here’s how:
Start with outcomes. When you finally go – as in DIE – what do you want your significant others to think of you? You’d probably want to be remembered as contributory to some good for society, financially independent, and happy – as in a corpse with a smile on its face.
Know where to invest time and effort. At the start, brainstorm on activities where you can invest your time and energy. Then prune your list to choose only those that will give you the right outcomes that you value in life.
Develop a plan. Put together a mosaic of varied activities that will keep you busy, active, happy with family and friends, and financially capable. Draw up a plan that includes paid work, volunteer work, learning pursuits, writing, teaching and training others, leisure and travel, and family-based time.
Just do it. Throw all cautions to the wind. Just do what you love and love what you do. When you don’t see the desired outcomes in what you’re doing, stop. Evaluate. Re-strategize. Then do it again, until you find happiness.
As the Dalai Lama said, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your actions.”
(Ernie is the 2013 Executive Director and 1999 President of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP); Chair of the AMCHAM Human Capital Committee; and Co-Chair of ECOP’s TWG on Labor and Social Policy Issues. He also chairs the Accreditation Council for the PMAP Society of Fellows in People Management. He is President and CEO of EC Business Solutions and Career Center. Contact him at [email protected])
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