When I was considering whether to pursue a Master’s in Counseling, I went to talk to a highly respected career professional about it.
When I lamented that it would take me until I was 45 to complete the program, he said to me, ”You need to think in terms of a 200-year plan.“
At the time I thought he was crazy, but now I hear myself saying the exact same thing to my clients.
Two thirds of Americans expect either to want or to need to work 20 hours or more per week after retirement. This is reflected in comments we hear every day, like: ”My father may have retired at 65, but I’ll be working till I’m 80!“
Today, more than any other time in history, there are compelling reasons for us to think this way.
Here are some of them:
- The median age of our population is higher than it’s ever been. We’re living longer and healthier lives, which means we’re physically and mentally capable of continuing to contribute well beyond what we now usually think of as retirement age.
- As baby boomers expand the over-65 sector and the birth rate declines, there will be more jobs than there are workers.
- The volatility of investments and the rising cost of living are making a ”complete“ retirement less and less feasible.
- Lifelong work (paid or volunteer) and learning are increasingly being seen as desirable options by many.
Ten years ago, when I talked to professionals about planning for their ”post-corporate“ professional lives, they’d say to me that all they were interested in was ”having enough money to retire.“ But I could sense that beneath that veneer of confidence there was deep concern over the loss of identity that comes with not working. They were worried about how they were going to spend the 50 to 60 hours a week in retirement they were currently spending on the job.
Nowadays, however, thinking in terms of post-retirement work is commonplace. Two thirds of Americans expect either to want or to need to work 20 hours or more per week after retirement. This is reflected in comments we hear every day, like: ”My father may have retired at 65, but I’ll be working till I’m 80!“ For many this is a disappointment but there are others who are beginning to take a positive look at the situation and say, ”If I have to work another15 years, I want it to be doing something I like, something of value.“ That’s the beginning of a 200-year plan!
The ideas I’ve talked about in the last three issues of this newsletter—career authenticity, career autobiography, and mining
stories of peak experiences for knowledge of the skills you most enjoy using—are all essential for preparing yourself for professional development along an unlimited timeline.
Here are some additional suggestions:
- Collect role models. Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations in her sixties, comes immediately to my mind. There are many others as well, famous people, as well as folks in my own backyard. I recently met a ”retired“ senior executive who had been ”recruited“ by the contractor who was doing work on his home to run his sales/marketing department.
- Establish clear criteria for your ideal job. The more experience you have, the more clearly you should be able to envision what you want your work to look like at this point in your life. Map it out. Don’t let thoughts like, ”I know this could never happen,“ stop you from going for your ideal job. If you don’t know what you want, no one, absolutely no one, is going to offer it to you.
- Research ”age-friendly“ companies. Use your own observation, the Internet, information interviewing and other techniques to find places where the skills of mature workers are valued. Traveler’s Insurance Company, for example, has created a pool of temp workers made up of retired former employees. Home Depot and AARP have formed a national partnership to recruit workers over 50.
- Learn about flexible work options such as job sharing, compressed work week, consulting, telecommuting, etc. Find out where, how and why these options have been successful. To get the work you want, you may need to sell an employer on the idea of a flexible working arrangement. I strongly recommend that work-seekers neither assume that employers know about these options, nor that they would not be open to them.
- Understand and address your own age-ism. This topic really requires a column all to itself, which it will get at a later date. Age is not just a problem for people in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. It is frequently cited as a concern by work-searchers in their 30’s and 40’s, as well. Suffice it to say for now that how you feel about your age significantly influences how others are going to feel about employing you at any age.
- Ask for what you want. This, too, is a big subject and I will address it in future columns on the topic of negotiation. It sounds simple to say that every work-seeker has the responsibility to know what they want and ask for it, rather than expect the employer to read their minds. Yet it has been my experience that most people have so many negative assumptions going on in their heads they don’t even bother to ask for what they want because they’ve already concluded that the answer will be no.
The demographics of aging are real and point to a present need. Changing attitudes and behaviors, however, takes longer. We are in the midst of huge work transitions, of which these demographic shifts are only one dimension.
The first wave of 200-year plan people will be marching headlong into a clash between old attitudes about aging and the ”compelling need to integrate every available worker into the workforce.“ Acceptance may require a struggle, but time, and the statistics, are very much on the side of those who choose to be productive throughout the entire length of their lives.