Many Boomers are facing uncertain careers as we transition into 2015. We grew up believing in a fading myth: that if we got a good Education, and diligently pursued our Career, that we would be rewarded for our dedication with a sustaining pension for our Retirement. For many of us, our 50s and 60s are turning out to be a lot more uncertain and uncomfortable than we had imagined. With little saved for retirement, and pensions being reduced or tightened, this 3-stage paradigm that we grew up with (Education, Career, Retirement) has to give way to a new paradigm that can better support us.
For those who are reeling from being downsized from long-held positions, or who are concerned about holding onto the jobs they still have (whom my friend Emilio Pardo at AARP has dubbed the “working worried”), here are 3 resolutions to consider as we hopefully raise our glasses to toast in the new year.
1. Know Myself
It used to be that we could rely on our educational credential(s) to validate us and provide the necessary foundation for our careers. That college degree was enough to get us in the club, and there we could stay. If we kept our nose clean, and hit our projections, we would get promoted and build seniority. Today, nothing is certain. Businesses across the board have either been disrupted by technology, or are expecting to be disrupted. Increasingly, Boomers need to look inward to gauge who we are, what we do best, what we like to do, how we’ve grown, where we’re feeling challenged. We’ve all changed a lot since we entered the workforce decades ago. We may be tired and bored in our job and don’t know it. Or maybe we know it, but we’re too panicked at the prospect of changing to a new job, that we try to hold on despite our decreasing performance. Self reflection is tough to do, particularly for men. We’re used to just “doing,” and we think that motoring our way through something is the best approach. But we need to look more closely at the metaphorical road we’re on, and also at the car we’re driving. There’s no shame in going in for a tune-up. Our willingness to look at ourselves, and to accurately assess how we’re doing is the first step towards taking action to pro-actively change our situation before our situation changes us.
So commit to a bit more mindfulness: set up a regular meeting or meal with a trusted friend or colleague to air out your issues, and to plan your next move. Carve out some time to pursue that hobby that has fallen by the wayside, or to take up a new one – preferably with like-minded friends (new and old) whose mere presence might just help shift your perspective about who you are and what is actually available to you in your life and career.
2. Provide Value
While you’re taking an honest look inside, check out what you’re doing in the world and on the job and look for opportunities to provide more value. Value comes in many forms. it might be your productivity: is there a way you could work smarter vs. harder? Are you collaborating as effectively as you could with your team? Are you supporting both your reports and your supervisors as strategically as possible (i.e. managing “up” as well as “down”)? Are you as informed and up-to-date as you could be? Are you focused on innovating, not just maintaining? Sure, you got great skills and decades of experience, but that’s no excuse to rest on your laurels: learning is a life-long process.
I find it fascinating and ironic that the man who ran R&D for General Motors (the ultimate assembly line) in its heydey was also prescient about how to function in our digital age. His name was Charles Kettering, and his most famous quote resonates perfectly for our post-Information data-driven age: “If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.”
3. Be of Service
I don’t know about you, but once I hit 50, this nagging little voice started whispering from the back of my head: it wasn’t completely happy just going to work anymore. It was feeling a bit like we’d “been there done that.” My work at the time was going better than ever, and I was actually abiding by my first two resolutions (above), and they were producing great results for me. But there was something missing. We’re seeing this increasingly with Boomers at or approaching retirement: the need to find and develop more meaning in our lives. The whole concept behind Marc Freedman’s non-profit, Encore.org, is to encourage and recognize the meaningful and impactful social sector careers of people over 60. But we don’t have to quit our current jobs to satisfy this quest for meaning. We can do it on the job – mentoring to younger workers or organizing pro-bono or charitable projects under our organization’s aegis. We can do it outside of our job, volunteering in our communities. For me, having previously had a lousy record of charitable work (other than writing checks), I began volunteering one weekend each month for an organization whose mission is near and dear to me. That monthly commitment has become a beacon in my life. Just providing that time, and touching other people’s lives, is an investment that delivers off-the-chart returns: a sense of purpose, connection and confidence.
Being of service is a practice, but it is also an attitude. My first recommendation for someone who has just lost their job is to go volunteer someplace on a regular basis. It is the best way I know to shift our mindset out of the victim mentality that naturally results from being let go. Service gets us out of our heads and selflessly into other people’s hearts. The gratitude we get back renews our sense of our own capabilities, and of the possibilities that lie ahead. That attitude of connection, enthusiasm and opportunity is what we want to take with us into our current workplaces, as well as into the interviews we line up for any new gig we’re going for.
These three resolutions, then, represent a cycle of doing and giving – to ourselves as well as to others. As we pass the winter solstice, and the days start getting longer again, we can use these three resolutions to build an upward spiral of awareness, accomplishment and attitude that might just fuel and propel us into a stellar new year.