Boomers at work: Planning the next chapter

Despite efforts to prevent age-discrimination in the workplace, there still remains an assumption in our culture that people “should” retire by a certain age.

There is a subtle but pervasive notion that something must be wrong if a person is still working past age 65. If we continue working, we may feel a sense of shame or perhaps disappointment that life did not work out as planned.

In reality, there is a new normal taking place.

Traditional views on retirement simply no longer make sense. In the “Big Shift — Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife,” Marc Freedman writes, “While we have been remarkably adept at extending lives, our imagination and innovation in remaking the shape of those longer lives have been struggling to keep pace.”

According to Freedman, in the year 1900, the average lifespan was 47 years. Today, living to the 100-year mark is becoming increasingly common.

What are we to do during those extra years of life? One can only play so much golf. More importantly, most retirement accounts cannot support 30 years of living without working.

As with all social movements and changes, we often need new language to begin influencing different ways of thinking.

Jackie Peila-Shuster, an assistant professor in Counseling and Career Development, believes the word “retirement” has outlived its usefulness. She prefers to call it “next chapter planning,” because really, it is simply transitioning to a new phase of one’s life.

Older workers typically bring a wealth of experience to the table.

Peila-Shuster offers some good advice: “Take time for self-reflection to tap into your motivated skills. The key is to look not only at what you do well, but also at what you enjoy doing.”

For example, you may be an expert Excel user but you cringe at the thought of sitting at a desk creating spreadsheets. You may have years of experience managing teams but just the thought of being in charge of others now leaves you feeling drained.

If an older worker is seeking a position with a company, they can highlight their “motivated skills” on their resumes. Peila-Shuster then suggests looking to see if one’s motivated skills match the job description. “Obviously, no job is perfect, but isn’t it better to reach for the best match possible and scale down as needed?”

The same process applies if you are looking to start a business, work as a contractor, or contribute in some other manner. Peila-Shuster advocates knowing your strengths and what you want to offer. And then you can figure out where to use those skills and strengths to make a difference.

We all know boomers who are struggling to find work. And we also hear stories of older workers who have spun second or third careers into new and exciting ventures.

Beyond working to our motivated skills and strengths, Peila-Shuster also suggests further self-reflection to identify how we want the next chapter to look and how we want to matter in the world.

In what ways can we continue to use our passions to make a difference? How much money do we need to earn? What kind of schedule do we envision for ourselves?

Our “life work” can then be carried out in multiple ways such as paid work, volunteering, and contributing to family and friends.

Peila-Shuster stresses, “Human development is a life-long process. People have much to offer the world around them at any stage of life.”

Many older workers assume that they must downsize their careers. Peila-Shuster counters that, “it is not about downsizing anything.” That is negative language that keeps us stuck in an outdated paradigm about work and retirement. Instead, “it is about right-sizing our lives to make sense for our current needs and wants,” she says.

Age is not simply a number. It is a state of mind. In many respects it is what we think about aging that determines how positive and energized we feel about our lives and growing older. According to Peila-Shuster, “If we encourage people to define this time of their lives according to their needs, desires, and life context, then the pressure associated with ‘living the good life’ in retirement can begin to be lifted.”

It is important to note that writing a new chapter is rarely easy. Job-searching in today’s market is challenging and transitioning to a brand-new career can be even trickier. But let’s remember that baby boomers are not known to shy away from challenges.

Freedman believes that, “boomers are being called upon to change the shape of their own futures and also the future of generations to come. They are redefining what it means to grow old and remain productive.” It seems important to stress the incredible value that boomers bring to the workplace and to the world. Many older workers tend to forget their worth.

When we free our minds from outdated ideas that we are too old to contribute or that it is too late to embark on a new career, we open up to what is next.

So, what is next? The details will vary from person to person, but there will be a common theme. Most of us will live longer and continue working in some fashion long into our golden years. Welcome to the new normal.

Carrie Pinsky is a Fort Collins-based career and HR advisor. She can be reached at carrie@pinkskywriting.com.

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