From hipster to retiree, there’s always more to do

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, December 5, 2016

Enough with millennial, hipster, techno-savvy, entrepreneurial, proto-brilliant-change-the-world young men and women who can see the future ahead of them. In their rush to the light, they step blithely over the old, gray, boomer, lost-my-job, what-do-I-do-now, maybe-all-that-is-left-for-me-to-do-is-retire men and women.

The election is over, but trust me, the problems remain, and they are as entrenched as ever. Let’s just touch the third rail of health care. It is really good in America, and people are living longer and healthier lives — and so they retire later in life — either because they need the money, or because they do not want to veg out on the couch watching QVC.

So is there a place for them — and is there a place for “phased retirement?” asks Stewart Friedman, professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Now everyone knows someone who retires from a civil servant job with a pension (that will soon be an ancient oxymoron, once provided by an earlier civilization, dating back to the Aborigines), but the question Friedman asks — is there an opportunity in America now for someone to “un-retire,” to work part-time, or — even more radically — to change a career, to go from a school teacher to a solar panel installer?

In my coaching gig, I often meet people near my age (don’t even think about it) who are looking for a job. Now, let’s be clear, they do not want a new 70-hour-per-week real job at a startup or a major corporation with hundreds of employees. They want to be “part-time” or they want to “consult.”

Friedman says the retirement gang is a U-shaped curve. In the middle there is the union worker with good benefits, who says, “I’m outta here,” and heads for Florida. At the lower end of the curve are the people who “need” to work, because they have to for the money. And at the upper end, there are the people who need to work, because if they don’t, they will die from boredom, and if they don’t leave the house, their wives will engage in justifiable homicide.

I wonder if you retire from a job or from a career. The 30-year-gold-watch-retirement- you-were-a-great-guy-now-get-out-of-here is gone. So what does it look like to be 55 today, and realize that you probably have another 20 years of potential productivity, enough time to have another full career?

So the reason I am noodling on this is two-fold. At the basic, I am thinking about myself. With my bride, Barbara Bry, now engaged in a new political career as a servant on the San Diego City Council, I am somewhat constricted as to just picking up and going somewhere. But more important, what I am really thinking about is the millennial, the young entrepreneur, the smart, committed, caring, engaged young person and their rush to judgment. Said impolitely, it is the “if I am not rich and famous by the time I am 30, I am going to kill myself” syndrome.

Be careful old man, you are dangerously close to asking your young charges to be more patient, to be more forgiving of themselves, to understand that there is such a thing as a “late bloomer” — Colonel Sanders, founder at 65; Grandma Moses, started painting at 75; Alexander Fleming, discovered penicillin at 47, Peter Mark Roget invented the thesaurus at 73 and Mark Twain wrote “Huckleberry Finn” at 49. I have clearly made my point.

At 30 today, you have time for multiple careers — not just jobs — careers. So life is a marathon, not a sprint, and this seems to be forgotten at times. The puzzle is complex. The young entrepreneur is confronted with stories of the early success of others, of their peers, of measuring oneself against the outlier, of feeling left behind, of wondering will I ever “make it.”

(Neil’s note: “Making It” — as a concept — needs to banished to the bottom of the ocean. It is the dark demon that haunts and never has enough to eat — while it eats you alive. Until you find yourself in your 60s, wondering why you chased that which can never be named.)

But mostly, the retired aren’t. They are still searching — seeking civic engagement and a reason to get up in the morning — just like all my 30-year-old entrepreneurs.

Rule No. 487:  Retirement – bah humbug!

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