Recently, a friend sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal sharing the good news: older workers are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce. "Workers age 50 or older now comprise 33.4% of the U.S. labor force, up from 25% in 2002. And more than 60% of workers age 65 or older now hold full-time positions, up from 44% in 1995."http://www.wsj.com/articles/five-myths-about-landing-a-good-job-later-in-life-1480302842 The statistics in Canada are very similar. The employment rate among women aged 65 and older nearly doubled in the decade from 4.8% in 2005 to 9.1% to 2015. 17.2% of men of the same vintage are also employed. So what happened to "Freedom 55"?
First Quarter: A Springboard
Not sure this news is good or bad but the reality is we're living longer and staying in the workforce longer. Whether by choice or necessity, our career runway is quite bit longer than we had likely thought it would be when we took our first job at fifteen or sixteen. The first quarter of your career feels brief but is critical. You may be in school for a good part of it but everything you do including how early you start working and the kind of workplaces you're exposed to matter. Your work ethic and your appreciation for money starts early. How you work with others is shaped while you are maturing. My son who works in retail and deals with customers all day has learned patience and certainly knows the value of his new sneakers.
Second Quarter: The Science Experiment
If you think that the early 20s is a time to slack, you're wrong. Kids are entering university and college programs that are much more specialized than a couple of decades ago. Coop programs are highly competitive and internships are akin to winning a lottery. Why? Because having an undergraduate degree these days doesn't really differentiate you from anyone else in your graduating class, even with a high GPA. Parents are doing anything they can including leveraging their networks, at the promise that their adult kids will get off their payroll. With the right first job, the second quarter can make sure you get off on the right foot. Depending on what is going on in the job market however, it can present some precarious twists and turns. Your major matters little and your luck matters a lot. You may have planned to discover a medication to treat heart conditions and end up with side of effects to treat sexual dysfunction as Viagra did, winning 45% market share. Or not. Regardless, chances are that your second quarter will be unexpected, exciting and sometimes scary.
Third Quarter: The Career Crucible
By the time you hit 50, you've done your career heavy lifting. You may be well into advancement in a large organization, happily riding the rails of middle management or trying your hand at entrepreneurship. Conversely, you may be settling for where you are and looking back at what could have or should have been. Gary Vaynerchuk says that you have a lot more time than you think given the advances of modern medicine. Inspired by meeting too many people plotting their exit, he says "f*ck wrapping it up, start it up. You're just 50". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqgOA6-Up1Q. So are you motivated or exhausted? Do you have enough in the bank that this quarter will be about exploring what's possible or are tackling the impossible: paying down the mortgage, helping adult kids, looking after elderly parents and still saving for retirement? Either way, this quarter is about creating optionality.
Bulletproofing your third quarter is about doing all the right things in your second quarter. In order to create options, you need to have the following:
- A diverse and strong network of people who know who you are and what you can do. If you've played your cards right, you're support of them is generous, there is some equity there. There will be a day that you have an idea that you'd love to bounce off someone and find that it may just be too awkward to call someone you haven't talked to in ten years. Don't let that happen.
- A commitment to evolving your curiosity and interest as things around you change. There is an awful saying that "everyone has a best before date, you just don't know when". That's exactly what you don't want. If you are waiting around for someone to tell you that you're obsolete, you already are. Put yourself in a place and with people who are always learning and growing. You just might like it.
- An openness to taking measured risks and exploring the novel. The myth about the "older worker" is that their experience doesn't allow them to try something new and gets stuck in the way things have always been. This doesn't need to be true. You can leverage the insights you've gained in your career to figure out what's priority so that you can avoid evaluating every single shiny object that gets thrown your way. Beware that you don't dismiss one that could be gold.
Ageism is out there. People are talking about it. With almost one in ten women and one in five men among the working population, they'll get over it. This well marinated group of people are not just there to manage in static workplaces. They are showing up to rock your world. Stay tuned.
"Wait, what is the Last Quarter supposed to be all about?" you ask. Whatever the hell you want, you've earned it!