I’m a year older than Cher, and we would both “turn back time” if we could. Who wouldn’t? We also share having had a very long career — if nothing else — and mine is still in high gear. But it’s about what it takes to develop and sustain a long career that I’m writing here. Mostly, for Cher and for me, it takes staying in shape (mentally and physically), staying au courant, and working your ass off.
Lifelong learning and personal growth are at the heart of any long career. But for a marathon rather than a sprint career, that lifelong learning, that personal reinvention, must be a passion, not just a chore. And it’s our responsibility to learn and grow; it’s not the responsibility of our employer of the moment. By all means take advantage of every employer-provided opportunity, of those tax breaks and government programs that support lifelong learning and career programs. But, in the final analysis, it’s your job to build and preserve your own KSAOCs.
Everyone must adapt to aging, must learn to work differently as they age. But the burden of figuring out how to stay relevant, how to accommodate the inevitable loss of physical prowess that comes with age, how to cope with health issues and more, resides with us and not with our employer. If you’re fortunate enough to have an EAP program at the ready, say thank you and use it. If you’re entitled to adaptive technology, to public programs in support of your health issues, by all means use them. But with or without that support, the figuring out part lies solely with us.
How do you think an aging performer or athlete feels when they realize that everyone in their profession is young enough to be their child? How do you think a long-standing manager feels when his/her boss is a generation younger? How do you think I feel when I face a new group of clients who studied many of the major events of my life in their history classes? Well, you either get over it and show them what you can do — or you’re done.
Staying competent and relevant is really hard work, and your career today is much less about what you did in the past and very much about what you’re able to do right now. What matters at work is what you contribute today and tomorrow. ALL of my clients are much younger than I am, and that affords me some really wonderful learning opportunities as I am constantly exposed to their way of viewing our world of HRM and HR technology. But what they expect from me in terms of contribution is not conditioned on what I produced a generation ago but rather on what I can produce now. And that’s entirely reasonable.
Except for the very few, you’re all going to be working as long as I have and beyond. With defined benefit pension plans (public and private) on their last legs and people living — and functioning — so much longer, I really think that the concept of automatic retirement at 60 or so is entirely outdated. Yes, there are definitely people whose work has been so soul-deadening or physically and emotionally challenging that they really are burned/worn out by 60. But for most of the people reading this post, your work is of a very different sort, or at least you have the wherewithal in intelligence, education, and other resources to aspire to more knowledge-based work. And for you, planning a career that goes well past 60, one which adapts to aging but isn’t ended by it, may make a lot more sense, both economically and psychologically.
So, since “we can’t turn back time,” we may as well learn to flaunt what we’ve got.