Turning 50 used to mean that it was time to begin thinking about retiring. In today’s age, that is not the case anymore, now turning 50 is about becoming a “modern elder” as Chip Conley puts it in his book Wisdom at Work. A recent article, “The New 50s: Far From Retirement” from the New York Times, discusses some stories and wisdom from people who are finding new ways to be a “modern elder” in the workforce today.
According to Conley, being a “modern elder” means balancing sharing wisdom with embracing new ideas and ways of thinking. Part of this is figuring out how to stay relevant and keep skills up to date while remembering humility. It can be tough to stay motivated in the work environment because of how valued the younger generation is, how in tune they seem to be with new technology, and how each new wave of what’s popular doesn’t seem to faze or overwhelm them.
So what are people doing? Some go back to school. They either go back for jobs where there are shortages like teaching in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields or in nursing, others take classes that align with their field but bring them up to speed with what young people are currently learning to make themselves relevant. People have also done volunteering and attended specialized boot camps or fellowships. Teaming up with young partners is also an avenue to pursue. A combination of these things is also a good approach.
If your company doesn’t have one already, start a cultural apprentice program. This program’s aim would be to bring together millennials and older Gen Zers with people who have 30+ years of experience. Learning from and collaborating with these younger people is a great way to enter into the “modern”.
As a modern elder, you might be wondering how can you keep up with the world of social media. The phrase “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, doesn’t exactly apply, because most of the time, today’s youth view “old” people using social media as a parent views a toddler’s mud pies. That said though, capitalize on the youth in your life. Family group chats across platforms like text and Snapchat can help you see how they communicate. Get them to show you their favorite accounts. You don’t necessarily need to participate online, but if you can be familiar with it, this will help you with understanding young people because you will know their humor and the way they communicate in a less formal setting.
The attitudes of your younger colleagues are just as important as yours as you work to either redefine your current role or seek a new role in the rapidly changing work environment. Connecting with them either through intergenerational networking or via other avenues is important. Bear in mind, just as much as you want to get to know younger folks, they are also looking for mentors, so two way beneficial relationships can form.
All these things sound like great tips, but there have been people who have done this and not found success at the midlife point. As we know, ageism is rampant. The idolization of youth can be discouraging. While there are many offerings to assist in making late-career transitions, moving into an “encore career” will require immense amounts of creativity and persistence.
So, while you may be 50 and not thinking about retiring, having a retirement plan, fund, and subsequently a financial safety net will be key in feeling comfortable with making the leap in transitioning to a “modern elder”. Aside from the typical statement of having enough savings to cover 6 months of expenses, meeting with an estate planning attorney to do retirement planning and establishing your estate plan can help you have peace of mind concerning the appropriate amount of funds for retirement. Most people don’t realize just how much they need to have saved nor have they properly planned around their 401(k), IRA, and social security.
It might be daunting to be 50 and trying to achieve “modern elder” status, but with the appropriate amount of planning and determination, you can stay relevant in the work place and have a dependable plan to fall back on.
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