With recession, underlying structural changes in the global economy, and public sector cutbacks the issue highlights a grim picture for anyone born before 1961 who is now looking for new employment.
Sure, there are some stark realities:
The enjoyment of a high salary from one job may prove impossible to sustain.
The reality of ‘retirement’ is looming closer than other age groups – with the fear of inadequate pension provision being closely felt.
There is also a sense of rapid technological change, which for the pre-digital native is at an inherent disadvantage.
And being honest, for anyone over 50, there are some early signs of the mechanics of your body not being what they once were, from greying hair, creakier bones, and yes, you do find yourself talking more about the unlikeliest of health idiosyncrasies.
Yet is it as bad as it seems?
I speak with some experience, being a 53 year-old, born in 1958. (And yes, you do realise your age when you start employing people born in 1990!)
I am also probably one of Britain’s oldest teenagers – and angry young men. (There are two ways of getting a teenager to do anything: one is to pay them and the other is to say, ‘you can’t do it!’ That certainly motivates me. Perhaps I am a bit like Benjamin Button, the Brad Pitt character who grew younger with age, except I forgot to tell my body about the ageing bit!)
A lunch with an old college friend sparked a recognition, a sense that we were both part of a wider sociological phenomena: yes we were conscious of an onset of age, but we were equally aware that actually we still had immense reservoirs of energy, ambition, and drive.
In fact the age thing has given us an advantage: focus.
We were both conscious of how we probably have a 10 year window where we have something to give, another significant chapter to write, a stunning story to create.
As a sociological group those 50plusers with families have, by and large, got the early years of child rearing out of the way. We were relatively unshackled in that department.
We have a talent pool within us far more capable than those without the experience. We have a longer track of the University of Life and the School of Hard Knocks.
And we have dipped our toes in the technology pool and can at least engage, if not positively lead ways in some aspects of the new digital revolution.
So, yes there is upheaval, disruption and change: but we are in a brilliant position to exploit the opportunities any re-shuffling of the cards inevitably brings.
So what do we need to equip us to meet these challenges?
Here are 5 key principles:
- Firstly, a belief that ‘You will never retire’. Yes, you will never retire.
So, you can avoid the anxiety that in this stage of your life it is undermining any preparation for ‘retirement’.
Two personal stories may explain my thinking here.
I was made a Fellow of the Institute of Public Relations back in 1993 at the age of 35, and at the earliest chance I had I went to my first ‘Fellows’ lunch’ at the House of Commons. On entering the room I was disappointed: the room seemed to be full of ‘geriatrics’ – old people, 65 plus and even older; what had I let myself into?
It wasn’t just the convivial dining that changed my worldview. All these so-labelled ‘geriatrics’ firstly had far more interesting lives than I could possibly entertain.
Secondly, nearly all of them were still ‘working’. And crucially, working on their terms, doing the things they loved, and chose, rather than the crud conveyor belt of work drudgery many of us were engaged in
Another earlier experience was the time when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel before going to college. One lesson I took away from here was how everyone in the community had a part to play; you worked according to your abilities, but you all did something.
In the same way it is crazy we pay people to unemployed (please I am no welfare-basher), isn’t it crazy how we also use valuable, precious community resources to label and cast off a group of people of a certain age. (I know most people have worked to create a pension pot for their use.)
So, we need to think differently about ‘retirement’, which then gets you thinking different about the pre-retirement age of the over-50’s and what you need to being now rather than worrying about a tomorrow, which you need to redefine anyway.
2. The over 50’s also need to think flexibly and creatively.
Instead of one high-paid job what about a portfolio of different jobs? I have five different income strands. OK you have done a certain type of job, or been employed in a specific market sector. Think beyond these self-imposed barriers.
3. Give yourself a new or re-charged goal: ask what is it you really want to do and achieve in your life?
The scenario planning tool of being on your death bed is actually relatively not that far away. I bought my first LP ‘Ziggy Stardust’ by David Bowie in 1972 – nearly some 40 years ago, and that memory seems as fresh as if it were yesterday. God willing, I may just have half of that experience time available to me.
4. Get uncomfortable. Yes, it can be unnerving learning new experiences. (Says he just after to register with a new social media tool which didn’t seem to go right.) But the only way to keep growing is to step outside your Comfort Zone, do the experience, learn from it, and know better next time.
5. Bounce back. Inevitably, you will have disappointment. No, re-write that, you will have many disappointments, many knock-backs, frequent people saying ‘No’ (and even worse, not even bothering to give you an answer.)
The knowledge that you have this tiny window of opportunity, of maybe 10 years should be an important part of your rocket fuel, powering what I call your Adversity Quotient – your ability to bounce back.
The Panorama programme is timely.
Yet also your life is extremely timely. Once time goes, you can never get it back. So what is the most you can do now to give you the best quality of life (no, this not necessarily best quality material life).
Why not join the ‘Youth-gone Club’ – a place where yes, you recognise the reality of your age, your physicality and any new negative situations, but this is countered with your energy, experience and now crucially, focus, and make the most of things.
As one of Britain’s oldest teenagers and angry young men I know how I will be responding to these new re-shuffling of the pack. Why not join me?