During an executive coaching session last year with a woman in her 50s, I was surprised when she teared up, then blurted out, "I didn't expect to be here." She was weary from not finding steady work, her mother's recent passing and the subsequent management of her estate, the demands of a school-aged son and a recently retired husband who didn't know how to help her.
Her words underscored a sad but increasingly prevalent reality for mature workers. More than just needing to look for work, members of this age group (myself included) are being confronted with a life we never envisioned. I for one, recall being in my 20s and thinking "once I'm 50, I'll be sitting pretty, have the money I need, a great marriage, kids on track and whatever else that means." I assumed 25 years of work experience would ensure a stable job or entrepreneurial enterprise, steady income and increasing wealth.
We baby boomers came by this mindset of "sitting pretty" honestly. We are a product of the American Dream -- the dream that promised that we'd be better off than our parents. We never envisioned a financial crisis, global competition or advanced technology that together eliminated millions of jobs. We are nostalgic for an earlier time and fearful of no longer being relevant. We long for assurances that we can maintain the lifestyle to which we might have become accustomed.
A recent study conducted by CareerBuilder and PrimeCB.com showed that 57 percent of workers over 60 would seek a new job after they retire. In my book "Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work," I refer to these mature workers as "Encore" workers. This group may or may not be employed, but regardless, they are prone to a mindset that can be counter-productive at best, debilitating at worst.
The good news is that this group is poised to meet a leadership and knowledge void that younger workers simply aren't experienced enough to address. While we might not have expected to be here, we do have valuable wisdom and are formidable leaders, managers and experts, ready to contribute in a meaningful way.
To make the leap from "weary and fearful" to "wise and formidable," here are some tips:
Drop That Sense Of Entitlement
Leave your ego at the door and know that while you might have once been a high flyer, nothing is forever and we are here to continually learn. Find some humility and endear yourself to the common man. You might benefit from volunteering with the less fortunate to learn gratitude.
Skip The "Pity Party"
I vowed a long time ago to never be a victim. Yes, there is ageism, racism and all kinds of "-isms" that aren't going away any time soon. Don't assume you are being slighted; instead demonstrate your greatness, and it will eclipse discriminatory behavior and narrow-mindedness.
Stop Living In The Past
Remember the old adage "you are only as good as your last achievement"? Some of us achieved a modicum of success 20 or more years ago and mistakenly think it will carry us. Reference recent accomplishments as often as possible, describing earlier "wins" as foundational and educational.
Have No Shame In Your Game
You might be feeling embarrassed or ashamed that you didn't see your current situation coming or that you should be farther along in your career at your age. Drop all the "shoulds" from your vocabulary, focus on what serves you in the here and now and do that.
Refresh Your Personal Brand
Perception and reputation matter, so make sure you reflect vitality, awareness and current competencies. Seek feedback from people across the generations to know how you are perceived. Move in new professional and social circles. Brighten your look with color and an age-appropriate wardrobe.
Don't let the way you speak date you. Retro is in, but lose the "When I was your age ..." commentary. Conversely, don't go overboard with hip colloquialisms, but stay abreast of ever-changing language and terminology through the media -- social, print, TV and radio -- to know what is trending.
Use the luxury of your wisdom, and seek your own inner counsel to mesh choice with need to create a portfolio of options as you adjust to this rich phase of your life. Abandon fear and embrace where you are now. The results might just surprise you.
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