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21st Century Career Reinvention for Boomers (Part 1)

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On July 14th, I was asked to give a TEDX Talk for TEDxSoCal in Long Beach, CA (home of the big TED event) on the theme of "The Alchemy of Transformation ... Our Selves, Our Work Places, Our Living Spaces." In looking at this question, it occurred to me that while my professional work is focused on helping the next generation of media content professionals adapt to the amazing and pervasive paradigm shifts introduced by digital technology, here was an opportunity to discuss some of these same paradigm shifts for an audience that I had never really addressed: my own Baby Boomer generation.

While the students that I work with (and the schools they go to) are trying to figure out how to prepare for entering the media industry and developing new careers, the Baby Boomers are on the other side of equation, looking at how to wrap up their careers and transition into what we commonly refer to as "retirement."

The well-known problem for the Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), is that, as a generation, we have not prepared for this transition. There are many statistics available here, but the most striking number to me is this one: 80 percent of us have saved less than $100,000 for our retirement. Given the economics of the last five years, and the prospects ahead of us, what this means is that the Boomers are going to have to keep working -- and the problem there is that neither we nor the society at large are prepared for us to remain in the work force.

My point in the TEDx talk is propose some ideas on how to reinvent ourselves in order to maintain our relevance in and relevance to the workforce. We need to start reframing who we are and what we think we're capable of doing, and to reject the idea that old dogs can't learn new tricks.

After all, we have some pretty amazing life experience to draw from. If our kids are actually listening to all of our music (my daughter is currently negotiating vociferously for access to my 600 hundred-album stack of vinyl...), then we can't be all that out of touch. If we were able to piss off our parents and master the art of talking on the phone, doing homework and listening to the radio, we should be able to figure out how to multi-task between Text, Email, Voicemail and Skype while sitting at Starbucks in between meetings.

As I know from working with my graduate students, there's a lot that they know, and there's a lot that they don't know. They and we want and need guidance from one other. It's one big ecology: our wisdom and experience + their digital awareness and limitless passion.

In the midst of so many paradigm shifts that I'm observing in the digital age, one emerges out of this situation that I'd like to share. In the 20th century, we thought of life in three broad stages: Education, Career and Retirement. In the 21st century however, I believe that these three need to be replaced by Self Awareness, Creation, and Service. While this is guidance for young people starting out, it is also an important concept for those of us on the other side of the curve.

In Part 2 of this post, I'll explore that concept in more detail. For now, I invite you to view the TEDx Talk to hear some specific suggestions on how the Boomers can take back some control of our careers as we press on into unexpected and uncharted territory. Hint: The kids can be alright!