Retiring Minds Ought to Know

Think your working life is almost over? Think again.

| November-December 2010

If you’re over 60 years old and reading this post, it’s probably too late. Good for you if you’re under 30. You’ve got a better chance if you’re younger.

Age discrimination? No. The end of retirement as we know it—an emerging unpleasant reality that will reshape the quality of life and standard of living for billions. Start dealing with it. Now.

If you are a knowledge worker, you will not be retiring at 65. Period. Even if you are in a protected public union with cosseted pension funds, you are at extraordinary risk. Just ask the Greeks, the Californians, or the Japanese. This is a global phenomenon. Demographics and structural deficits don’t lie. Unless the global economy comes roaring back in ways that stimulate sustainable growth, even the most talented professionals can expect to work for at least an additional five years.

Of course, with stimulating careers, good health, and longer life spans, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it is surely not what most midcareer professionals have planned. (Indeed, there’s no shortage of optimists who still expect to enjoy the fruits of early retirement.) Forget the “saving for retirement” shibboleths. Strategically addressing those 60 (or more) additional months on the job may be your most significant long-range planning investment.

The simple reality is that retirement planning as we know it is obsolete. Take 15 hard minutes to ruthlessly reassess the reality of the “new” final years of your future career. The finish line has become elusive; the goalposts have been pushed back. Based on your current skills and competences, what do you think your workday will look like when you’re 70? Are you comfortable with the probability that you will be managing employees younger than your grandchildren? Temperamentally, do you think you’ll add more value as a mentor, a partner, or a part-timer? More importantly, what will your (much) younger boss think?

Do you honestly believe that, when you have to work five more years than you anticipated, you can get away with not being more facile, adept, and productive with emerging technologies? The inevitable aging of the (for now) wealthier Western economies guarantees a surge of innovative devices compatible with slower fingers and tired eyes. You will, of course, be taking web-enabled professional/technical development courses at 58 or 62, or you will be fired for cause.

Leo in SoCal
12/6/2010 11:06:26 AM

I suddenly got laid off at 59 and am now 60, still looking for work. My attempts at being self-employed have not been well rewarded so far. So instead of working 5 years longer than I planned, I've worked five years LESS - and IF I find another job it will almost certainly be at 3/4 or 2/3 or 1/2 what I used to make... Not good. I'm looking into moving to Costa Rica or somewhere else. I have a bit of a nest egg from selling a house when I was hit with divorce, six years ago. Maybe I can make that stretch out for 20 - 30 years if my cost of living is really low, and I can supplement it a little bith with... something.

12/6/2010 10:55:45 AM

Star and Paula. Your posts could not be truthier (cred to Colbert for the word.) I keep hearing about life expectancy rising yet I have friends and family passing away at fearfully young ages. Having worked two jobs most of my life, one knowledge based and one manual labor I can attest to Paula's observation regarding the ability to perform as one ages. I have witnessed folks pushing on despite their pain just on shear stubborness (or whatever word you care to substitute.) But sit down in a bar over a few beers and they will tell you they are suffering and concerned about the level of their abilities. There is a misconception in this country regarding work ethic. Putting in more time does not necessarily mean more work or better outcomes. More often than not it means tired, safety and performance comprimised individuals. Ask any trucker after an 18 hour day.

12/6/2010 10:00:20 AM

Interesting information confirming what most of my friends and colleagues have known informally for years - we're going to have to provide for ourselves until we die. No pension fund is guaranteed, government programs will change radically as they become too expensive and we'll have to either keep working or have enough saved (and be careful where and how you save it - those funds can be rapidly depleted by financial chaos) to fund our "golden" years. Luckily I'm a knowledge worker that does not have to rely on physical labor to earn my keep. Many of my friends, who are carpenters, machinists, electricians, road construction workers, etc., no matter how much yoga and weightlifting they do will likely not be able to perform their major duties in their mid-sixties and beyond. Most people in the trades start their careers earlier in life and often have worked 40+ years by the time they are sixty; these folks will have even more difficulties with retirement. Retraining for a desk job? Sales? What is going to happen to them?