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The Second Chance Revolution: Becoming Your Own Boss After 50
By Edward G. Rogoff, David L. Carroll
Rowhouse Publishing Copyright © 2009 Rowhouse Publishing
All rights reserved.
If You Come to a Fork in the Career Road, Take It!
From lemons to lemonade stand
"I stumbled out of my manager's office into the very long, all-of-a-sudden-too-brightly lit corridor," Frank Denton told me over lunch not so long ago.
Frank's a large jovial man in his mid-fifties, and a banker by profession. "My legs were unsteady, rubbery. You know that feeling. I was wondering if I was going to make it to the water cooler."
During my years as a professor of entrepreneurship at Baruch College in New York City, I had often come to Frank for advice when banking technicalities came up in my courses. We hadn't talked for some time, and there was much catching up to do.
"I'd seen it coming for a while," he told me, pulling at his collar à la Rodney Dangerfield. "People were getting laid off right and left at a lot of our branches. But you know, you think you're bulletproof. It's never going to happen to me. When my boss waved the pink slip under my nose, I was floored!"
Hearing Frank's distressing and all-too-common story I began to sympathize: Must be rough to lose a longtime job in your mid-fifties. It's so scary out there in the cold world. Blah blah, blah. Before I got off too many more commiserating clichés, he cut me short.
"Actually, Ed, losing my job was the best thing that could have ever happened!"
"Because I was never all that happy working at the bank. It was okay, you know, just a job. But my number-one interest has always been stamps. Ever since I was a kid."
"Stamps?" I asked. "As in stamp collecting?"
"Yep. The kids used to call me 'George' in school 'cause I brought in so many of those two and three cent George Washington stamps for class projects. I love that stuff."
"Follow your bliss after fifty," I said.
"That's what I figured. It's now or never. Soooooo — after a few weeks at home recovering from layoff shock and realizing that I was a free man but also that time was marching on, it hit me. I was being handed the opportunity of a lifetime. How often do you get such a chance? I could now do what I'd always really wanted to do — for the rest of my life!"
Frank spoke the last sentence with exaggerated slowness, then paused to let the words sink in.
"And what was it exactly that I wanted to do? That was a nobrainer. I took part of my own collection of first-day covers and revenue stamps, hired a computer nerd to make me a website, put them up for sale, and presto! I'm an online stamp dealer."
"That's a fairly dramatic change of careers," I offered, sounding perhaps more surprised than I was. After all, I teach college courses on entrepreneurship every day at Baruch College, and I'm currently involved in several projects relating to independent business ventures after age fifty. Over the years, I've seen many people like Frank do a 180-degree turn in their professional lives when they reach the middle years. More times than not this turn leads in the direction of a person's real — and often long frustrated — dreams.
"Every career change is dramatic," Frank chuckled. "If any one knows that, it's you, Ed. Right? It's part of the fun."
It was true. At the Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship at Baruch College, people Frank's age frequently describe their new business ventures using this same word: fun. I'm always a little taken aback when I hear it. "Fun," after all, makes you think of — what? Seeing a movie with friends? Hobnobbing at a party? Skiing? It's a term that doesn't come up a whole lot when people are talking about their longtime, day-to-day, nine-to-five job.
I asked Frank how he was doing.
"Right now, I'm handling a lot of quality stuff at a pretty good pace," he replied. "Sometimes my wife and I do weekend stamp markets. Auctions. I'm not making the salary I used to, of course. But I'm doing what I love and making enough to live decently."
He paused again then broke into a large grin. "And I'm sure a lot more relaxed than when I was talking to bank clients all day long on the telephone and shuffling through loan applications. I'm a happy man."
Join the Second Chance Revolution
Some call it a silent revolution, but this is a misnomer.
The new change in American work demographics is not silent at all. It is one of the most noted social phenomena of our day, its engine fuelled by the 77 million men and women born between 1946 and 1964 — the famed baby boomer generation.
There are many interesting facts and figures that could be quoted about boomers getting older. You've already heard a number of them. The most significant for our purposes is this: A recent survey tells us that among men and women between the ages of fifty to seventy-five — an age cohort that is richly populated with boomers and that now accounts for more than a third of the labor pool in the United States — almost seventy percent plan never to retire.
Well, we'll get into the reasons for this decision in a minute. What's important to note here is that millions of older men and women in the United States are choosing to remain in the work force, people who up to a decade ago would have automatically taken their gold watch and retired when the age-sixty-five gong rang in their ears.
This new non-retirement trend is discussed on TV, over blogs, in best-selling books. It is talked over around office coffee machines, analyzed in sixtieth-floor executive suites, joked about on late-night talk programs, and hashed out in the back booths of a thousand after-hours watering holes. The subject is constantly on the lips of people who are approaching retirement age. More to the point, it is constantly in the back of their minds. Their concern is simple and urgent: Millions of fifty-plus Americans have highly honed job skills, a lifetime of vocational experience, and a broad array of talents at their chosen professions. They are also about to be, have recently been, or currently are unemployed.
Many of these people are anxious to become engaged in a business that will fill the gap between their retirement income and their current living needs. Others are eager to start a venture on their own that allows them to fulfill longtime professional dreams. These people are all members — or potential members — of the Second Chance Revolution.
Love, work, and other ways to survive
Why do so many men and women over the age of fifty wish to remain in the work force?
Two reasons: 1) They want to work; and 2) they need to work.
Want and need. That's it in a nutshell.
First, want. Keep in mind the fact that people over fifty are at the very summit of their powers. No other consolidation of wage earners in this country boasts such a rich treasure trove of expertise, confidence, and professional wisdom as the fifty-plus generation.
Most members of this age group, studies show, are better educated and healthier than were their counterparts of twenty or thirty years ago. Statistically speaking, they will live to a greater age than any generation in all recorded history. From the standpoint of opportunity, there are more job possibilities open to over-fifties now than at any time in our country's past.
As a result, a majority of people in this age bracket entertain no plans for retirement. Why should they? They're engaged and involved, and they want things to stay that way.
Here, lessons from the dictionary are revealing. One definition of retirement is to "go to bed." Another is to "recede," and another is to "take out of circulation." Still another is to "enter seclusion."
You get the point.
A relatively new concept, job retirement first saw the light of day immediately after the Civil War when army pensions from the government were pumping large sums of cash into the economy. This influx of largesse allowed veterans to spend their later years cutting back on their work hours and sometimes removing themselves from the work force entirely. At the same time, this abundance of money improved national income levels and personal standards of living as well.
The outcome of the marriage between leisure time and prosperity was that participation of persons sixty-five and older in the work force declined from seventy-eight percent in 1880 to less than twenty percent in 1990. In the process, an entirely new social ideal was born — rest at the end of life as a reward for a life of hard work.
Soon a new social equation followed: Retirement equals self-imposed inactivity. Somehow doing what you like came to mean doing nothing at all. In 1961, with his term as president nearing its close, a reporter asked Dwight D. Eisenhower what he intended to do when he left office. "I'm going to sit in my rocking chair," Ike replied. "And after the first six months I'm going to start thinking about rocking."
Since the great general's time, attitudes toward retirement have undergone a compelling transformation. Today, many people view the prospect of rocking away one's latter years as a kind of living death.
The notion of lifetime employment thus comes naturally to today's fifty-plus generation. In their minds, retirement is an obsolete notion — unnatural, absurd even. These work warriors want to stay relevant and employed. They also want to make their own rules of the game.
"What I do at retirement will be what I want to do, and thrill to do, and yearn to do, and love to do, and do so very, very well," a fifty-two-year-old photographer rhapsodized to me during one of my classes in later-life entrepreneurship.
"It's the time in life when I start to be whatever age I damn well please to be," another student told me. "I think I'm in my middle years," a sixty-five-year-old Bob Dylan once informed Rolling Stone magazine. "I have no plans to retire."
A survey conducted in 2006 by AARP reports that sixty-nine percent of people between forty-five and seventy-four are committed to staying employed as long as they possibly can. In another AARP study, sixty-eight percent of individuals between fifty and seventy intend to work in some capacity into their retirement years — or to never retire. Remaining involved and engrossed is clearly one of this age cohort's primary reasons for staying in the work force. Indeed, for many years, AARP itself was known as the American Association of Retired Persons. Then, as the twenty-first century dawned, they made a command decision to change their name to AARP. No acronym now; the name was simply AARP. Why? Because AARP discovered that forty percent of its membership was still working.
Of course, there is also another reason why people of retirement age remain in the workplace. These people may or may not want to work, but they definitely need to work.
In an era dominated by creeping inflation, high health care costs, and a volatile financial market, few can afford to rest on their economic laurels. Traditional pensions and medical benefits have eroded and sometimes disappeared entirely. Costs of living are rising while salaries remain static. It is estimated that sixty to seventy percent of boomers who leave their jobs at retirement will have insufficient income to remain financially independent into their later years.
And there is also the psychological side to consider.
"For many people," insists famed writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler, "a job is crucial psychologically, over and above the paycheck. By making clear demands on their time and energy, it provides an element of structure around which the rest of their lives can be organized."
"To work is to pray" reads the motto of the Benedictine Order, and this saying might easily be adapted by many in today's fifty-plus generation for whom work is a kind of spiritual touch point — a way to stay connected with the rhythms of this busy world, with other people, with nature itself.
"Work is what I do," an aging friend once told me. "It's what they'll write about me on my tombstone."
In short, members of the fifty-plus generation want to keep working and/or need to keep working. Most love working. When asked about the meaning of life, Sigmund Freud gave an uncharacheristically brief reply. "Love and work" was all he said, but his answer was wise. For a majority of people over fifty, these two essential human activities are linked. (Image 1.1)
This time around, however, for those in the fifty-plus zone there will be a major change of intention and perspective. The coming years, these people tell us, will be counted less as down time, and more as what Washington Post columnist, Abigail Trafford, describes as, "my time." The professional fulfillment that so long eluded them while in the employ of other people is now in their crosshairs, they tell us. Riding the wave of the Second Chance Revolution, they will now work at what they love and love what they work at.
What's more, while making this transition, many of these career warriors will make an extraordinary discovery. They will realize that the best years of their work life lie ahead of them, not behind.
They will find that, when equipped with the proper tools and the right information, the downward spiral of job loss, forced retirement, and ageism can be morphed into an entrepreneurial Yellow Brick Road. Millions of members of the fifty-plus generation can become — and want to become — their own bosses.
They want to become entrepreneurs.
Fielding your biggest questions
Since this is a book about "going entrepreneurial" in the second half of life, it is time for us to ask you a key question: Do you intend to keep working when retirement time comes around?
The answer, if you'll forgive the liberty, is most likely yes. Especially since you are reading this book. So, here's a second question: Are you tired of working for another person? Do you want to be your own boss?
Again, the answer probably is yes. Perhaps even definitely yes.
And that's good because the options for self-employment in the United States today are legion. They include owning your own business, investing in another's small business, independent contracting, consulting, franchising, participating in service professions, and many more possibilities, all of which we will look at carefully in the chapters that follow.
And, finally, the most important question: Is fifty-plus entrepreneurship a good idea for you in particular? Does it fit your specific needs, ambitions, and inclinations at this stage in your life?
Let's have a look.
Nay and yea
When the matter of future employment is raised among people over fifty, two voices compete for attention — let's call them Nay and Yea.
Nay likes to talk about things that are very scary. Nay likes to scare you.
Take Ralph as a case in point. Ralph is fifty-six. He's approaching retirement age. How does he intend to continue making a living after he leaves — or loses — his longtime job? Who is going to hire him when there is so much young blood competing for the choice jobs? Will he be hirable at all?
What about savings? Does Ralph have a nest egg sacked away? If so, is it big enough that he can live in the style to which he is accustomed when he leaves his current position? And what of investments? Has he made some good ones? Has he made any?
Does Ralph have any children still in college or graduate school? Are they still going to school on his dollar? How many more years does he have to go until they graduate?
What about children or grandchildren living at home? Or ailing parents? Or a handicapped spouse? Does Ralph have enough funds set aside to pay their medical bills? Not just bills for his dependents either — but expenses he'll have someday for himself as well.
And yes, the mortgage. Is it paid off? Or will Ralph continue to owe the bank a couple of hundred thousand for the next umpteen years?
In short, Nay wants to know: If you retire or leave your present job, how do you intend to survive?
That's Nay's inquisitional question.
Yea, meanwhile, has a different message entirely.
At your present age, Yea insists, you've got fewer life obligations than ever before.
You've put your last child through college; or you're close to it. You've paid down the mortgage; maybe even paid it off entirely. You've got tons of business network contacts, a lifetime's experience in the workplace, plus knowledge, know-how, and focus.
You've made money at your job through the years, and presumably you've invested it well enough so that you're a bit ahead of the game. You also have, or soon will have, access to cash flow from Social Security, pensions, savings, investments, real estate, and perhaps personal inherence.
The good news, therefore, is that you are in a better position to fund a new career than ever before. And you now have the financial wherewithal to manage this new line of work once it's launched.
So all things considered, says Yea, you are finally in the position you've always dreamed about. You can be your own boss at last — do your own thing; follow your own star.
Retiring? Being downsized? Losing your job?
Terrific! shouts Yea. Fantastic! These are all golden opportunities!
Think advanced home-based work technology. Think thousands of new entrepreneurial opportunities. Think franchising. Think the sheer size and power of the emerging fifty-plus work force.
Excerpted from The Second Chance Revolution: Becoming Your Own Boss After 50 by Edward G. Rogoff, David L. Carroll. Copyright © 2009 Rowhouse Publishing. Excerpted by permission of Rowhouse Publishing.
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