Baby Boomers Reinventing Themselves … And How This Relates to Their Relationships With Millennials
We've written in the past about relationships between baby boomers and millennials and how they can productively co-exist or, better yet, jointly thrive in the workplace. Building on this premise, in this article we offer some thoughts about how and why baby boomers increasingly reinvent themselves later in life, as well as the challenges that any such reinvention poses. In addition, we look at the creativity needed to take this challenge on. The role of millennials in this process shows the need for a surprising flexibility and reiterates the importance of creating positive and constructive multigenerational relationships.
Fighting Age Segregation and 'Silo-ization'
There was an interesting article and Q&A in the Jan. 6, 2019 Business section of The New York Times. Columnist Maya Salam interviewed Marc Freedman, the author of the recently released book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Freedman is, to put it simply, on a quest to “reintegrate older people into the lives of younger ones.” Among Freedman’s accomplishments is the creation of the Experience Corps, one of the largest nonprofit service programs in the United States. Experience Corps seeks to enable older people to tutor and mentor students.
When asked about his book, Freedman stressed the idea of “mutuality” — i.e., what happens when older and younger people have a natural ability to help each other and get together to do so. “Older people who mentor and support young people are three times as likely to be happy as those who fail to do so.” Freedman notes that science tells us this is a natural process; however, he points out that it's essential that older people not try to be the younger generation but, instead, “invest in younger people and live on through their lives." Interdependence is embedded in human development. It's about the continuum and not the moment for Freedman.
Many baby boomers have actively benefited from fully engaging grandparents and bringing grandparents into the lives of developing grandchildren. This behavioral process is important outside the immediate family as well. Freedman noted that in the past he was interested in older people as a method of solving human and social capital needs of the younger generation, providing the insight and guidance needed. However, how that's done is the challenge. Over time he became “increasingly aware … that this is about so much more than efficiency. The connection goes beyond economics and mechanics and structure. It's about maximizing human beings as social animals because this is what they are at their most core level."
Baby Boomers … and Reinvention
In recent articles we've discussed how baby boomers increasingly look for different roles and challenges in their near or post-retirement years. This is the result of longevity, better medical care and the reality that chronological age has little to do with curiosity and the desire to continue to learn and contribute. There has been some sense of age segregation in the U.S., but with the defiant baby boomer generation this is shifting. Most baby boomers have little desire to “drift into some sort of serene retirement” in their later years. The baby boomer authors of this article have no intention of “drifting” into anything, nor do their contemporaries. This is a challenge because there's no road map for reinvention and reinvigoration. But that doesn't lessen the desire to keep doing, though on different terms from one’s previous life and work experiences. When Maya Salam asked Marc Freedman about what people can do to prepare for post-retirement, especially at different times in their lives, Freedman responded: “First of all, re-evaluate the sense of time. This period, rather than being the leftover years, may be one of the sweet spots in life.”
Freedman went on to add: “So, this is a wonderful new time horizon that people have. You don’t have to do everything at once; you don’t have to cram everything in. What might feel like a sprint is really a long-distance race. There’s an opportunity to explore different routes.”
When exploring the reinvention process, we suggest baby boomers think about what's most important to them and prioritize that into a specific (yet flexible) plan of action. Many of us have experience writing business plans. Transfer that skill into a plan for the next phase of your life. Circling back to the boomer/millennial relationship, how can one use their skills and experiences to help millennials navigate their work and, in some cases, their personal lives? The examples are many. One of the authors of this article provides pro bono career coaching for recent college grads. Both authors have taught as adjunct professors at universities with well-established MBA programs, not so much for economic gain but as a way to bridge the gap between generations and share knowledge while learning new and radically different perspectives.
Reality: We Live Longer and Want/Need to Be Productive
Baby boomers and the generations following them don’t think in terms of years or age. After all, it was the baby boomer generation that coined “60 is the new 40.” This post-WW II demographic has been the beneficiary of medical and technological revolutions, as well as the explosion of the “how to make you look and feel younger” industry. Most boomers simply refuse to accept that aging will lead to less productive years. But what that production is does change, and it's not always easy to navigate the changes.
Our advice is to think about what's important to you; find out what makes you happy and why. Create lists and plans; network; explore available resources such as college and community activities. If you want to give back, define what that means? Twenty years to 30 years goes by quickly after the age of 65, but that doesn't diminish the impact of how much time that is nor what can be accomplished and learned in it. No generation can be or should be ignored or discounted in terms of what it can offer to other generations. However, it takes creativity and ingenuity, but doesn’t that make it all the more important and all the more of a challenge?
Frederick Lamster is the managing director at ZRG Partners, a progressive midsized global executive search firm that uses a proven, data-driven approach. Sharon Tunstall is a consultant at Connect the Dots, a leadership solutions consulting company.