Graduating and Retiring: More Similar Than We Think

Published on Big Think/Disruptive Demographics: June 11, 2013

Okay, so here sits two educated and resourceful parties, dualing quietly along the age spectrum. We have Generation Y college students and soon-to-be-graduates: spunky, spoiled, hooked up, and ready to play in the capitalist sandbox for cheap. Then we have Baby Boomers: seasoned, networked, and well-on-their-way to The Big R, commonly referred to as retirement. While age, experience, and bank accounts may divide us, Boomers and Gen Y’ers have at least one thing in common: the looming unknown “next step” has us “hopefully terrified” for our futures.

With the two camps pitted against each other, I am interested in creating a bridge based on our shared interest of our (“our” in the loosest sense of the word) futures. Here are ways in which two generations, both perched on the verge of major life changes, are more similar than they are different because the question of “what next” has us:

1. E-xcited.

Gone are the days of mulling through job clippings in the newspaper or “help wanted” signs actually bearing fruit. The world is our oyster, especially with the advent of the Internet, right? Not necessarily. Gen Y’ers have IV lines connecting us to the interwebs. In the case of the online job search, is more really more? Yes and no. Countless search engines and job postings are hypothetically promising for actual job prospects, but also incredibly overwhelming. Where to start? When to end? And what to do when we don’t get the response we are hoping for?

It is not uncommon for Gen Y’ers to hear from comrades, “I graduated a year ago, spend my days filling out 2 or 3 job applications with pristine cover letters and resumes, maybe having the occasional interview, but mostly just waiting. News flash: retired people are looking for paid work, too! The difference is that, unlike new college grads willing to climb the ladder and start at the bottom, companies are less smitten by the idea of hiring older adults. Boomers are retiring, willingly or not, and scouring the same online postings for paid positions. The former group: “I’m not entirely qualified for this, but there’s nothing else to apply for.” The latter: “They will never hire me for this because I’m overqualified (or in some cases, not qualified enough because of new technologies) and they can’t afford me.

My suggestion: let go of your laptop. Networking is where it’s at. Set up some informational interviews, get in touch with that friend of a friend who may know someone, make some business cards, slap a smile on your face and show up in-person. And then go home and apply to a quarter of the jobs you’ve been applying to.

2. Anxious and Overwhelmed

In public: “You’re graduating/retiring in a week! You’ve been in school/working forever. You must be so excited, huh?” You: *Gulp* “Yeah!” In private: *pacing…sweating…panting…messy sobbing…medicating” These huge life transitions present more than changes in occupations- they take the age-old question, “Who am I?” and magnify it by (insert age here), and then throw the old “and what’s my purpose” question in there for good measure. American culture has a delightful habit of defining its inhabitants by their professions. Moving from “student” to ??? leaves a similar taste in one’s mouth as “engineer” to ??? With the exception of the select few with guaranteed positions post-life-transition, the rest of us walk warily into the great unknown. I don’t care what you say- no one wants to be “that guy” for more than a month, maybe two tops. you know, the guy who is burning through Netflix on his couch, sometimes venturing out into the light for a new box of cereal or something else with crumbs.

My suggestion: say this to yourself at each meal: I am more than my work. The next adventure is going to come along and sweep me off my feet even if it’s not in the form I expected. It will lead to the next one and then the one after that and the one after that. And then go get a hobby for God’s sake. You deserve it and the other side of your brain deserves it more. Oh, and then set up an informational interview.

3. Bitter and resentful

Whether our networking-savvy selves will admit it or not, Gen Y college students and new graduates are tactfully bitter and resentful towards Baby Boomer retirees, many of whom are in turn less-tactfully bitter and resentful towards us. As —– graduates between the ages of 22 and 26 set out on our first-time job hunt, cap and gown freshly-hung in our parents’ basements, —– Baby Boomers between the ages of 60 and 65 are either clinging frantically to their non-tenured jobs or involuntarily collecting their belongings and braving rush-hour traffic one last time. The mantra on both sides: “THEY are taking our jobs… And I need a job like, 5 minutes ago, because I need healthcare coverage among other things.” As soon-to-be-grads and and Baby Boomers sit, camped in their anxious and perhaps hopeful respective camps, one thing is for sure: retiring and graduating are more similar than they are different.

My suggestion: Merge forces. Gen Y’ers, think about our generation’s most notable entrepreneurs. Now think about them 20/30 years from now and beyond. Like a fine wine, soon-to-be retirees only ripen with age. So while our projected age of “productivity” in America still mistakenly halts around age 65 (or when workers get to the point when they can no longer stand the 9-5 life), you can bet that the 60-something part-timer with one foot out the door in your office can be one of your best resources. And Boomers, Gen Y’ers are waiting for their big break. Give them that opportunity by collaborating on a project or two.

“Facebook: mapping how viral photos spread”

The award for “the next most obvious thing” goes to Stamen Design for a post on their site created October 11, 2012.

According to the site, “Following up on last month’s map of the world’s friendships on Facebook, we’ve released another visualization of relationships across social networks today. Called “Photo-sharing Explosions,” these visualizations look at the different ways that photos shared on George Takei’s Facebook page go viral once he’s posted them.

Each visualization is made up of a series of branches, starting from George. As each branch grows, re-shares split off onto their own arcs. Sometimes, these re-shares spawn a new generation of re-shares, and sometimes they explode in short-lived bursts of activity. The two different colors show gender, and each successive generation becomes lighter as time goes by. And the curves are just for snazz.

The visualizations are live at facebookstories.com.”

This text comes from the original site: http://content.stamen.com/facebook_mapping_how_viral_photos_spread

These graphics have unbelievable implications for aging. We are in a hyper-connected world of information-sharing, help-seeking, memory-downloading, and sensory-overloading. Though The Greatest Generation may not be social media hounds like Generation Y and beyond, social networks have been, and will continue to be, the arteries of change around the world. As humans continue to wrap ourselves around the legs of emerging technologies and burgeoning social networking platforms, we need to think long and hard about a dirty ten-letter word, particularly in context of Vibrant Aging: networking.

Networking is valuable to more than just 20-somethings looking for the first job out of college. Networking means connections, and connections mean post-retirement part-time jobs, long-lost friends, local events, health, caregivers, grandchildren, and more. As we age, our personal network sizes generally decline, and coincidentally (or not) so does our health, happiness, mobility, economic security, and more. What will the future of aging look like when there are more dandelions to be scattered to the the wind of the world wide interwebs?

Silver-Haired Silver-Lining to the Boston Marathon Explosions

Iffrig

 

Published on Elephant Journal: April 16, 2013

In the wake of today’s Boston Marathon Explosions, several images remain burned in the nation’s memories for years to come: runners, 25 sweaty miles deep into the race of their lifetimes, bystanders, dazed and forlorn, limbs bloodied and exposed, and flags from around the world toppled to the ground, sprawled among glass and debris.

One of the first images and pieces of footage surfacing from today’s explosions on Boylston Street offered an unlikely glimmer of hope amidst chaos and darkness: a thin, silver-haired runner just feet away from the finish line, propping himself up. This image has been e-mailed, shared, tweeted and re-tweeted.

Who is this man? He is Bill Iffrig and he is not your marathon runner posterchild. Bill Iffrig is 78 years old. This was his third time running the Boston Marathon. He is a veteran of 45 marathons. He regularly competes in national sporting championships … and wins. According to Iffrig, he has logged over 46,000 miles to date of pounding the pavement. He is a retired mason worker from Lake Stevens, Washington. Iffrig, wearing bib number 19200 over an orange tank top (pictured) was running on the opposite side of the street from most runners, which is why he was the only runner to fall to the ground. “I got down to within 15 feet of the finishing apron and just tremendous explosion, sounded like a bomb went off right next to me.”

His knees buckled and down he went. As we see in the video footage, runners either rushed towards the finished line out of sheer determination (or confusion) or stopped, knowing that something was, indeed, very wrong. We see Iffrig, in orange, fall and then rise again.

Watch footage here.

The photo of Iffrig circulating around the world captures a moment that will live on in infamy: a brief and profound blip in time. Smoke is beginning to curl in the air, the police officer on the left has drawn her gun, and the crowds are beginning to scatter. Says John Tlumacki, photographer responsible for this photo, “I was focused on a couple children coming over the finish line. And then the blast occurred, and everybody was just screaming,” he explained. “[Iffrig] fell in front of me and then the Boston police officers that were near him started drawing their guns. It was just a panic on people’s faces.”

Just moments after this shot was taken, Iffrig was helped to his feet by the city officials pictured, and then proceeded to walk the last 12 feet across the finish line. “I ended up second in my division… After you’ve run 26 miles you’re not going to stop there.” When all was said and done, Iffrig’s timing chip marked his final time at 4 hours, 3 minutes, 47 seconds. He then walked a half-mile to his hotel.”Not many old guys are as fast as me,” he said.

We are looking at triumph in the face of tragedy and perseverance and resiliency beyond belief. This photo of Bill Iffrig captures more than just “an old guy crossing the finish line.” This photo captures change in its most nuanced state. We see the deterioration of an American tradition with the emergence of an American icon. We see the international scope of terrorism widen as the constraints of generational stereotypes crumble. As terrorism continues to take on new shades, so does the face of aging. “78” is no longer parked in front of your TV. “78” is running 45 marathons and finishing that last twentieth of a mile, explosion or no explosion, dammit.

Sources:
The Herald Business Journal: “Lake Stevens Runner Just Feet From Blast in Boston,” by Bill Sheets
The Huffington Post: “Bill Iffrig, 78-Year Old Runner Knocked Down In Boston Explosion Photo, Got Up And Finished Race”
CNN Online Blog: “Bill Iffrig, subject of iconic “Boston Globe” photo: “The shock waves hit my whole body…my legs just started jittering around…I knew I was going down,” by Jason Kurtz
Photo Credit: John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via Associated Press

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Making Friends in 2050

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Look to your left. Look to your right. Chances are someone around you has plugs wedged in their ears and a halo of LED lights circling their pupils. The smartphone is a new limb and the gigabyte an old friend. Technology has taken over and our lives are shining a bit brighter. Or are they?

 

Check out staggering statistics on social media usage. While we are busy tagging, liking, following, tweeting, hash-tagging, friending and- uh oh- unfriending, the world outside of the interwebs spins madly on. Whether we are nine, nineteen, or ninety, Americans have increasingly more face time with monitors of various sizes than we do with other human beings. Facebook may as well manually change all users’ relationship statuses to “in a relationship” because we are all, in fact, in relationships with our technology. We trust our technology. We commit to our technology for an undefined number of years. We buy expensive gifts for our already-expensive technology. We giggle, hiss, play, and even cry with our plastic and glass-enclosed friends.

 

“I give and I give and I give, and what do I get back from my technology? Nothing,” – says no one ever. By virtue of the fact that we are in enmeshed relationships with our technologies, we are, therefore, in relationships with all of our online friends and followers- relationships of the “it’s complicated” variety. Our technology feeds us; otherwise we would have up and left long ago. Our technology gifts us with the basics: music, videos, photos, and stories. If we look deeper, though, we are getting so much more: new perspectives, art, information, resources, jobs, sense(s) of purpose, the humor and tragedy of any Shakespearean sonnet, validation, and not to forget: connection- or so we think.

 

There is no shortage of literature and thought leadership around dwindling connections in our hyper-connected world. It goes without saying that strangers are friends waiting to be “friended.” Friends and followers range from best friends (you know, ones we have met in person) to bosses, from exes to prospectives. Even Grandma is on Facebook! If we have 1,500 virtual friends, how many friends do we really have and what do those “friendships” actually entail? How is it that I can sit in a room on my Ipad, my friend sitting three feet away on her laptop, neither of us saying a word for two hours, maybe sharing dim background music, and yet we can walk away and laugh about considering this precious bonding time?

 

Fast-forward 40 years.

 

It is 2050. The ice caps have melted. Dinosaurs are playing Wii golf with ET. Justin Bieber has grandchildren. And humans are eating organic, caffeinated dog food while bouncing around in space suits.

 

You don’t buy that? Me neither. Change takes time and while it may be farfetched to say that we have plenty of it, one thing is almost sure and that is that there will be sixty-five year olds in the year 2050.

 

The sixty-five year olds of the early 2050’s are the twenty-five year olds of the early 2010’s. We are Generation Y and we are 80 million strong. We are the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, the children of The Baby Boomers, and the second cousins of Generation X. Generation Y’ers are generally referred to as Americans born between the years of 1977 and 1995. We have high expectations, little patience, and technology for days. Regardless of the fact that “we’re never going to age,” guess what? We are going to get old. We are going to be the clear-eyed, grey-haired old fogies we see in commercials for water pills. We are going to be behind the times if we are not yet there already. The good news is that by 2050, hearing aids should be able to sync up with music, streamed directly from “The Cloud” of course.

 

We will be working well into our seventies, probably on our sixth or seventh career (career, not job), maybe with a kid and a half, a robotic dog, and a laundry list of chronic medical conditions, not least of which will include allergic reactions to nuts and gluten. Will we be “Facebook stalking” at age 70, Instagram’ing at 80, and Pinterest’ing at 90? And once we land ourselves a private bed at the local space-age retirement home, we won’t even bother shouting into the ear of our neighbor at the dining room table. We’ll just tweet. #passtheprunejuice. #please.

 

As we age, we change. We evolve. Or devolve, depending on your definition. The psychosocial crisis of the average American over 65 is going to move from “ego integrity vs. despair” to “technology integrity vs. despair.” The rapid-fire evolution of technology is, at its core, counterintuitive to the state of aging in America. We retire, stunting our network of daily and moment-by-moment interactions. We retreat to the privacy, ease, and physical access of our own homes, living our lives oblivious of the newborn next door. We pull in and focus on our immediate circle of family and friends, in part because we need them to focus on us as we age.

 

And yet the “we” of 2013 is a different “we” of 2050. The twenty-five year olds of 2013 are the same sixty-five year olds of 2050. So, while our grandparents of the Greatest Generation variety may hold privacy and poise as sacred, we Generation Y’ers may continue to throw privacy to the wind and let everything hang out. I am not going to hold my breath for any, “Hey Facebook world (or whatever the 2050 variation of Facebook is at the same), guess what?! I started wearing Depends for the first time today!” That would not get many “likes” on Facebook. I think it is reasonable, however, to believe that we grannies of the future will have the skills, knowledge, and ingenuity to engineer and spark shockwaves through social media and technology.

 

We are plugged in, wired up, and without even knowing it, are already innovating aging in America. #GenY2050

Married 70 Years

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Close your eyes and count to 70. Feels like a long time, right? Now take that number and multiply it by the 31,536 000 seconds in a non-leap year. That’s 220,752,000 seconds, or 70 years in plain English.

 

70 years. That’s 13 American presidents, a handful of wars, and 35 cent movie tickets. That’s telegrams, Battle of the Bulge (of the non-Hostess variety), color TV’s, civil rights, Kennedy’s, test tube babies, smoking on airplanes, and cell phones the size of bricks.

 

That’s also in-law’s and babies and funerals and new jobs and college degrees and spats and blow-out’s and make-out’s and kissing and making up and sex and Valentine’s Days and holiday parties and retirement parties and hospital visits and holding hands and hello’s and goodbye’s and at least 70 other things.

 

As of January 28, 2013, that’s how long my Grandparents will have been married.

 

70 years. SEVENTY YEARS. SEVEN-ZERO Y-E-A-R-S. That is nuts. As the twenty-four-year old supposed apple of their eyes (or one of 6 grand-apples of their eyes and 6 great-grand apples of their eyes) I will be the first to say that the concept of being with someone (let alone married) for 70 years blows my mind. Forget the mushy stuff… I just can’t get past how many times they have probably farted on each other in their sleep among other shady things of that nature.

 

A recent article in the New York Times entitled “The End of Courtship?” had it’s 15-minutes of Facebook fame last week. In this article, Alex Williams talks about “hookup culture” among young people, characterized by spontaneous, commitment-free (and often, alcohol-fueled) romantic flings.” Generation Y women across the interwebs “mmhmm’ed” and “yup’ed” until we were blue in the face, while our Generation Y male counterparts scoffed and got their panties in a bunch. As one Facebook friend of mine pointed out, the article set a magnifying glass on “the decline of men and their continued childish ways and the rise of the woman who R(S)OARS.”

 

This brings me back to my grandparents, born in 1919 and 1921, respectively. My Grandpa was the self-proclaimed head-of-the-household. My Grandma was the loyal housewife, hostess, and mother of the children. They met in 1941 in Hartford, CT, where they were both working at the local vacuum store. After many failed attempts to impress my unimpressed Grandma, my Gramps finally succeeded. I’ve heard the stories- homeboy had some game. He took her out for blueberry pie and coffee. A couple years, state lines, and military trainings later, they were married with 3 Baby Boomer kids living the good ol’ American Dream.

 

Fast forward 70 years and here we are. We went from “be home by 10” to booty calls. We went from “what do you know about so-and-so” to Facebook stalking, and we went from telegrams to text messages. Do you hear me complaining? Because I’m not trying to. In fact, I know that as a 24-year-old deeply-seated and actively contributing to Generation Y relationship culture, I am one of “those women” who R(S)OAR. I am never going to be the quiet and obedient housewife or girlfriend or prospective girlfriend, nor do I want my potential daughter(s), granddaughter(s), or great-granddaughter(s) to be either. You don’t want that either, I know. I am opinionated and messy and too forward and certainly not coy enough. The definition of being “ladylike” may have changed over the past century but the basic underlying principle has not, and that principle is respect. I could say that Generation Y women are lacking self-respect, which would directly contribute to this much-discussed “hook-up culture.” And I could say that men are lacking respect for women, but both are cheap shots and only mere pieces of the puzzle. And the classic question remains: which comes first: the chick(en) or the egg?

 

Sure, men may be falling prey to (or just taking advantage of the fact?) that we Generation Y women are trying to figure out our evolving roles in the world. But news-flash, muchachos: rather than *Feminist hat comes on. Oops, should I bleep out this word?* blaming women for being loose or lacking self-respect, think about how YOU are contributing to the demise (or maintenance) of romance, and not the kind in your pants. Gentlemen, I dare you to be uncharacteristically-vulnerable for Generation Y by sticking out your neck for me. Be the love-struck schmuck in the vacuum store refusing to take “no” for an answer. And then love me for 70 years.

 

I’m not saying that I want to be handled like a delicate flower. I am saying, however, that I want to be spoiled. All human beings in love deserve this regardless of gender. Chivalry doesn’t have to be dead, it just has to be an equal opportunity endearing quality for and from both partners in a relationship. Possible? Yeah, I don’t know either, but that’s the goal: mutual respect, admiration, and the desire to tear each other’s clothes off well into your 70th year of marriage. And I’ll tell you what… when we are wrinkly and wise and cruising around in our Jetson space-age car well into the mid-‘60’s (2060’s, that is), you can take me out for coffee and blueberry pie and I will take you out, too.

 

Oh, and Happy 70th, Gram and Gramps.

 

 

 

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