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.

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