Retire? Sure. But Don’t Abdicate Responsibility for the Future
Birth2Work Co-founder, mother, grandmother
For decades, the retirement of the baby boom generation has been a looming economic threat. Now, it’s no longer looming — it’s here. Every month, more than a quarter-million Americans turn 65. That’s a trend with profound economic consequences. Simply put, retirees don’t contribute as much to the economy as workers do. They don’t produce anything, at least directly. They don’t spend as much on average. And they’re much more likely to depend on others — the government or their own children, most often — than to support themselves. (What Baby Boomers’ Retirement Means For the U.S. Economy)
Boomers? Is that really what you want your legacy to be? Dependent and Unproductive? Yes, you’ve been working hard for years…so, OK, take a year or two off…but here’s a secret: the generation you spawned still needs you. They need to know what you learned from the choices you made, and how to do better.
The topic of mentorship is one we discuss often around the Birth2Work conference table. Successful mentoring encompasses a sharing of hard advice (i.e., “take this class,” “talk to this person,” “seek this job”), but it also includes discussions on broad perspectives that hopefully will open up the mentee’s sense of possibilities for the rest of their life.
Whether a student is trying to figure out the peculiarities of a field of study or is a professional attempting to forge new opportunities in their field, everyone can use some structure, metrics, and inspiration by someone else who’s already been there and done that. Everything old is not bad and everything new is not good. A “duh!” statement, right? Seeing it in writing it just makes sense.
So why do Americans favor the “young” and the “new” with our time, attention, and financial resources? There’s a palpable confusion of what the relationship between older and younger folks today is supposed to look like, personally and professionally. While our obsession with what’s new sometimes boosts our economy (i.e., new tech launches), it’s rare for the achievements and values of the past to be as celebrated.
Kitschy details of previous generations may be excised from their period context and glorified for a few moments (think LP records resurgent popularity or the fashion of “Mad Men” or classic cars), but there is rarely deeper probing into meaning or substance. Anecdotally, how many times have you heard grandparents proudly extol the technical wizardry of their grandkids? “Johnny knows how to use the iPhone!” or “Suzy can play computer games and send an email!”
It’s natural, of course, for grandparents to want to be proud of their grandkids. But is swiping a finger across a flat light screen something to write home about? Maybe because the digital engagement is new to the grandparents, too, they feel pride that the child is capable in ways they themselves don’t feel confident. This fast pace of change (especially with regard to technology) tends to make older people feel out of synch with the values of today. But we at Birth2Work find this to be a devastating loss of opportunity for mentorship.
Real life experiences are superior in every way to tech engagement. Because of our hunger for the “new”, we, as a culture, tend to let go of the fundamental anchoring of human experience in our lives. Grandparents might try teaching and practicing with their grandkids how to shake hands and look someone in the eye when saying “please” and “thank you”; basic interpersonal skills that seem forgotten too often today. (How many times have you witnessed someone place an order with a barista without so much as a glance up from their phone? Is that a shift in cultural values we are supposed to accept as the new normal?)
A mentor—someone who has successfully navigated an experience, career, or relationship—can offer a mentee more than bullet point strategic advice. The mentor can offer institutional memory, guidance, and accountability for the underpinning values of that experience, career, or relationship. For all the so-called facts and data that can be found utilizing a plastic and glass device, those devices fail us when we need engagement: to share tears of joy or sorrow with, to hug, or just a smile.
The Boomers must not walk away from the rising generations with a sense of having already put in their time or, worse, feeling too old or uncool to be of value. On the contrary, now is the time Boomers must engage the generations around them!
Boomers must teach, guide and mentor those around them in order, if for no other reason, than to secure their own futures in a community of intelligent and thoughtful young people who don’t mistake social media for actual social engagement.
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