Like so many who are actively involved within the Jewish community, I am from the Baby Boomer generation. Baby Boomers arrived on the planet approximately between 1945 and 1964. Many of my generation enjoyed the full benefits that the post-war welfare state had to offer including free high school and university education. Unlike our parents (mainly our fathers) we managed to dodge war-time conscription and national service as well.
Compared with our successors, the work-life balance focused Gen Xers and the “Me Me” Millenials, we Boomers apparently have a strong work ethic (as do the Gens and Millenials). In addition we are regarded as self-assured, competitive, goal-centric, resourceful, focused,team-oriented, disciplined and above all, loyal.
Jewish Boomers had even more going for them. Under the watchful care and active guidance of our parents who wanted for us the advantages they were denied, it is hardly surprising that so many of us became doctors, pharmacists, technicians, teachers, lecturers, lawyers, accountants,financial advisers, corporate executives,managers, secretaries and personal assistants with positions of responsibility and status. These occupations ticked all of those Boomer characteristics.
But the age of Boomer ascendancy is rapidly drawing to a close. Fortunate are the men and women who are still engaged full-time in their profession or vocation at 65 these days. The “jobs for life” mantra which accompanied our career paths is no longer a given. We may enjoy good health, thanks to Boomer-like pastimes like cycling and Pilates, and believe we still have the endurance and appetite for hard work. Subtly, or in some cases brutally, we have gradually discovered that we are no longer wanted.
So what happens when the work you were trained to do – and after more than thirty years’ of experience has become second nature – is no longer available, or perhaps no longer appeals? Not all Baby Boomers have gilt-edged pension plans and, as many of our parents are living longer albeit with infirmities, our caring responsibilities have become magnified. Our kids’ university bills may have largely been paid off, but they still need to dip into the Bank of M&D from time to time. And who doesn’t want to splash out and spoil the grandchildren with that nice holiday in Netanya or Center Parcs in Belgium when the opportunity presents?
Perhaps the first step for Boomers is to recognise something that cuts across our goal-centric, focused and disciplined traits; we are not the “squeezed generation”. That epithet has not unreasonably been appropriated by the Gen Xers.
We Boomers have many choices, if we would only be willing to gaze over the parapet and consider them. Our expected longevity, provided of course we can avoid a dread illness, is ninety to ninety-five. We can enjoy a whole second career between the ages of fifty-five to seventy-five and beyond, possibly a whole series of vocations to keep the grey matter buzzing. We can work, study, volunteer, travel or indulge in as many pastimes as the real and virtual worlds have to offer.
The key question, which is scary for us self-assured, competitive and resourceful Boomers, is “What do I really want to do for the rest of my life?”. Ending one’s primary career, whether by one’s own choice or someone else’s, is like being in a taxi without knowledge of a precise destination and being set down at, say Henleys Corner at 4.00 pm on Friday afternoon. Where am I heading, which route do I take and will it get me safely across the road?
These are all questions which with time and reflection can be answered and, whether or not we need help to answer them, the reality is that only we know what it is we really want. The first step is being prepared to admit to ourselves that this is our time now.
- David Levenson is a former accountant and finance executive who is now a career strategy coach. David works with people who have reached or are approaching the end of their primary careers to help them decide what they want to do next.