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Get enough of us progressive Boomers in places that need help and we’ll push for reform. We’ll make room for others to participate to their fullest. We’ll demand more of non-profits as we demand more of ourselves.

It’s starting to work. There are roles where experienced folks can do more than sit on boards; they can affect change, they can put all their skills to work…now I need you to put up your hand. The door has been opened and we need to continue bringing in new ideas and all kinds of mindsets, skills and experience. Okay my fellow Boomers, get involved – volunteer.

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted here because somehow I went from frustratingly idle to overwhelmed with “work.” I am pleased to say that I am fully engaged as a Strategic Volunteer with multiple projects and ongoing initiatives on my plate. So many, that I can now be selective about what I take on.

DeskI am still on my quest to redefine volunteerism models in the non profit space so that Boomers can put all their skills to work when they choose to give back. There is a lot of work to be done here.

I have managed to find an anchor from which I can expand my reach, involve others and in so doing, provide myself with fulfilling challenges.

This has taken 5 years. It has been a journey of patience and persistence. The patience to wait for the opportunities to surface. The patience to wait for others to understand your value proposition. The persistence to keep looking, asking and offering to help even when the response is uninviting. The non-stop faith that you can add value, that you can make a difference, and you can do it using all the tools you have.

Things come in threes. Good things and bad things. This week I was hit with 3 things that reinforced that work needs to be done to change perceptions. It’s not reality that runs the world, it’s our perception of how things are and how they should be.

1st thing

A newly retired person was referred to me for suggestions on what to do in volunteer capacity. Again, I heard that the volunteering had to have value, to be meaningful. This person would rather be working but an accident triggered a begrudged retirement and from there a series of disappointments in her efforts to volunteer.

Hoops to jump through, time consuming training programs of little value, certifications that would have cost a bundle and a general approach that said “we don’t really want you.” I referred her onto a community non profit in her neighbourhood that I had heard good things about and asked that she share her findings.

2nd thing

I was approached to join a board for a volunteer organization. This organization is in trouble and yet it had a mandate of great value. A badly administered board lead to a bumbling recruitment process, a rushed timeline and concurrent but uncoordinated recruiting.

On top of that, the time crunched board balancing the demands of young families and hard driving careers, seemed more like an exclusive club than a fully functional team. I haven’t heard from them since the interview.

3rd thing

I was idly listening to a CBC radio interview with Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut. A good portion of the interview focused on questions of what a retired astronaut does. I can’t remember his answer other than a chuckle that this was his second retirement. He retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force and joined the Canadian Space Agency. But I do remember his definition of retirement.

Retired
‘You used to be useful and now you aren’t.”
Chris Hadfield, the astronaut, reflecting on society’s definition of retired.

So far Mr. Hadfield (a Boomer having been born in 1959) is in “Post-retirement” according to Wikipedia. An author, a professor at the University of Waterloo, and undoubtedly a list of other activities.

So maybe the terminology I should use is “I am in post retirement.” I came through a period where I was not useful (retired) and now I have regained my “useful” status.

My network is getting a good workout these days and we are all a little better for it. One of the benefits of getting older is that a) your friends end up in interesting roles and gather lots of experience and networks of their own and b) over the years you can collect a rather large and interesting mix of contacts. By the time someone asks “do you know someone that does …”, chances are, you have someone in your network directly or just one referral away.

I’m not here to state the obvious but instead to posture that the value of a Boomer’s network is probably larger that they will ever need and that the true value is in sharing it.

I do a lot of mentoring or coaching or chatting with folks that are looking for pathfinders. They are looking for their first job, their first meaningful job, a new career or a volunteer opportunity. Generally they are looking for validation and direction, and this is where my network comes in.

I started something called Dates with Destiny

It’s where I provide someone with a starter set of introductions and encourage them to follow up, creating 60 Days of Dates with Destiny to explore industries, roles, organizations and opportunities. The dates are given in sets of 4 or 6 contacts representing a wide range of experience or perspectives.

Those contacts are open to introductions and generously share their time and knowledge. In fact many of my contacts are grateful for the opportunity to share and some asked outright when I was going to match them for a date.

One recipient said that the first date spurred her to reexamine her own network and set up additional dates beyond my first set.

So my point is – Boomers have great value in their networks, much of which is untapped. If you are a Boomer, do share your network with those who are worth investing in. For those of you who need help or direction, don’t be afraid to ask for a Date with Destiny.

It’s interesting to swap stories about folks that are making the transition to their next self. I have become a bit of an example of how to retire well. I was a former workaholic with no life to speak of – just focused on business- nearly 7 days a week, diminishing from 80 hours a week to a mere 65 as age started to affect my endurance.

With no real plan, one day I was working and the next day I wasn’t.
No plan exactly, just a rough idea it was time to start living. I wanted to travel and I wanted to give back in thanks for the opportunities I had been blessed with. And so like any other project I began the research of what, how, when, etc. Within a year or two I had a solid plan and had begun putting the pieces in place, even before the plan was clearly articulated.

I’m not alone in this approach as many of my peers are enjoying the journey as they redefine their lives. Most are opting for a portfolio life rather than a singularly focused one. Others are not faring so well as they are being turfed out of careers, mourning their past rather than planning their future.

As someone said to me this week, “why didn’t I know these opportunities existed before? I switched focus and now everywhere I look there are exciting roles for me to use my skills but in a non-profit space.”

2 Similar men, 2 very different paths
Both are traditional male executives in their late 50’s (or a bit more), family men, experts with 30 years spent in the same industry mostly with the same company.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

One voluntarily retired and after a bit of searching and talking to a variety of folks, landed a couple of board member roles, now mentors at an incubator and contacted a local university where he started mentoring students and then worked his way to an instructor role which he really enjoys. Amid all this he is reconnecting and spending more time with his kids. He’s learned to Facebook, has a great LinkedIn profile and is busy connecting and learning. His energy is great.

The other is hanging onto his office for dear life but the axe is coming. He has no hobbies or interests outside of his industry. Any referrals or recommendations to connect go untouched as he waits for someone to personally approach him with the right offer. He’s stressed, out of shape, and over weight, and those around him are worried.

Making the transition
To help those who need to get going on their plan , here are some keys to transitioning

  • Accept that things will be different
  • Research what’s out there until you find things that appeal
  • Create a collection of things to do so you can continue exploring and extending your network
  • Listen and learn while leveraging what you know
  • Reinvigorate yourself by meeting new people and trying something new

There are a few professions where elders rule and there are other fields where anyone over 40 is set adrift. Marketing seems like one of those areas that loves their young but which leads me to wonder where the veterans are. This field is large and it attracts a huge number of people so where do they go when their best-by-date has long expired?

While a few hold on to agency life, probably because they own the agency, and few more manage to maintain their corporate office working client side, the rest seem to disappear. And yet I’ve found an endless need for their experience, creativity and skills in the non profit and volunteer world.

Needed: Good basic marketing for causes, done well and provided by a reliable, talented veteran.

This is a world that relies on communication and generally does it rather poorly. Yes, there are the big brands with big budgets to hire outstanding marketing talent but there are thousands of smaller organizations, projects and movements all needing a solid brand positioning, a messaging hierarchy and some creative expression, let alone a media plan to amplify the message.

So if there are any old marketers out there that are feeling a little unappreciated, please contact me. You are needed desperately.

I am knee deep in mentoring programs at the University of Toronto at the moment. Discovering them, being part of some, helping to promote others. If ever there was a high value use of Boomer experience and wisdom, it’s mentoring.

I’ve been doing formal and informal mentoring for years. Sometimes with a career focus, other times an entrepreneurial focus and the rest are usually helping with self discovery.  I always considered it a duty as I had been helped greatly and so it is my turn to help others.

Mentoring or being a mentor or having a mentor became the popular label 10-15 years ago for a basket of characteristics and offerings that has been around forever.

Listening, being a sounding board, helping to evaluate choices or ideas, sharing experience, offering advice, and opening your connections are just some of things you do as a mentor.

While mentoring is usually a one on one activity, you can mentor a group or team as well. Mentorship programs are present at high schools, universities/colleges, in the workplace and in community groups. These are not necessarily life long responsibilities. They can be as short as one session or as long as you wish. Courtesy of technology they can be long distance by email or Skype or they can be in person over a cup of coffee.

So if you’re looking for something meaningful to do, just Google “mentorship” and your town and see what you find. Or start by contacting the alumni organization at your university or college and see if they have a program that needs your help.

You’ve waited for retirement for years. The last months of work were excruciating as your patience wore thin and your interest dwindled. You couldn’t wait to escape the rat race and yet, 8 months of leisure and you’re back in the game.

Transitioning is difficult

If you didn’t have a good enough plan then starting from zero is difficult. As much as you may think so now, non-stop golf, lunches, grandkids or catching up on reading will not make you feel fulfilled. It’s kind of like a kid’s dinner of candy – great for the first few minutes but after that you need something nourishing.

I predict that recently retired boomers will be back to work in 8 months if they don’t find enough meaningful activities to fill their days.

The draw of something familiar, something that reaffirms your value is strong. Add money and the draw will be irresistible, especially if you feel it is on your terms. But is that really what you want to do with all your productive days?

A meaningful retirement takes work

You need to figure out what you want to do – what you value. Then you need to reinvent or as I say “realign” yourself. It will probably be a portfolio style life where you focus your energy on a few different areas.

One will be friends and family, one will be leisure and probably travel, one may be work and one may be contributing to your community in some way. Then you have to plan activities in each of these areas to keep the engagement going. Retirement is work – just a different kind. You get out of it what you put into it.

Volunteering is not easy

It’s easier to get a job than give your time away for free. Unfortunately non profits and community groups are not prepared for the mass numbers of Boomers ready to give back. The models for volunteerism are old and are resistant to change.

So at this point your biggest challenge may be in breaking through and finding or defining volunteer roles that leverage your assets and fit the organization.

Be prepared to be a part of building these new models – that may be where some of the most meaning volunteerism will be.

I can feel the wave coming. People are collectively starting to wonder. Articles are appearing and corporate programs are emerging.

What will the Boomers do?

There’s a lot of speculation around what Boomers do as they approach their back half. I hardly want to call it retirement as it won’t be like any retirement we’ve seen before. Remember that the first crop of Boomers turn 65 this year so you haven’t really seen their impact yet.

There’s no resting for this bunch, more a realignment – dealing with things on their terms. There may be work for many but it will be more on their terms – flexible hours, terms and pay. They’ll be coming to a depleted workforce with knowledge, skills and connections.

With about 25% of the North American populace in this cohort, the sheer numbers will continue to define many aspects of how the economy works. Demand for services will increase, you’ll see changes in the workforce, and what interests me the most – an infusion of energy and skills directed at giving back.

How do we benefit from Boomers?

What some smart organizations are doing now is identifying their best targets within the Boomer cohort. Whether that’s for products and services or better alignment of their brand to the potential customer base. For some non profits it’s looking to see how they can fill gaps in volunteer numbers by specifically targeting this group.

Philanthropy and community service for many Boomers will be part of their portfolio lives in the back half. But like everything else, there will be a lot of competition for that time and money. Those organizations with messages that resonate, methods that make sense and effectiveness that make Boomers feel that they’re part of something really productive will win their support.

So what is your organization doing to target and take advantage of this wave of potential?

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