It wasn’t that long ago that Boomers were considered the luckiest generation on the planet. As one disgruntled Generation Xer put it, “The baby boomers seem to live charmed lives, always at the forefront of change and in the spotlight. They seem always to be at the right place at the right time. They did everything better than we did. They had the Beatles. We had Barry Manilow. They had free love. We had safe sex. They had Camelot. We had Watergate.”
And of course, we also expected to be better off than our parents. And in too many cases, that hasn’t come to pass. I look at my friends and classmates and see that a lot of them have been set adrift in an unexpected world. As we approach or even enter retirement, the most recession downtown has played havoc with our expectations.
Expectation No. 1: We’d always make more as our career progressed. So it was okay to put more aside for tuition or travel or something else besides retirement. We could always make it up in our 50s when our experience, insight, and wisdom would be fully rewarded.
Expectation No. 2: Interest rates would always be high enough to compound our savings before retirement and spin off living expenses afterwards.
Expectation No. 3: Our homes would either maintain or increase their value.
As we all know, most of these expectations failed miserably. I have a friend with degrees in library science who’d spent most of his career as a well-paid corporate librarian. Technology has rewritten the rules of that business such that companies now consume stored data online through one or two subscription services. There are far fewer corporate librarians, in the same way that there are far fewer secretaries and stenographers.
I also have classmates who hit what they call the “Silicon Valley lottery,” in which they or their spouses worked for a high-flying company for a while, cashed out their stock options, and now lead lives of leisure. But more of them have found themselves holding underwater options, or badges from companies that failed. I have another friend who is only making ends meet by taking temp programming jobs, even though she’s been working at that since we graduated thirty-plus years ago.
And even if by some miracle someone has salted away a million dollars, the total annual payout of interest in a safe, insured account is about 10,000 measly dollars.
Many of us have found ourselves in a completely unexpected world, trying to figure out how to navigate to safer environs. And while I am in no way, shape, or form in the league of those lottery winners, I have managed to navigate the shoals of a few downturns and reinvent my career more than once over the years. It is possible – at least, I hope it is.
I’ve written about transformation and adaptation before, in Reinventing Lucy and Reinventing George, but I felt that it was time to devote more time to the topic. So forgive the shameless self-promotion, but in order to help those Boomers who’ve been set adrift, I have launched a new blog over at Boomer Living Plus (where MAC is also repurposed): Darwin’s Corner: Adapting to an Unexpected World. You can find the first two posts – Welcome to an Unexpected World and A Life of Adaptation – there now. Just type Darwin into the search box or my name into the “Search Our Authors” box.
There are more to follow, less about me and my journey and more about other people who are finding their way. I recently finished an interview with a Boomer with a passionate distaste for insurance companies. But when his apparel business went under in 2008, the only companies that responded to his queries were – guess where? – in the insurance industry. He’s now a district sales coordinator for AFLAC, and adapting quite well.
I want to tell stories like that in Darwin’s Corner. But I also want to provide a place where Boomers can ask their questions and share their experiences. If you or people you know have a great or challenging story to tell, let me know. We can together try and figure out this landscape upon which our lives are no longer charmed.