Having a tough time at work? DARE to tough it out while you make a plan!

As part of my work, I attend many conferences where stale statistics on slides are soon decimated by fresh frenetic factoids of reality spewed at us from the churn of the 24-hour media cauldron.

For example, speakers at these events often assert that baby-boomers are “retiring in huge numbers” – 30 million to over 60 million, supposedly, “…and there aren’t enough 30-somethings out there to fill the void.” There’s some Tough LOVE for Boomers embedded in those statistics, and advice for DARING to Tough It Out:

retirementBoomers aren’t exactly stampeding to the golf courses or beaches. That hackneyed cliche is an egregious insult to boomers who look forward to continuing their productive careers or starting fulfilling second careers.  It is most insulting to boomers who have lost their savings, and even their homes.

The work experience and expertise of boomers make some of us costly hires in this economy. Headhunters and American corporate expatriates advise boomers to consider international work, citing  India, China and Vietnam as attractive emerging markets.   However, some skills may be moot even in a rebound, if the industries or companies that used to need them are mature or defunct – here and abroad.  Boomers who are interested in leadership positions should also seek out small or mid-size firms rather than large corporations.  Private equity firms, though somewhat dormant right now, look for experienced leaders to fill C-suite positions in their portfolio companies.

For career-switchers over 50, there’s another indignation: headhunters and corporations call us  “seasoned professionals with a short runway.” Some presume boomers will work only five to ten years more before we retire, and therefore we’re not worth the investment.  Glenn Okun, a successful venture capitalist and finance professor, has a very different view:  he recently told a group of MBAs ranging in age from late 20s to mid-50s: “You’re all going to be working until you’re 90 years old.”

A final dose of Tough LOVE re: career switching: many boomers jump to nonprofit without considering the risks, especially if the salary is comparable to their corporate pay. Don’t presume that your hard-driving private-sector persona will be welcome everywhere. It’s a very hard transition for individuals who are used to focusing almost entirely on quantitative goals and metrics without considering the cultural ramifications.  Again, know what you want and need, especially the ROLE you want to play, regardless of title and salary.

As for the Tough It Out part, here are just a few of the strategies that reflect the advice of psychological counselors, social workers, management consultants, business academics and executive coaches who work with individuals in transition in their personal lives or careers:

  1. Develop a concrete plan of action. Have clearly defined  objectives, desired outcomes and a strategy for managing your transition and your finances, along with a firm deadline and benchmarks along the way. Focus on delineating what your key priorities are, what you really want and need from life, what you’re passionate about for yourself and for your loved ones. Be honest about your deal-breakers as well as what you would be willing to compromise.
  2. Write in a journal about what’s on your mind, how your anxiety might be connected to past experiences, and what this means for your future. Journals can become powerful personal development tools that impart a holistic view of what’s going on in your life, eventually transforming your vents and rants into insights and solutions.
  3. DARE to spend time alone. Friends, colleagues and experts are a welcome source of counsel and support,  but if you’ve just had a serious loss, you need time alone to process it, be angry and mourn.  If you haven’t developed strategies for being alone to take care of yourself, it could be very lonely, and drive you to fill the void with people, activities and things that could thwart your ultimate goals for moving forward.

If you dare to tough it out, perhaps the best years of your working life are still ahead of you!