10 Reasons Boomers Will Succeed in this Bad Economy

First published in Business2Community
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The recent news that my old company, Microsoft, is going to lay off 18,000 people made me shudder. This economy is brutal. Yet, though I’m sure that each of those 18,000 people will have a horrible experience in the short term, I am fairly confident that most of those former “Softies” will soon get back on track in their careers. People with good tech industry skills tend to get new jobs readily.
What about the rest of us, especially those of us on either side of the big five-O? I think the news is good there is good too, if we are ready to focus on why we will triumph financially despite a bad overall economy. It’s easy to get discouraged. Believe me, I’ve been there! But, if you need some inspiration, let me share 10 reasons why you’re going to succeed today:

1) You have drive – Children of the 50s, 60s, and 70s have drive. We are the last remnant of America’s great industrial age. We all carry within us a vision of personal greatness. We know what it means to have personal drive, to want to make things happen to further our success. The way we get from here to there may be different from what it was two decades ago, but the drive remains with us.

2) You have commitment – If you’ve gotten anywhere career-wise in the last thirty years, it’s because you are committed to your own success. This can also mean that you’re committed to your employer’s success. These things run together. The challenge for late boomers and gen-xers is to transform our earlier commitment to a loyal corporate employer to today’s new work constructs. In the old days, if you were committed to your job, your job was committed to you. That’s less true today, but the basic formula still applies. If you commit to your contractor/gig/employer success as a way of committing to your personal success, you will see positive results.

3) You have skills – One of the big disempowerments for mid-life workers today is an incessant message that our skills are out of date. There is some truth to this. We may not be digitally native, but we have skills. The truth is that core work skills never fade. Selling is selling, regardless of how you find and connect with customers. Operations management is operations management, regardless of where the facilities are and how they are linked. The challenge for us is to adapt our core skills to new technologies and modes of working.

4) You have work experience – We’ve been around the corporate world, and that’s a good thing for our personal success long term. Our challenge is to understand how our experience of different organizations and business cycles can be expressed to our advantage in seeking new work. We have knowledge of how things work in business that transcends anything that a younger person can possibly understand. This can be our strength.

5) You have life experience – We’ve also been around in life, and that can give us valuable tools for finding and succeeding in work situations. Knowing how to deal with people, recognizing consumer trends, having some maturity in the workplace – these are all assets if we communicate their value to potential employers.

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6) You have a network – You may not think your network is very good, but it is probably stronger than you realize. The question is always “What can I offer to my network?” The answers have changed over the years because the structures of employment have evolved. For example, you might be able to offer your network opportunities to freelance, versus finding full time positions. But, the dynamics of networking remain the same.

7) You have a vision for yourself – We can’t make our skills, experience, commitment, and network propel us to financial succeed if we can’t envision what that success looks like. The issue is that paths to financial success today look different from what the way they were a generation ago. Yet, they are very much there for us if we can understand our true value in the workplace and align our vision with our true selves

8) You’re willing to be flexible – This may not be the news we want to hear, but work success today depends on attaining a degree of flexibility. Market cycles are far shorter than they used to be. Projects, teaming, and organization structures shift rapidly – probably too rapidly for anyone’s good – but that’s reality. We have to be flexible to go along with it if we want to succeed financially in today’s business environment.

9) You’re ready to learn – Yes, we still have things to learn. It’s not just technology that’s compelling us to learn new skills and work patterns. We have to be ready to learn whole new businesses and ways of doing business. For example, virtual teaming with colleagues scattered across the map, collaborating on instant messenger, is one of the new ways that work gets done. If we want to move forward today, we have to master new skills.

10) You’ve empowered yourself to succeed with your true talents – Ultimately, succeeding in today’s difficult economy is about finding personal empowerment. This isn’t a nebulous fantasy. It’s about bringing together the power that’s within you as described in the previous nine points. When you align and synergize your skills, experience, network, personal vision, willingness to learn and be flexible – then, you’ll find that you’re empowered for greatness despite anything the economy can throw at you.

Your Career Began at Gettysburg and Antietam

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First published in Business2Community

It’s a joke many mid-career professionals have made. You’re talking to someone younger in the workplace and you say something like, “Well, back when I started in the business, around the time of the Civil War, we did it like this…” And then everyone laughs, partly because it’s funny and partly because you really are getting old, in office terms. But, it’s truer than we may realize. In a lot of profound ways, our careers did start in the Civil War and it’s really not a laughing matter.

The effects of the past on our thinking about career have been on my mind recently. My father turned 90 last month, almost the same day as the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. WWI seems so remote in time, a relic of another era. Yet, it wasn’t all that long ago. I can remember seeing WWI veterans marching in Memorial Day parades when I was a kid. My father grew up watching Civil War veterans march. That distant war was very much part of current memory when my father was a child in the 1920s and 1930s. Its veterans are all gone now, but what hasn’t gone is the way that those men thought about working and jobs.

The large, modern corporation sprang to life in the post-Civil War era as new technologies such as telephones and railroads made possible enormous, distributed workforces pulling together to achieve unified goals. Before that time, businesses tended to be smaller. There were long-term employer/employee relationships, but things were a little less structured. There was certainly a lot less labor organization and virtually no government regulations about work. This is a simplistic view, of course, but it is correct enough for us to understand the impact that it had on our parents and grandparents – the people who shaped our sense of what it meant to have a job.

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The era of industrialization paved the way for the classic American career ideal: You devote yourself to a single career and ideally one corporation for life. You gave your best efforts to them and they, in turn, were loyal to you. After 30 or 40 years, you retired on a pension that they provided and lived out your golden years in comfort. This idea was built into much of the thinking that our parents, mentors, and teachers shared with us about what it meant to be an adult. A lot of our mindset about career was shaped by thinking that came into vogue before the invention of the automobile. Everyone who raised my father was born in the 1880s. He had a big impact on my thinking about career. Can you see how most of us are all products of 19th century minds?

We need to face the reality that our thinking about work and career was influenced by ideas that are at least 100 years old. But, the world has change don us, radically and quickly. The whole job-for-life ideal began to die in America in the 1980s. By the turn of the century, the paradigm was almost completely dead. In a few short years, almost all of the 19th and early 20th century American assumptions about work and career that influenced our generation have vanished. Today, you get a job that lasts until the employer decides to reorganize or lay workers off to add a few pennies to the quarterly earnings per share. Carrying on with a 19th century frame of reference in this era isn’t going to cut it.

If you’re over 40 today, you are unlikely to find a job that will carry you until retirement. That’s just reality today. There are many solutions to this problem, but the first step in addressing what’s going on is to understand how we are under the sway of ideas that are from the wrong century. It’s 2014 but we’re still in 1914, or 1864.