The Real Cause of the Over 50 Employment Dilemma

The Real Cause of the Over 50 Employment Dilemma

If you’re over 50 I don’t have to tell you there’s an employment dilemma. Maybe you can’t articulate it, but you know it’s real. What exactly is the over 50 employment dilemma? I think it’s best summed up by something I came across in a Reddit post recently: too old to hire, too young to retire.

There are a lot of people over 50 who are either unemployed, under-employed or scared to death. And I’m not just talking about low wage and blue collar workers. I’m talking about seasoned professionals with advanced degrees accustomed to making six figures.

And what are we scared of? That even if we’re fortunate enough to be gainfully employed today, deep down we worry that if we ever lose that precious job there is no way in hell we’ll ever get another one. Certainly not one that pays as well or with such good benefits. And then the life we worked so long and hard to create will deteriorate as our savings and 401Ks leak into oblivion. It causes us many sleepless nights. And unfortunately, for the most  part, we are justified in worrying.

So, what is the cause of this dilemma? It’s not the government, or taxes, or even rapidly changing technology, although they are contributors. Innocently enough the cause of the dilemma is a story. A story we were told many years ago. And at the time the story was told to us, it was mostly true.

If you’re over 50 you know the story by heart. Go to college, get a good job, work hard, get promoted, get salary increases and at the end of the road you’ll get a gold watch and maybe even a pension. Live out your retirement playing golf and going on cruises without a financial care in the world. For many of us, things didn’t exactly work out that way.

The real cause of the over 50 employment dilemma is that in the ensuing 30 years, the story we were told changed, but we didn’t.

We didn’t notice that our over-sized salaries actually mean we’ll be the first to go. That the retirement age can no longer possibly be 65 because we’re just living too damn long. That no matter how hard we try to keep up with changing technology, we’re always behind. That we could lose our job to someone making a fraction of what we make living half a world away. That the whole world will soon be the gig economy. Where the notion of job stability is a punch line. That a single health problem can wipe out a lifetime’s worth of savings. That submitting a 100 resumes for full time work is statistically the same is not submitting any at all. We didn’t save enough. We didn’t expect our kids to still be living at home. (We weren’t at their age.) And for the most part, we never saw it coming. For many of us, it was a failure of imagination. We never even considered the possibility that the story was no longer true.

The real damage the story did though was that it indoctrinated us to wait to be called on, to be chosen. Raise your hand and the teacher will call on you. Submit enough resumes and someone will tell you to come in for an interview.

If we are to make it to the financial finish line, we can no longer wait to be picked. We can no longer just update our resume and email it with a cover letter. Those days are gone and they aint coming back.

To survive we’re going to have to learn to package and market our expertise and experience. We’re going to have to learn to identify problems in the market and reach out to people and sell them on the idea that we can solve those problems. We’re going to have to learn to be entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs and consultants. We are going to have to take responsibility for our financial security. We may even have to pay for our own damn medical insurance. There’s no one coming to the rescue. It’s up to us to survive.

I know, none of this was part of the bargain. No one told us the story would end this way. And the worst part is we never saw it coming because the change was so incremental.

Most of the unexpected things which happen in life, like a car accident, are immediate. We know right away something’s wrong. But the over 50 employment dilemma was more insidious. It crept up on us, almost unnoticed, until it was too late. But that no longer matters. What matters is that it’s here and we have to adapt.

And oh by the way, this isn’t just a baby boomer dilemma. Oh, it’s our problem today, but those taking our jobs today will have their jobs taken tomorrow, most likely by robots or algorithms. The over 50 employment dilemma isn’t going away. It’s just getting started.

So, what can we do? Retrain? Retool? Reinvent? Yes, yes and yes.

We’ve never had to sell ourselves. We’ve never had to package and market ourselves.  We’ve never had to eat what we kill. So what. We can learn.

Let’s expand our network. Let’s master social media. Let’s learn about inbound marketing and thought leadership and sales funnels. It’s not too late. Hell, we’re just getting started.

Some of those reading this today and thinking this doesn’t apply to them will be blindsided tomorrow by the unending march of technology and globalization. No one is immune. The only difference is some think they are.

This is a call to arms for our generation (and for all those who come after us). Let’s do what we need to do. Let’s learn what we need to learn. We’re not lazy, we’re not stupid. It will be new and it will be uncomfortable. So what. We can do this.

If you don’t know where to start, there’s a private Facebook community now called Too Young To Retire where people over 50 gather to commiserate, motivate and help each other overcome the fallout of a story that was once true, but is now fiction.

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