Last week my childhood favorite athlete, Michael Jordan, turned 50 years old. While he is arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time, he has struggled to find peace and happiness off the court in his post-basketball career. He retired from basketball three times after making two comebacks. He also half-heartedly mentioned at his Hall of Fame speech several years ago that he might even try yet another comeback one more time at age 50. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case as the physical demands of professional basketball are not favorable to someone of his age.
Without a plan though, work at 50 can be challenging. I’ve noticed over the years that the most common age for people to experience a career crossroads happens right around age 50. Sometimes it comes through an unexpected layoff, while other times it happens when the person decides they’re simply ready to do something different. Today’s economic climate makes it unrealistic for a person to get a job in their 20′s and remain there for 40+ years until they’re ready to retire. Therefore it is important for today’s worker to understand that everyone’s career will experience different “seasons.” If you find yourself at age 50 or older looking for work, here is an article I wrote last year that offers several practical suggestions.
Today I’d like to mention the three biggest challenges that workers at 50 years of age and over face, and my suggestions on how to address each one of them.
1. Embracing change rather than fighting it. I know people who still yearn for the days of milk being delivered in glass bottles, daily newspaper home delivery, and drive-in movies. Finding these things in today’s culture is more of a novelty experience rather than any type of growing trend. In today’s global economy, companies need to adopt change within their organizations both regularly and swiftly. I can think of no bigger career killer than an individual who makes a habit of resisting change. Nothing stays the same, nor should it. Technology is a major agent of change in today’s organizations, and often it is the older workers who lag behind in this arena. It is important to embrace change rather than fight it. Doing so means prioritizing the need to stay current with new trends and make every effort to become proficient in these areas.
2. Ending the quest for a “steady” job. So many workers feel underpaid, overworked, and not appreciated. Yet, when a job loss does occur, most folks immediately rush out to find another one just like it. The economy has shifted for many professions to greater amounts of contract work and fewer “permanent” jobs. There are a lot of employment needs in the marketplace, but today’s worker may have to spread their time over multiple employers to get enough of it to satisfy their needs and wants. Often the various contract possibilities will last longer than many full-time jobs since it is a smaller commitment on the part of the employer. Many people will get these type of opportunities through relationships which also helps these roles last awhile, sometimes indefinitely. Those who embrace the idea of seeking steady work instead of a steady job will increase their chances of prospering long-term.
3. Buying health insurance. One of the major hurdles to finding new employment after 50 is health insurance. As the cost of premiums continues to rise each year, companies are being more careful about whom they add to their payrolls. While finding employment that provides health insurance is a nice benefit, I encourage those that already receive this to start making a contingency plan, especially as they get closer to age 50 and beyond. While you still need and should have health insurance, you may have to consider purchasing a policy on your own in order to maintain coverage. Doing so could also open up doors for many workers to thrive in long-term contract work or even start their own businesses. These options may allow them to earn substantially more income, too, than simply working for someone else.
Working at age 50 and beyond can and most likely will look different than the decades before it. If one is willing to apply the relationships they’ve accumulated and the lessons they’ve learned through the years, they can be the happiest and most successful years of your career. During his playing days, the slogan for Gatorade used to exclaim, “Be like Mike.” But for those who can confidently lead the way in their careers post-50, Jordan may want to be more like you instead!