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Darren Campo  
The New Retirement: Doing more work you enjoy and less work you don’t enjoy
Guestpert: Darren Campo
Category: Career and Workplace
 

Speaking Point: Over the past five years a radical shift occurred in how two vastly different generations think about their careers: college students and retirement-age people. Surprisingly, both share the same outlook on their future work life. The undergraduate students I teach no longer expect to have a single career or to get rich. They now expect to use their skills to do jobs they enjoy, and simultaneously take on jobs they don’t enjoy to make up the extra money they need. The same expectations are shared by people past their tradition career mid-point. People in their 40s, 50s, and 60s now have "portfolio careers" instead of a one-track job, but not primarily because it is the only way they can earn enough money.

Speaking Point: THE SHIFT FROM CORPORATE RELIANCE TO SELF-RELIANCE This shift to self-reliance did not happen immediately after the 2008-09 economic debacle. However, as the years passed, I watched my students’ attitudes change as they witnessed the prolonged hardships facing many of their parents. Initially, losing half of your life savings was an acute shock, but believed to be temporary. This sort of thing had happened before, and a year or two later it was business as usual.

Speaking Point: Five years later, the truth of the situation is revealed in the now common label, “The Great Recession.” The wisdom we had been fed our whole lives boiled down to two unquestionable truths: buy a house and contribute the maximum to your 401(k) as early as possible. Houses always appreciate in value and your 401(k) will become a pot of gold… so the wisdom went.

Speaking Point: By early 2009, most people had lost half their savings and homes became worth less than their outstanding mortgage. Discretionary spending dropped, forcing companies to cut costs, resulting in the unemployment that still lingers. The new jobs that have been created don’t pay what they used to because demand for jobs allows corporations to enjoy keeping their labor costs low. While the financial markets are now at all time highs, companies fear uncertainty, so they sit on cash, keeping the economy tepid. After five years of this, we now think differently. We no longer trust that our conservative diversified investments are safe. We no longer trust our companies to have our backs when times get tough. We no longer expect our pension or social security to be there when the time comes.

Speaking Point: THE NEW AMERCAN VALUES: TIME AND FLEXIBILITY OVER MONEY We now see that working our lives on the one-job track is really a gamble, and we’re not playing that game anymore. The banks told us we could afford an expensive house when we really couldn’t. Investments are controlled by forces nobody understands. Automated trading leads to flash crashes as assets are lumped into funds and ETF’s that move in lockstep.

Speaking Point: The price we paid for the lives we used to live was too high. The idea of having a one-track career is all but dead. One job means all your money is coming from one place, which allows that place to exert maximum control over you. In such conditions, a person tends to adopt the ideology of their company and what they do becomes who they are. Many people discover the most devastating impact of losing a job is not the loss of income, but the unexpected loss of identity and purpose.

Speaking Point: Having multiple jobs prevents any one from becoming our main source of income and identity. If we lose one, we haven’t lost everything. The portfolio career eliminates the twenty-four hour a day singular focus that is now expected of all full time career employees. While overall income may be lower with the career portfolio, we gain greater flexibility over our time and experience less stress.

Speaking Point: HOW TO PUT TOGETHER A CAREER PORTFOLIO When pursuing a career portfolio, first try to see how much income you can generate doing the things you enjoy. Whether it’s floral arrangement, repairing computers or growing tomatoes, these are pleasures you will not retire from and will bring you income and joy for the rest of your life.

Speaking Point: Usually, the “follow your bliss” portion of the portfolio doesn’t generate as much income as we need. This will change in time. Meanwhile, to make up the shortfall, one of the jobs in your portfolio should leverage your career skills. For example, if you spent twenty years at an HMO, then a couple days a week working in a doctor’s office may maximize your part-time earnings potential.

Speaking Point: Paradoxically, when you reduce your lifelong specialty to a part-time gig, it not longer exerts total control over you and you may just find some joy in it after all. Even when the majority of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, they are happier people because the business cycle is no longer their concern.

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