Working Strategies: Career management for middle-aged tweens

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Amy Lindgren

If you’re between 9 and 12 years old, you are a tweenager –not quite a teen, but almost. And if you’re a tweenager reading this column, holy cow — you’re also precocious and amazing.

Now go find your grandparents, because they’re the tweens who need today’s advice.

Or maybe the great grands? It’s hard to keep track of generations, but for folks somewhere between their mid-50s and perhaps their mid-70s, I’m devising a new moniker: Second-age tween.

Well, that’s not exactly catchy, which explains why I don’t write slogans for a living. Let’s just say that you’re in a tween state, careerwise.

When it comes to work, there is something terribly awkward about this span of 20 years or so, largely because of the elephant always tromping around the room: Retirement. Whether or when or how to retire tends to dominate career and work choices at this stage of life.

The awkward aspect of the second-age tween stage can be sorted into at least three categories: Personal, social and vocational. On the personal side of the equation, you may have mixed feelings about how much longer you want to work, or with what kind of intensity. If you can afford to retire, doing so can feel like an unwanted imperative; if you can’t afford to retire, you may be resentful about needing the income.

While all of this personal drama is unfolding, the social awkwardness kicks in. As you and your cohort age and some in your group stop working, lifestyles become mismatched. Pretty soon, organizing even simple get-togethers becomes complicated and friends start to drift away. Likewise, if your spouse no longer works but you still do, there’s bound to be complications and even friction around whose lifestyle takes precedence.

Perhaps the knottiest issue of the three is the vocational awkwardness that dominates this tween stage. For example, your skills or stamina may have diminished, leaving you unsure about what you still can do. Or your skills and stamina may be fine, but your interests may have shifted. In either case, your timeline has definitely shortened, which can complicate career planning.

There’s even a gender component to consider, based on traditional roles still followed by men and women. If you’re a 60-year-old man whose spouse has sometimes stepped out of the workforce for child rearing or caretaking, you may have been the financial mainstay of the family. In that case, you’ve probably worked continuously through three or four decades, making you more than ready for retirement.

On the other hand, if you’re the 60-year-old woman in this couple, you may be catching your second wind, professionally speaking. Having missed one or two decades of your career, you might still be on the ascent and not nearly as ready to quit the workforce. Or you may simply need more years to build your Social Security and retirement funds.

These patterns may change as the next generations hit their tween years, but for today’s tweens, the gender construct still matters. Even without gender in the mix, managing this last career stage is clearly not a one-size-fits-all situation.

If you’re in this phase of life yourself, there are at least four things you’ll want to assess as you consider your options:

Health / longevity: Those who are relatively healthy or come from a long line of centenarians might feel justified in making career plans even into their 80s. Conversely, those on borrowed time, so to speak, might decide that accelerating retirement takes precedence.

Finances: Now is the time to learn the ins and outs of Social Security, including what it will take to reach the maximum payout. Now is also the time to organize retirement accounts and learn the rules for required distributions. This information will naturally impact decision-making.

Bucket lists: The tween years are an excellent time to revise your bucket list. What seemed important in your 20s may no longer matter, while things you never considered in your youth might feel essential. The most pressing items on the revised list could end up directing your career planning now.

Purpose: Your sense of purpose doesn’t need to come from work, by any means. But understanding what you find meaningful can provide essential clues in the process of planning your tween years. Whether you choose a job that helps you achieve that purpose, or a retirement that lets you to pursue it, taking time to examine this question will pay off in the end.

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