Career Changers

Reimagining Ourselves

January 25th, 2011

Ever since I started producing the Career Changers TV show for OC16 a little over a year ago, I've been emailing myself links to lots of articles about job hunting advice... most of it pertaining to full-time work for people in their 20s or 30s. The reason is depressingly obvious: if you're over 40 or 50, all the interview/resume tips in the world may not make much difference in a bad job market. Yet that age group is growing in numbers and our population is living longer. Retirement is becoming a luxury that many Baby Boomers can't afford -- unless they're retired government workers with generous benefits, that is.

So what can we do about it? If you have a job or business, you have to continue learning new skills and get better at what you do. If you're out of work, you may have to be retrained for a different occupation or go back to school. Either way though, you still have to look beyond your current situation and think about what you'd like to be doing 20-30 years from now. Mary Catherine Bateson has written a book, "Composing a Further Life," which is about how best to use this "gift of time" that comes with living longer. She suggests you take on new projects and follow passions that you can continue to develop once you retire from working full time.

Here's an excerpt from the L.A. Times review of her book (my emphasis added below):

Bateson's most famous book, "Composing a Life," was published in 1989. It spread, word-of-mouth, hand to hand, around the world — reprinted dozens of times in more than a dozen languages. The message was: Life is an art form, not a linear, predictable process. We do the best we can at each potential turning point, given the information and the self-knowledge we possess. It is the kind of book fans keep multiple copies of, to press into the hands of friends busily agonizing over how to exert their will over the course of their own lives.

In this new book, Bateson encourages a similar, lapidary approach to the question: What are we going to do with this gift of time? "How, in growing older do I become more truly myself, and how does that spell out in what I do or say or contribute?"

Although my wife looks forward to the day she can retire, I do not because I'm a writer and want to continue creating until the day I die. To be honest, I dislike the concept of "retirement" (other than for physical reasons). This notion that people should be put out to pasture at age 60 or 65 rankles me. In fact, I think for many people, early retirement is an awful thing. Sleeping in late has its charms, but when it becomes your daily life and there is no purpose in your activities other than whiling away the hours, is that really living? Traveling is wonderful... but after you've been around the world, what then?

Of course, it's different if you have a spouse and kids you have to support. Since my wife and I don't have children, we've had more freedom to do what we want, career-wise. But getting back to Bateson's book premise, I agree with her view: we should see our lives as a work of art that we have a hand in creating, here and now -- and for the future. What do you want to be doing when you're 65 or 70 that will still give you satisfaction and make you happy?

Today's relevant links:

Book Review: "Composing a Further Life"

Career Questions for Yourself - Good way to look at your long-term goals and happiness.

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2 Responses to “Reimagining Ourselves”

  1. uncle jimmy:

    Nice job Rich..

    Some very powerful observations on the idea of self-renewal on the occasion of the SOTU speech we heard this evening reflecting a similar theme..

    Nice to see that you're still cooking on the writing and sharing of important, valuable ideas..

    Best, jim

  2. Rich Figel:

    Thanks, Jim... I think Obama did a good job of laying out an agenda that shows a willingness to compromise. In fact, I think he stole some of the GOP's thunder by stating goals that sound a lot like things Republicans have been saying, but not delivering on.

    However, the reality is Social Security, Medicare and health care all need to be reassessed because Americans are living longer -- and are becoming unhealthier because of poor lifestyle choices, which then gets passed on to everyone else who pays for insurance. Big changes need to be made, and I don't think the masses will make them on their own without prodding or financial incentives/penalties.

    I think Gov. Neil also addresses those realities, so kudos to him as well.