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Career Strategies at 60

post # 369 — May 3, 2007 — a Careers post

I’m going to be 60 this year, and many of my friends / acquaintances are of a similar era.

Many have worked for big firms that have mandatory retirement policies in place, so a lot of people have moved on to new phases of their life: college teaching, pro-bono or charity work, consulting, getting involved in their industry association. Some have launched entrepreneurial ventures, completely separate from what they did in their previous employment. Very few are doing nothing.

It’s a strange transition. For myself, I find it hard to contemplate doing something totally DIFFERENT.

I have been so “invested” in my career choice (writing, speaking, consulting) that the notion that it may be time to do something different (or change the balance) is an unusual feeling, and I think many of my age-group feel it too. For example, friends in Big-4 accounting firms tell me that their firms put on week-long courses for partners in their mid and late 50s, asking “Have you thought yet about what you’re going to do NEXT?”

Next? NEXT?!?!

Who says I’m done with what I am doing? On the other hand, with each passing year, as is normal in any business, more and more competitors enter the field. As the ads say “Past peerformance is no predictor of future results.” How many of us can be Peter Drucker, truly productive and creative into our 90s?

But they tell us that if you made 60, the odds are you’ll make 85 or so, and most of that time able to work effectively.

Any reaction from other aging baby boomers out there? What do you X-ers and Y-ers think we 60-year olds should be doing? (Other than getting out of the way!)


Duncan Bucknell said:

Keep trail-blazing, David, we’re all learning a great deal from it.

One of your recent podcasts (which, by the way are fantastic), told the story of a senior colleague ‘discussing’ your research with you when you had been at HBS for only 6 months. (For those who don’t know why ‘discussing’ is in quotes – you will really enjoy the podcast.)

I wonder if there’s some food for thought in there? Keep going after what you’re passionate about, and keep holding yourself accountable. That’s what I plan to do for the rest of my life. (I’m a generation X’er.)

PS – the whole ‘getting out of the way’ mentally is wrong – and they’ll find out eventually.

posted on May 3, 2007

Liz Zitzow said:

If you’re doing a menial or stressful job, then you may well be looking forward to retirement. However, if you love what you do, then by all means, keep on truckin’. Crucially, temper this with knowing when to quit: If you are becoming infirm of body or mind, opting to retire or at least shifting to part-time may be easier on you, your family, and your co-workers and clients who depend upon you.

I’m a “cusper” (tail-end Boomer, forefront Gen-Xer).

posted on May 3, 2007

William Shipway said:

David, your time is your own and 60 is a perfectly fine age to consider something different. This gen-X/gen-Y-er hopes you don’t.

Your words open my mind to new ideas; concepts or strategies you’ve taught for years and I’m yet to understand. For many approaching a ‘retirement age’ (though not all) I see no good reason to stop doing what you excel at and enjoy. Don’t abandon the investment of your journey to this point, and keep trying to enthuse others. Catch the interest of new generations with your writing and speaking. Now, as always, the accelerating rate of change is a challenge that needs people like you to provide experienced advice and commentary.

Well, that’s my wish, and my second is for your happy birthday, when it arrives!

posted on May 3, 2007

Ford Harding said:

Please enter your comment


Having already arrived aat 60 in January, I can inform you that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. My wife informs me that I am like a ship drifting away from shore.

More seriously, all of the professionals we work with struggle with the problem of finding enough time in their days to do all the thinks they want and need to. (In our case, it is finding time for business development that we coach them on) From the perspetive of 60, the shortage of time in each day seems a minor issue. The big problem is having enough years in one’s life to do all the things we want and need to. Stepping away from the hurly-burly of daily pressures to look at the bigger issue, as you are doing, is wise. I must get around to it one of these days, myself, as soon as I can find the time.

Ford Harding

posted on May 3, 2007

Wally Bock said:

Martin Luther said: “When I rest, I rust.” That seems to me to sum up with the resting model of retirement seems so awful.

I’m 61 and I’m finding that the mix of my life is changing. For years I did a lot of supervisory skills training, the majority to police sergeants. I moved out of that about ten years ago because I was becoming tired of the physical part of that work.

I’ve kept writing. Writing is the basket where I collect the pieces of my life. And (good news!) it’s something you can do productively for a very long time. I suspect that writing and the associated research will be part of my life as long as there is one.

But I remember that Great Uncle Charlie made it to 111 and then died when he fell out of a tree. Men in my family who haven’t been killed young have lived a very long time. So I figure I’ve got the longevity gene and I’m planning on another fifty years.

Now I’m in the process of maximizing my no-touch revenue streams from royalties, online sales, etc. I’m starting a new business with my wife that will allow us to travel together more.

Finally, my Dad used to say that “life is the art of new and better mistakes,” so I hope to be making lots of them.

posted on May 3, 2007

Steve Roesler said:


Well, I’ve just got to weigh in on this.

I turned 60 in February and have been consulting–and some would say coaching–for 30 years now. Here’s what I have discovered is happening in my life and hope that it will add to the conversation:

Prior to 60, I never had a sense of anything at the supposedly significant “decade” birthdays. Am in good health and good shape and work out 5 days/week at the gym. So the energy level is about what it’s always been, thankfully. Yet, on this birthday I actually had a sense of “how much time do I have left to live out what I want to live out?” in my life. So the issue has become one of priorities and focus for the next 25 or so years. And that is how I’m thinking.

The challenge for me has been making hard decisions about how to focus my practice. For years, I would have large-scale change projects, leadership program design, executive coaching engagements, and pro bono gigs running continuously and simultaneously. The blessing in that is an experiential base that spans the entire spectrum of organization development activities. The downside is that I don’t want that range of activities and am having a hard time resolving where to settle. Speaking, writing, and high level one-on-one consultations remain attractive and genuinely provide value. The question is how to define the most meaningful and appropriately profitable niche. But the motivator is a new sense of limited time, albeit it 25 minutes or 25 years.

I think it’s important to realize, too, that there are cultural/marketing factors at work that are trying to tell us what we should be thinking and feeling:

  • Retirement is a relatively new phenomenon. We grew up in an era where pensions, long term employment, and economic stability made it possible for almost two generations. The expecation was created that one would work until one could retire. AARP and other marketers have supported the expectation that to considered successful, one would stop working! So we fight against what amounts to pop culture expectations.
  • We all have friends who have chosen to retire, if able, and urge us to join them. But I’ve never been able to picture myself in knee sox, Bermuda shorts, and white plastic loafers showing up for the “bargain buffet” between 4 and 6 pm.

While an entire industry sprouted to lure, sell, and support retirees, none has emerged to do the same for those of us who, it turns out, have ended up being pioneers for the next era. There is no model for a large scale population of energetic, productive, ambitious 60-85 year olds ; only outdated and misguided perceptions.

Maybe that’s an arena where there are huge, legitimate possibilites to contribute using what we have learned about individuals, groups, and organizations. In one brainstorming session I’m betting that we could come up with 10 “products/services” that would be useful to companies and the population that intends to stay very much “alive” into the future.

Waddya think?

posted on May 3, 2007

peter vajda said:

My definition of retirement is: “having chosen the wrong profession.” When I see, and work with, folks who love what they do, they most often find a way to keep doing it. “Retirement ” is not in their vocabulary, nor mine. Part of my purpose statement is “supporting people to actualize their visions for success…” I’ve taught, consulted, written, mentored, trained, volunteered, tutored, did pro-bono work and coached over the years, training and coaching alone for the last 12….and plan to keep on. I love what I do. It keeps my juices flowing. Retire? Not me.

posted on May 3, 2007

Phil Gott said:

I think the passing of any decade is a good time to reflect on what to do next (I will be 50 in 13 months). “Next” need not mean a complete change of direction though, but neither should it just mean more of the same.

One of the great things about professional services is that age need be no barrier to performance. Professional firms that expect their people to retire at 50/55/60 are losing an enormously valuable resource. They should be looking at new ways to get value from their older partners who understandably may not want to bill 1500 hours a year but who can contribute in other, perhaps even more valuable, ways.

So I’m with your readers who say keep going, and go onto your next big thing. There’s plenty more to be done. Thank goodness Peter Drucker didn’t pack it in at 60 (or 70, or 80, or 90)

posted on May 3, 2007

Cary King said:

I’m a baby boomer too.

I have no intention of retiring – ever.

I’m know I’m making a difference for my clients and associates. As long as the clients will still have me, and I feel I add value to their businesses, I’ll keep on working. One can only golf and travel so much – and I can do that as part of my work.

posted on May 3, 2007

Matt Moore said:

Here is some interesting research from Australia to support Liz’s comments: http://www.tai.org.au/documents/downloads/WP88.pdf

If you have a menial job then you may relish the thought of doing nothing. If you love your job, you may want to do it in a different way.

David & Other Boomers – I would like so see you using your experience & talents with the voluntary & public sectors. I would like you to mentor & coach people of my age & younger. And if you want to put your feet up as well, I will not begrudge you that.

posted on May 4, 2007

Richard Rosenstein said:

I am turning 60 in about a month. I too am a little troubled by that fact. However, I agree that if you find the right profession, in my case law, retirement looks a lot different than sitting in a retirement community waiting to die. I think of retirement as practicing law but with a little less of the intensity of life in a mid to large firm.

The problem is trying to find that right mix between the intensity of the demands of firm life to maintain high billable hours and the desire to exercise more intellectual pursuits in the law and train younger attorneys.

The most disappointing part of my career has been seeing how poorly the various law firms I have worked at have adjusted to the new realities of managing lawyers in a changing business environment.

I had the pleasure of spending a weekend with David Maister and the partners of one of my formed firms. What they took aways from that wekend was almost bizzare. Instead of using David’s thoughts to build group participation and to enpower people to pursue group goals, the powers that be used the lessons learned to impose additional levels of meaningless paperwork with no follow through. The result is that the firm is the former firm to many of the partners who attended that weekend.

Congradulations to all of us who have made it to 60. It is an exciting time to be alive. Hopefully we can all find a fun way to spend what time we have left.

posted on May 4, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Richard, the ability of clients to misinterpret and misapply what is recommended to them never ceases to amaze me! (I hope it’s not just me!)

posted on May 5, 2007

Karma Kitaj said:

I just discovered your blog and all the comments of your interested readers.

I’m 63 and my husband and I are sailing along, continuing to learn new things, engage in new activities, and generally enthused about every day of our lives. Retiring to do something else? No way. There’s too much that’s arresting about what I’m doing now. Here’s a sampling.

I took a fabulous internet marketing class a few months ago and started blogging, learning how to do podcasts, use autoresponders, and all kinds of techno skills that I never thought I’d do. Having been a life coach and psychotherapist all my adult liffe, I never felt savvy enough with my computer skills to venture into those areas. But now I’m hooked.

My husband and I also discovered a passion for horses in middle age and now own 2 of them, take lessons, and ride 3 times a week. This is another surprise for me, as I was always the kid who would sneak to the back of the batting line when we had to play softball in high school. No one ever showed me how to hold a bat!

My 60s have been an exciting learning adventure. I can’t imagine that changing anytime soon. So, go for it yourself.

posted on May 5, 2007

Sharon Hayes said:

I am another boomer cusp baby and rapidly approaching 50. Retirement not likely. I was injured 11 yrs ago and lost a professional career through this injury. When I was able I went back to university and re educated myself (degree and masters) to gain another profession. I have found my niche with work that I love and depending on the audience is not always considered a profession.

So at the age when a lot of my contemporaries are planning their retirement I am planning a new career and I have some large plans that require a strategy to progress, so thank you David. Since I was sent a copy of the fat smoker and made my way to your web site I have been devouring your wisdom and the concepts you have supplied. These have been incorporated into my short and long term strategies and even though it is early days the people strategies are having showing results.

I have found that starting and growing a career at my age can be even more challenging than from a young age. The pressure is not having the time particularly with a disability that impacts as reluctance from employers to take a chance.

Apart from the new career goals I would go barmy in retirement as I need to keep mentally active – a month is about my limit before I start blowing bubbles to amuse myself.

posted on May 16, 2007

Peter Macmillan said:

Great to read the words of wisdom above. I’m a relative spring chicken at 40. I’ve found it challenging to accept I’m probably about halfway through life, but I’m told I could have a whole new career between now and when I turn 60. Perhaps the same is true for 60 to 80.

I live in an entirely different culture from the one I grew up in, and that means I’m still learning a lot. Whereas planning and strategy were once fundamental, here in Hong Kong it seems to be more a matter of “having a go” at whatever comes along – which makes for a very responsive business environment where people focus on opportunities rather than impose on the market a particular product or approach.

That’s where I’m headed for the time being. Seeing what’s happening and where I might contribute and get a worthwhile financial or psychological return (both measures of value added). I see my specific legal and economic skills as less important than my generic reasoning, writing, presentation and interpersonal skills. It’s a bit frightening at times, especially when in a professional sense I’m a novice in many new areas – but I’ve developed (and am developing) ways of adapting, which is another generic skill I think is worth investing in.

When I grew up on a farm in rural Tasmania (perhaps one of the most isolated places in the western world), I never dreamed I’d be living in Hong Kong doing things like consulting with an on-line subscription service and investing in real estate with my wife. I wanted to be a drummer since as far back as I can remember. Never a farmer, strangely enough. But as opportunities arose and as things beyond my control played out, I ended up taking a ride to where I am now. Not many plans were involved, although the temptation to work on one remains strong, especially when I see my peers working their way along more conventional career paths.

That’s one of the things that I like about the David Maister approach. It describes a life along the path less taken. Leaving security – Harvard Business School, for instance – for a life as a sole practitioner. Throwing oneself on the waves of client whims and interests, and adapting to new surroundings on a daily basis. Was this approach planned, or was it simply “launched”?

I hope we can soon hear about your chosen approach for the 60-plus era.

posted on July 29, 2007

Orillius said:

Wow what a situation to be in. For me, I would not know what to do other than what I am doing. I suspect I’d end up doing something related! Perhaps mentoring, or starting a blog about everything I know and seeing if I can make some money that way!

posted on January 17, 2008