Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, takes a –for some– scary look at the “extra” five years that most folks will work in their professional careers.
Everyone reading this should take 15 hard minutes to ruthlessly reassess the reality of the “new” final years of their future career. The finish line has become elusive; the goal posts have been pushed back. Based on your current skill set and competences, what do you think your workday will look like when you’re 70? Are you comfortable with the probability that you will be managing employees younger than your grandchildren? Temperamentally, do you think you’ll add more value as a mentor, a partner, or part-timer? More important, what will your (much) younger boss think? Do you honestly believe that, when you have to work five more years than anticipated, you can get away with not being more facile, adept, and productive with emerging technologies? The inevitable aging of the (for now) wealthier Western economies guarantees a surge of innovative device interfaces more compatible with slower fingers and tired eyes. You will, of course, be taking web-enabled professional/technical development courses at 58 or 62 or you will be fired for cause. Whatever your 70-year-old workday scenarios may be, what new or novel skills or experiences do they demand? Do they demand more travel or less? More time immersed in digital environments or less? More interactions with people within a decade of your age or fewer? Are there personal or professional development initiatives you should be undertaking now precisely because those five years present opportunities that the earlier deadlines don’t? The most important slice of those 15-minutes-for-five-more-years should focus on role models. Who are the 70+ year olds whose presence, energy, and effectiveness might profitably serve as the benchmarks for your own? Who are the two 75-year-olds who you would professionally emulate? Write them down. I know my two and why I picked them. But why have you chosen yours? What do your choices say about the kind of person you want to be at the end of your professional life?
I expect this to be less of a problem for me than some. I’m a little more technically savvy than the average 62 year old. I love my job and would love to be doing it when I’m 80. Or 90. But for people who still utter “I just don’t get this Internet thing,” those extra 60 months could be tough.