Jodi’s Journal: Don’t count down to retirement

April 28, 2019

“The boomers are quitting,” I wrote about a year ago.

“Will you hire them?”

This column, inspired by those I knew in their 50s and 60s who were leaving their longtime jobs and looking for different opportunities, hit home with a lot of people.

I received a number of emails and comments from readers thanking me for putting into words what they were experiencing, grateful to learn they were far from alone.

At the time, many people I knew in that demographic figured they might have five or 10 years left to work and wanted to spend those years doing something different. They were struggling, though, to find jobs that took advantage of the skills they had accumulated in roles that were fulfilling to them.

But I think that might be starting to change.

Shortly after that column ran, I had a conversation about it with my longtime friend Donn Hill, who has served as president of GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness since it came to Sioux Falls five years ago.

He told me it had resonated with him, which makes a bit more sense now given his recently announced new role as pastor of missions and operations at First Evangelical Free Church.

It is, as he said, “the right thing at the right time.”

Hill’s whole career could be described the same way, and it’s a model for others. He had two appointments as the city’s fire chief, with time in between spent being educated at Sioux Falls Seminary and owning Bakker Crossing Golf Course. Each move was made thoughtfully, and each opportunity developed because of his strong track record and relationships he’d built.

This latest move is no exception and will allow him to spend his next working years blending his business experience with his passion for mission work.

“I don’t believe life is a series of random events,” he told me. “I think this is where I’m supposed to go right now.”

Days later, I had a similar conversation with Kristen Zueger as she told me why she’s leaving a successful decades-long career in commercial real estate to lead the Sioux Falls Sanford Health Foundation.

“I have waited all my life to make a difference, and this affords me that opportunity,” she said.

“This kind of work is rewarding on so many levels, as giving back has been instilled in me by my parents and is what truly helps give me satisfaction in what I do day in and day out.”

Kudos to both organizations for recognizing this established talent and making hires that capitalize on it, even though it means moving people into new fields later in their careers. These are smart moves, and there’s plenty more willing talent out there that other businesses should consider tapping.

If you’re a baby boomer with similar thoughts of a career change, here are a few takeaways.

Both Hill and Zueger found their new opportunities because they had been giving back outside of work. Hill served his church as a member for years; Zueger was a decade-long volunteer board member. It’s a good reminder for all that there are many benefits to being involved in our community.

I also don’t believe you necessarily have to leave your current role to find a new sense of engagement.

Many baby boomers are finding that they enjoy becoming part of a cross-generational team in the office. So-called millennials now have been in roles long enough to have learned enough and bonded enough with their baby boomer and Gen X co-workers that some neat relationships are starting to form.

“Is it still fun?” I asked one leader recently about his role.

The pause that followed gave me part of the answer but after it came a gesture toward two younger staff members in the room.

“I’m still having fun,” the executive said. “These guys are what makes it fun.”

Hill and I had a similar conversation with his successor, Nick Ovenden, who probably could claim millennial status depending on where you set the birth year.

“While it may seem strange someone at my age – I’m 59 – would say this, it’s been a pleasure working in a company where most of the people are younger,” Hill said. “What I didn’t expect and didn’t know was that these 30-year-olds would not only accept me as their boss but as their friend.”

What they found was that their values aligned, they said.

“They really do want more than a paycheck,” Hill said. “They want to be involved in the mission and empowered and trusted.”

The relationship evolved into a mentorship for Ovenden, the incoming president said. We talked about how ideally that’s the way all senior leaders would affect their organizations.

“There’s nothing sadder than the countdown to retirement. It means they’re miserable,” Ovenden said.

“I’ve never heard Donn talk about retirement – ever – because if you’re coming to work and you’re doing something you love, you don’t look forward to retirement. And having a mentor that never talks about retirement doesn’t happen very often.”

Unbelievably, I discovered there are even apps you can download that will allow you to count down to your retirement in real time on your phone. Side note: If you have one of these, go back and reread this column, please.

We all spend too much time in our jobs – regardless of where we’re at on the retirement continuum – to be counting down the time we spend there. So let’s take a cue from these forward-looking leaders and organizations, and tap the potential that lives within ourselves and the business community.

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Jodi’s Journal: Don’t count down to retirement

“There’s nothing sadder than the countdown to retirement.” Take a cue from some business leaders making big career changes: It’s possible to find new roles that fill you with purpose no matter what stage you’re at in your career.

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