I’m definitely not the brightest Baby Boomer I’ve ever met—for example, I never secured myself enough money to retire—but I have learned two things:
- Things never turn out the way you expect.
- Change is the only constant
I never imagined I’d be a father of young girls in my 60s, or that I’d have to be building a new career as others my age are winding theirs down.
Like a lot of Baby Boomers, I expected money would just work itself out. Were we too optimistic? Too entitled? I didn’t have a normal salary until I was 40, and when I was laid off in 2013? Well, let’s just say I’m not retiring in this lifetime. Sound familiar?
I found that companies responded to my job applications with silence, even though I was a qualified and experienced technical writer. I’ve concluded my age was the issue. Through countless job applications, I’ve only gotten three callbacks! Again, familiar, Boomer buddies?
Eventually, at Doc’s urging, I applied for a full-time writing position at Upworthy, at the time a hot internet company. When they decided to bring me on as a freelancer, I was disappointed, but I was desperate enough to give it a go. During the year I worked for them, I put in much too much work for too little money, but felt that at least I had some, and I enjoyed being “internet famous,” as Doc puts it. I watched jealously as full-timers got health care, free computers and internet service, vacations, first crack at important work tools I had to wait in line for, company retreats and on and on. Eventually I left for another company—again as a freelancer—and then another and another and so on. Do companies even offer the security of full-time jobs to people our age? That was a trick question. The answer is generally no.
I’m still not even making half of what I made at the job I got laid off from. But I do seem to be growing my client base—putting far more energy into work now than I ever did when I was young.
Welcome to the Gig Economy
I felt like there was something wrong with me until about a year ago when I discover I’d simply landed in the “gig economy,” or the “on-demand economy” if you like. It’s apparently how Baby Boomers who can’t afford to retire work once full-time jobs are no longer open to us.
The gig economy is often hyped for the flexibility it offers its workers, but that’s just a nice way to say it affords them no security. It’s really all for the benefit of companies who gain access to experienced, reliable, highly motivated people without having to give them anything other than a per-piece fee. No healthcare, no unemployment insurance, no vacation, and no promise of continued work, even. Workers are stuck paying Schedule C taxes as if we’re running businesses when in fact we’re just workers without the benefit of a full-time job. We’re not entrepreneurs. We’re drones.
Forget Who You Thought You Were
And what I mentioned about accepting change? To survive, you basically have to tear down who you thought you were professionally, take an inventory of your raw skill set, and try to find a use for it. It’s also important to keep adding new skills all the time. If you enjoy learning new things and technology—as I do—the learning can be an invigorating, if exhausting, process.
I’d love to hear other Boomers’ thoughts about finding themselves marooned in the gig economy. It’s a weird way to survive, and going forward I plan to offer help in this blog for others out here on the bleeding edge with me.