Following is part 1 of an interview Next For Me’s Jeff Tidwell had with John Tarnoff. John came out of the entertainment industry where they ‘eat their young” as he says, and decided to get a degree in psychology and see how he could help people who were looking at reinvention after 50, specifically as it relates to work.
He wrote the book “Boomer Reinvention, How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50” and has a career coaching practice and is a nationally recognized speaker and writer on these topics.
Next For Me (NFM): Today we’d like to welcome John Tarnoff, who is the author of Boomer Reinvention, How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50. John is a career coach, speaker and trainer focused on “reinvention” for people over 50 looking to work on what’s next.
I don’t think there’s anybody that matches the mission of Next For Me much closer than John. So, welcome John.
John Tarnoff (JT): Hey, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here and thank you for saying that.
NFM: Your goal is finding a way for folks over 50 to look at the world of work again and their career, but what is interesting to me when I was doing a little homework on you was your background and how you got to this point to author this book. Maybe we can begin with a little bit of that story.
JT: Sure. Well, the way into this, funny enough, and the reason that I’m qualified to talk about this topic is that I’ve been fired 39 percent of the time in my career. As a result, I have a sense of what it means to live in turbulent times career-wise and to turn setbacks into successes. I apply this to the phenomenon of what a lot of people, and it’s now not just boomers, it’s anybody over 50, are observing as the end of retirement as we were raised to believe in.
If you reach the age of 65 today, you have a 20 percent chance of living to 90. So what are you going to do for a 30 year retirement? A retirement that is essentially one third of your entire life. That doesn’t make any sense. So the question we have in this economy is how are we going to keep working, how are we going to keep earning money, how are we going to stay meaningful and purposeful as we age? The other side of it is, as we age and we acquire the wisdom of life, we want to put that to good use and we want to give back, we want to make this a meaningful experience. So, that’s what I’m working with.
NFM: You came out of the entertainment industry which has a high level of ageism embedded in it, right?
JT: Absolutely. It’s definitely built in. I used to say Hollywood eats its young. It’s a great business to start off in. You can get a job, you can keep going and at a certain point they kind of let you go.
There’s an old Hollywood joke about the four stages of a career. 1. Who is John? 2. Get me John. 3. Get me someone like John, 4. Who is John again? It’s all of those stages of how a career gets grabbed onto and then discarded. So we’re all at this stage of Who is John?
I wouldn’t say that we’ve necessarily outlived our usefulness in the jobs that we’ve had up to this point. But this is what I find with the clients that I work with who are in their fifties. Some of them are actually in their forties and are coming to me and being very proactive about it and saying, “Look, I don’t want to wake up at 55 and realize that I’ve wasted my career working for the Man with nothing to show for it.”
People are saying, “How am I going to build some equity in my own career and be able to sustain it going forward?” That’s really the dilemma that we’re all facing.
NFM: As a coach, speaker and a trainer for people working through these issues, how much of a factor does age play at work or in trying to find work?
JT: It’s in the fabric of everything in the job marketplace. We have to assume that ageism is the order of the day. Things are changing, just like we’re seeing with gender disparity. We’re seeing the beginning of a raising of consciousness about ageism.
There’s an author and activist named Ashton Applewhite who has written a great book about this called This Chair Rocks. If you haven’t had her on your podcast, you must. She’s really out there on this and she’s really, really hard-ass about about calling out ageism in every form. And one of the curious things about ageism is that we do it to ourselves.
I’m in the middle of a discussion back and forth on Linkedin concerning a post I made about something related to employment issues. One of the people commenting says “You’ve got to game the system. Try not to admit your age on your resume because you won’t get in the door.” My position on this is very radical for a lot of career coach-types who say “Don’t put anything over 10 years old on your resume and don’t put your graduation dates.”
Why should we try to pretend that we’re younger than we are? Being our age is an advantage! Anyone who doesn’t get that should be thinking: “Is that really a place that we want to work?
I think: Why should we be defensive about this? Why should we try to pretend that we’re younger than we are? Being our age is an advantage! Anyone who doesn’t get that should be thinking: “Is that really a place that we want to work? Are those employers that we want to work with if they don’t have this level of awareness about what value we represent?” So we shoot ourselves in the foot a lot by trying to fit into this age-based system that we’re working in
NFM: Something along the lines of – if you’re in the closet for whatever reason that says there’s something wrong with who you are admitting to be, and facing up and being honest about it just takes a fresh perspective.
JT: I think in that context, when you look at the social movements and the identity movements of the last 50 years, ageism is the last “ism.”
And, I didn’t invent that. People are talking about this and we’re seeing the same kinds of stages start to emerge. This idea of pride in age. There was the Gray Panther movement back in the seventies. I don’t know if you remember that, which was, I think, talking about a different age demographic than we’re talking about now. We’re talking about a different context here. It’s related, but it’s a different context and it really is around employment and work generally. And it starts in the fifties.
NFM: That is precisely what Next For Me is about. It is first about work and if the work piece gets in place, financial security can follow. We’re really trying to zoom in on work. We see that as the biggest pain and it will alleviate the financial piece of it if you have the opportunity to create your next career.
JT: I just have to jump in here on that last point for a second, because I think a lot of people are under a delusion about their finances. I was at a barbecue over the summer and talking with a woman who was just about to retire and she’s in her late fifties. She’d been working for a utility company here in Southern California for 25 years. And she was about to take her retirement and she had some very active plans that she was contemplating. This was not someone who is going to be sitting home and taking care of her grandkids and going on cruises. She really had some very active ideas about how she wanted to work in retirement and do non-profits and maybe some part time work.
It occurred to me that this idea of a pension or a 401K or whatever amount of money you have saved: you had better take a really close look at that balance and what your return is going to be on that balance and think about how to project that out for 25 years. I’ll bet that for most of the people who think that they are set for retirement, if they took a closer look at their finances, they would realize that they’re not.
And when you factor in what the projected healthcare costs are going to be out of pocket for people over 65 to 85, these are significant challenges financially that we need to deal with. And, relying on a retirement account is not going to cut it.
NFM: What we’ve found is sort of the Suze Orman school of thought, which is you have to confront your finances first of all. And the other side of it is that people are embarrassed or have shame around these things because they don’t have enough saved or that they can’t find other work to get them there. And so we’re trying to open the dialogue around that and I certainly see that you are too.
JT: While we’re getting into the activist side of it, I think the financial services industry is complicit in this but I think there are some changes I’m starting to see. I’m see more articles that are actually talking about working in later years as opposed to retiring, but most of the advice is about how to do more with less, how to save more of your fixed income. How to basically batten down the hatches. But there’s no appreciation for the value that older people can provide in the economy. And that is just a shame.
NFM: I know you’re tuned into this as well, but the idea of expanding intergenerational interaction in the workplace and other places, what are you seeing there in that piece of it all?
JT: Marc Freedman and Encore.org are promoting an intergenerational project called Generation 2 Generation. They’re a real leader in this. But I think it’s very important that the for-profit sector as well recognize the value of multigenerational teams and how each generation has something to bring to the enterprise. And to do that in a very disrupted, very fast moving economy, wisdom and strategic experience are vital to future success for organizations. Teams focus on recruiting younger workers at the expense of older workers for whatever reason; because they are cheaper, because there is this illusion that they have all the new and fresh ideas and young energy that are somehow better than experience and older strategic, perhaps more complacent ideas.
This is a very dangerous road that is going to bite a lot of companies in the butt. Look at the problems at Facebook over the last couple of years. Go back to a statement that Mark Zuckerberg made for which he was roundly castigated in 2007 – you remember he said, “Young people are just smarter.”
I’ve got to think that even though he was forced to apologize for this statement, that that is emblematic of a culture and a lack of awareness that contributed to the decisions Facebook made on their platform that led to all the problems that they have today. Just saying.
Read Part 2 of the interview where John discusses: Redefining Who You are in the Workplace, Introspection, Overcoming Fear, and The Three Tiers of Networking.
Visit John’s Website: JohnTarnoff.com