Boomer career reinvention - an interview with John Tarnoff

By Neil Patrick

Back in 2012 I stumbled across a wonderful TEDx talk by John Tarnoff, which simultaneously amused and informed me about the critical difficulties facing baby boomers today in the second half of their careers. I liked it so much that I asked John if I could share it here and he happily consented.

Because it’s such a good watch, here it is again:

Since then, John and I have kept in touch and pursued our individual yet broadly parallel paths in trying to help people tackle this issue. We picked up again recently and I was intrigued to find out what John had been doing. He’s certainly not been idle!

So I chucked a few questions at John and he provided me with his answers which we’re happy to share here.

NP: What have you discovered are the biggest problems boomers are having with jobs and careers?

JT: Many people are shocked at how challenging it is to get a job after they've been "downsized" or forced into an early retirement "buy-out." During the Recession that we are still recovering from in many ways, it took boomers on average twice as long as younger generations to find jobs.

Companies go to a lot of trouble sometimes to wash their hands and alleviate their guilt by including out-placement counselling through large HR firms that specialize in helping workers transition to new jobs, but many boomers I've talked to find these counselling sessions and classes depressing and overwhelming​.

For people who have worked in one job or in one company for ten years or longer, it is extremely disorienting to be let go from what has become a second home, and a virtual family. Recovering from the initial shock can take time. One woman I interviewed pretty much stayed inside and slept for two months after she was let go.

The longer-term question, even for people who are able to weather the transition, is: what to do as a second-act career? Few of us can afford to completely retire. Many of us are going to need to keep a full-time income going for as long as we are able. Fewer jobs are available for older workers, a phenomenon that has something to do with ageism, but I think also simply reflects an outdated cultural norm, which is this assumption that people stop working at 65. If you ask younger recruiters and HR people, they just accept this as part of the way things work, and don't really stop to think about what a multi-generational work place would look like.

The reality of 21st century careers. 

NP: How are you helping people deal with this?

JT: My mission is to help boomers take a more entrepreneurial attitude about work, and to think more expansively about the kinds of businesses they could launch, and services they could provide, in what is now known as the "gig" economy. I believe that after so many years in the work force, we do indeed have the experience, wisdom and understanding to be successful. There is a new job or calling that is inside us, and we just need to do the introspective work, and the external networking and interaction, to figure out how to manifest it. This is not about "follow your bliss." If that were a viable strategy, every contestant on a TV talent competition would be a superstar. Rather, this is about "follow your usefulness." Particularly now, after so many years, we know where we can provide value. We know what we're good at, and what we like doing. That's how we should be proceeding.

NP: What are the most alarming stats you have come across about this subject?

JT: I never think of stats as "alarming" per se. Stats are valuable information​ ​that present us with opportunities to act constructively, or to complain and point fingers. Yes, currently the retirement picture here in the U.S. is not pretty, with 25% of those 55+ having no retirement savings, and no company pensions. Another 25% have some kind of company pension, but still no savings. For the 50% that have at least some savings, and some form of company pension, the average savings account has around USD 100,000 in it. For most people, this means that they are going to have to continue working after "retirement" in order to make ends meet, as their Social Security government pension will not be sufficient.

I'm actually optimistic about the future for this generation, because I think it is going to make better business sense to retain us in the workforce, than to keep us out. There are some small indications that this is happening. Some companies and government agencies are instituting "phased retirement" plans to keep people in their jobs at reduced hours while they build a bridge to a second-act career.

In the U.S. by 2022, 4​0% of the U.S. population will be over 55.​​ This means that to avoid economic collapse, as well as the default of the Social Security government pension fund, the retirement age will need to rise (it's currently 66). To avoid being a burden on the economy, boomers will need to continue to work, and businesses will ultimately recognize that there is a lot we can still do. Every day, I see another myth about aging getting debunked, whether it's about brain function or physical condition. The truth is that we are all living longer, and largely more capable lives. 40% of people who are 65 years old today will live past age 90.

So I like to play around with positive stats that paint a more positive picture, and then do my best to see that this picture becomes a reality.​

NP: What news can we report about your development of the Boomer Reinvention program?

JT: As you know, this all started because I was asked to give a TEDx talk on the subject of transformation. Realizing that the retirement story we were raised to believe has turned out to be a myth, I started to look into what means we could use to transform ourselves in order to keep working.

I'm finishing up a book that lays out the program called: "Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50" which goes into my five reinvention steps. The program is based on my crazy career as an entertainment business executive in Hollywood, and also draws from my Master's degree in Spiritual Psychology.

NP: Do you have any success stories we can recount?

​JT: Well, I'll share part of a story of a gentleman who I profile in my book. This is a guy who worked for decades as a sales executive for a handful of companies, and had risen to very senior positions. But he became very disillusioned with the way these companies were being managed, and found the lack of integrity and short-sightedness disturbing. He knew that he was going to have to figure out a different career solution for himself and his family, but he didn't know where to turn. To make a long story short, this guy had always been a savvy investor, and had learned the investment business by trial and error through trading on his own account. He never thought of this as a business until a friend suggested he look into registering as an investment advisor (a much easier process in certain U.S. states than becoming a broker/dealer). The timing worked out because he was fired from his job soon after, and in the few years​​ has built a lucrative - and very personal - business managing the investments of a small group of clients.​

John Tarnoff

What John's and my own work has confirmed I think is that despite working more or less independently on this issue in different ways and on different sides of the planet, we have both found more or less the same thing; boomers have immensely valuable skills, but they are struggling to figure out how to manage their careers in an age where job loss isn’t a risk, it’s a certainty. And once they fall off their ladders, they can find it very difficult to get back on.

John’s a master of reinvention and in his own words he’s had to be, because he’s had no fewer than 18 jobs in his 35 year career! There’s nothing like experience to teach us how to solve a problem!

If you recognise or are struggling with any of the issues touched on here, then John is a great guy to have in your network. John will be launching his book before the end of 2016. You can register your interest on his website. Please also feel free to connect with John on Twitter or LinkedIn.

My thanks go to John for this update and for sharing his findings and thoughts. Boomers can get back in the game, they just need to know how to do it – and the first step is knowing the right people who can help.

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