Turning 60—which I did a few months back—was not what I expected when I first began my career.
Boy, has the world changed.
When I started my career, what did I think turning 60 would include?
- Financial freedom
Well, some of them are true. Let me explain.
I graduated from Northwestern University with my engineering degree in the late 1970s. I had a nice, secure job lined up with IBM.
At the same time I entered the workforce, my father was forced out of his job at the New York Stock Exchange. He had worked there for 25 years as an economist. My father had a sweet pension and benefits. Financially, my parents were in great shape. However, his retirement was not what he expected. He went on to teach economics at a small liberal arts college but leaving his other job when he did eventually killed him. My parents’ retirement was not a happy one even though they were financially secure.
Beginning My Career at the Borg…I mean, IBM
I was in my early 20s during the 1970s, which is when I started my career with IBM. I was assimilated, resistance was futile (if you are under 30, this is a reference to Jean Luc Packard, captain of the Starship Enterprise, being captured by the borg in the television series Star Trek Next Generation).
At IBM, I was promised security. The assumption was that, in 30 years, I could retire in my early 50s both safe and secure. I did not have any real idea what that meant, but it felt good. The problem was that I hated my job.
I was told by everyone to stick it out. Supposedly, I was in a great situation, being paid really well and, after 30 years, I could retire into the sunset…and then I could be happy.
Early in my career, I did a walkabout where I took a month off, half of which was unpaid, and traveled the National Parks of Utah, Colorado, and Arizona by myself. I came back in a much better mental state. The weeks after my return, I met my wife and, within a year, we were married. My assimilation was complete.
Soon afterward, our son came along. I now had the three pillars of financial obligation:
How could I leave IBM now?
Retirement Vision Dispelled
In the late 80s, I was supporting 400-500 mechanical engineers. One of them was this really great guy, Don, who was just a couple of years from retiring.Unfortunately, Don was then diagnosed with cancer and disappeared for about a year as he received treatment.
When Don came back to work, he was not the same person. I remember him saying that he assumed that when he licked cancer, he would come back to work and be the same guy he was before. This wasn’t true. The cancer treatment beat him up. He was back at work for about six months before the cancer returned. A few months later, he was dead.
That experience had a lasting impact on me. Don never had the opportunity to reach the holy grail of retirement. Hmm…
Later in 1993, IBM nearly went bankrupt. A lot changed:
- Early retirement plans were given
- Plants closed
- Full employment policy or job for life ended
Suddenly, I realized that I had all of my savings in my house, 401(k), and IRAs.
The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back
In the late 90s, IBM decided to end the pension plan. Those of us who were not within 5 years of retirement were given a cash balance plan. IBM soon realized that there was an age discrimination suit coming and converted all of us who were over 40 years of age back to the traditional annuity based pension plan.
Trust was lost, and I did not believe in retirement concept anymore.
It is funny, but I distinctly remember having a conversation with a former boss who was a few years younger than myself.
He said, “Well they took the pension away once, they cannot do it again!”
I replied, “BS, they took it away once and they will take it away again!”
IBM stopped funding the pension plan for current participants in 2008, which was a few years before my former boss’s 30th anniversary with the company. If you know anything about corporate pension plans, reaching 30 years of service is critical.
In 2000, I left IBM with my pension and 401(k) money in tow and then went to work for a tech startup that was later acquired by Lucent—or as I like to refer to them—the sister of the borg.
My well-documented bicycle accident that changed my life forever followed.
I then made a pivot into teaching high school math. Later, I worked for a non-profit before being pulled into another tech startup. I rode out both devastating recessions working for successful tech startups. Riches did not come from either, but that is a lot better than most of our generation experienced.
Turning 60 hasn’t been anything special. Though I have a few ailments, I mostly feel good and am working on fixing those things with lifestyle changes.
The New York Stock Exchange kicked my father into retirement at about the same time in life I turned 60. I do not have the financial resources he did but, by today’s standards, my wife and I are pretty well off.
We have no debt. I am building Career Pivot and, even though it does not pay the bills completely, it is getting there.
I have no plans to retire. Unlike my father, I planned this transition rather than responding to the actions of my employer.
Looking back on my career, I was only laid off once, and I volunteered for that layoff. Every career transition I made was on my terms. Watching my father go through his transition had an impact on me.
I will be in Galveston, TX when this post gets published and I will visit a few clients virtually while there. After that, my wife and I will head to New Orleans for the Birkman conference. Next, we head to Destin, FL for some vacation. My boss (ME) is a real jerk. He normally does not allow me to take a vacation.
To me, retirement is freedom. It is freedom to work when and how much I want. If I look back on what I thought retirement meant at the beginning:
- Security – Nope
- Financial freedom – Nope
- Grandchildren – None planned but that could change
- Travel – I really do not want to travel much having taught in 40 countries around the world
Turning 60 looks and feels totally different than I expected.
What about you?
What did you expect? Did you have any expectations?Marc Miller
Like What Your Read? Get Career Pivot Insights
Do You Need Help With ...
Check out our Help Center where you have access to 14 different content portals.
My career closely parallels yours. Only difference is I went the sap route post IBM. Now I’m (almost) 66. Expectations almost an exact duplicate of yours. Nothing panned out as expected. Such is life.
I am planning for what is next as you said nothing turned out the way we expected.
John Maldaner says
I’m more in line with your Dad’s experience. My Dad had a similar experience in the end, but was not as well prepared financially. Interested to read more of your writings.
Thank you for sharing!
Hugh O'Byrne says
I will turn 60 in December and I will retire early in the new year from IBM. From a financial viewpoint I’ll be in good shape and can travel if i wish. My friend has a saying about the three phases of retirement from a travel viewpoint – GOGO, SLOWGO, NOGO and he is busy enjoying GOGO. People ask what will you do, will you work for someone else, will you become a consultant and my wife worries about me being at home… I’ve decided to not worry about it, I do some work for not-for-profit organisations and I’ll do a little more, if i get some work offers I may do a little, I have some interests I will spend more time on and I’m generally thinking I’ll take it as it comes.
I’ve spent most of the last 35 years running around and I am in a position to have some time to prepare myself for the next phase. It’s strange to think of what comes next, yet I welcome it. Change is good for me anyway 🙂 I enjoyed your article, thanks.
I have traveled so much that traveling is not important to me. My wife though…… she wants to travel.
Retirement kinda hit me in the eye in that I have been a care giver of my terminal mum for about three years and had to decrease my work so I could increase caring for her. I do not regret a minute of caring for her but attempting to return to full time work post her death has been difficult for many reasons. I find I don’t have the energy or drive to re-develop myself mostly because I am still recovering from the hard work of care giving and the grief and loss of four months. But reading your blogs and book has help me recognize that I am just reinventing myself now that I am post 60 years old and I too will not be retired. I do have a small state retirement that I can take out and shall do so. But I also need to work in order to meet the bills. I have little debt which I am grateful for but still paying on a mortgage. True for me as well I have lived and traveled the world and so I don’t see that in my future. I can’t afford to golf or ski but do have a few free pastimes like reading and enjoying craft projects that I never got around to working full time and caring for children. Yes it is very true I will not have the retirement my parents had of travel and leisure time. But I rather enjoy working part time and having that choice to do so. Thanks for your encouragement and tips!
Your story of caring for a parent and then having difficulty re-entering the job market is more common than you think. Let me know if I can be of any help.
Kevin Garcia says
Marc – Just turned 61. Started my career in the navy right out of high school. Had the notion that if I do 20 years I get to retire and do whatever I wanted. Well, did the 20 years but the fully retiring didn’t work. Went to work for various defense contractors over the past 20+ years and figure I will work for another 6 years or so. I was a systems engineer and then managed to move into something I am passionate about and that is Diversity and Inclusion. What I ma seeing though is when I go for interviews, even though I do great, the age factor jumps in and a lot of the companies are looking for someone younger. Oh well, like you I am planning for the future. I will startup a STEM and Diversity endeavor and see where it takes me. Around the world and a healthy and fun life after retirement I hope.
Diversity is an “interesting” area. Are you looking for full time employment who doing this as a consultant. I can imagine that coming in as a consultant would be much easier endeavor.
69 and been laid off twice in the last 12?years due to companies being sold, been looking for a position for the last three years. I thrive on working and a very successful in international sales.
Even worked in Afghanistan recently selling equipment to military and NGO’s, but impossible to get another position at my age.
Listen to my podcast next week. I recorded it yesterday and I addressed this problem. Rather than look for a job, I would want you to find a problem to solve.
Ian Bond says
Wall Street was just great to me until the Financial Crisis, and when I needed a solid 10 years of earnings to fund my retirement. My earnings have never recovered and the industry has changed forever. I just turned 60.
I decided to look outside the traditional workplace as I finish my career and have developed businesses online. In the online world age discrimination doesn’t exist and you can connect with like-minded folks globally, not just locally.
I don’t know anyone who entered the workforce when we did that got the bargain they thought. Traditional jobs and traditional retirement have changed forever. We have to adapt.
Love all of your perspectives. Thanks for sharing!
I am now 61 and you are correct age discrimination largely does not exist.
Jim Stover says
Will be turning 60 in September. I began my career in chemistry for about 10 years. I do not have a degree. I studied 3 years of chemical technology for a certificate and took some college courses.
I became a self-taught computer programmer while working in a laboratory. I changed career to a professional programmer. I have been programming ever since (until last year). Worked at a variety of companies with 15 years being the longest for Fidelity Information Services. My last 3 jobs have ended because of work that I do being outsourced to India or Russia.
I have been unemployed the past year now. I am in a bad predicament as I have had zero income for past year, no savings left, no health insurance and no retirement. My wife and I both worked at Fidelity for about 12 years when they laid me off, they laid her off the following year. It took me 2 years to find a job (back at Fidelity actually in a different group). My wife took 7 years to find a job. During that time we used all of our savings and 401K (didn’t have a lot) to pay the mortgage as long as we could. We ended up selling half of what we had and lost our house.
My wife is working now, thankfully. However she does’t make quite enough to pay the rent and rest of bills. I had to take some money each month from what little I had left in an account. I just had to close the account as it fell below the minimum and the bank was charging fees for that. So, the money is almost all gone. We have 2 older vehicles with high mileage. We have cut our expenses as much as we could.
I was doing mobile application development for past 5 years (phones and tablets) . I got an eye problem in one eye that cannot be fixed (started about 3 years ago). My vision has worsened. The text on the computer monitors and mobile device screens gets blurry after a short time. The pain in my finger joints and trembling in my hands makes my typing really bad now. These problems really hurt my ability to continue as a computer programmer. I guess we were not meant to sit in front of a screen and type 12 – 15 hours a day for 35 years! I am concerned because my other eye is starting to give me some problems too. I also have a gastro problem. I don’t have the money to go to doctors, so I suffer. Went to ER a few weeks ago with chest pain and now we owe thousands of dollars to the hospital (kept me overnight).
I went for a few job interviews for cleaning, scan and update pricing at grocery store, help take care of elderly, etc. I also applied for Home Depot, Giant Grocery Stores, Target, etc online, but I never hear back. We are in desperate need of some income to continue to pay the rent.
I studied some music arranging a number of years ago (just got a certificate for this too). I have some skills and software to create music mockups, I can clean up and tune vocal tracks, etc. I don’t have the software (very expensive) or experience to fix bad audio (I can do some, but not more in depth fixes).
Anyways, I really need to do something very soon. Of course, I don’t know what.
The first thing that comes to mind is editing podcasts like mine. You do not need sophisticated software. I edit my own with Audacity which is open source and free.
You can’t apply at Home Depot or Lowe’s and expect them to respond, especially at your age (just stating the facts). You’ll want to visit a store in person and ask to speak with the hiring manager. Express enthusiasm and the willingness to work hard for an opportunity. How do I know this strategy works? I followed my own advice.
What a thoughtful and interesting post Marc. Thank you.
Tyler you are most welcome
joann Tietjen says
I agree! interesting and thoughtful; you see, I am 61 and was just told by my current employer my position will be eliminated effective January 31, 2021. We are told we may be given the opportunity to apply internally for other positions; ok, great! we have options right?
Not so fast; what if? there is no other positions, etc etc.,,,, we may get some sort of severance package, which I hear is not that great, no one is saying anything and I have asked. I want to venture out, apply outside of this company. (Have been here 6 yrs 3 months), at our age is whole different game. I feel ready for the next adventure, need and have to work at least until FRA (66). I am preparing myself, mentally and using networks to go for it! Yes!
It can be done, no one said it is easy but never ever give up. Any feedback is greatly appreciated. Joann