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.
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?
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