Millennials, we are told, want something radically different from their work, and from their lives, than other generations. They prioritize work-life balance; they take short-term or undefined-length jobs that are flexible over more permanent situations; and they want to do more "creative" work. But new research shows that changing up the way you work may be more dependent on personality than age, as many older adults are engaging in these same "millennial" work habits.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over-65s are much more likely to be self-employed than those under 34 (four times more likely). Half of Uber drivers are over 40, and according to The Atlantic, "More than 60 percent of workers under 34 derive income from a single source — as one would from earning a salary from one company. But almost three quarters of workers over 65 make money from more than one source, not counting Social Security. Gigs, freelance positions, and part-time jobs, although often hailed as the province of millennials, are actually dominated by older workers."
For some older workers, the new ways of doing business and making money fit them perfectly. Like younger people, they appreciate the flexibility of part-time or freelance work for similar reasons. And for some people who are already retired, it gives them a chance to keep busy and involved in their community.
My father is a perfect example of this. He sold his company over a decade ago, and now in-between surfing-and-swimming mornings, he rents out an attached studio in his house on Airbnb, as well as doing some consulting work for former clients. He loves the flexibility of Airbnb (he can just take time off from listing it whenever he wants due to the site's easy calendar-availability function), and he gets to meet new people from around the world, which he enjoys, being a traveler himself. (His innate curiosity about new technology and especially the Internet means he's long been comfortable online, which helps, and the fact that he's healthy is another boon — not every older person has these advantages.) When my father turns 75 next month, he can count a regular income stream from several sources as part of what his version of "retirement."
By 2024, a larger percentage of the population will be over 55 than ever before: almost a full quarter of Americans. And as people expect to live longer lives, many will want to work, too — maybe at something related to what their careers were, or maybe something completely different. But what does this look like and how can you jump in if you're feeling wary? Here are some ideas from Elizabeth White, who has written a book on the subject: "Fifty-five, Unemployed, and Faking Normal."
Don't be snobby about the work
Some gig-economy jobs are fun and creative, and some are pretty unglamorous — but necessary and important. If you're putting together an income from several jobs, you'll likely have a mix of fun stuff and not-so-fun stuff. So don't be too fussy about what you do. I have a master's degree from an Ivy-league school but I walked dogs for a year (which ended up being a fantastic part-time job, by the way: I got paid to exercise regularly and play with cute dogs!).
Take part-time or freelance jobs
The idea behind having two or three (or more) jobs that aren't full-time means you have multiple income streams. While you'll have to be a bit organized about keeping track of your time and communications with each workplace, the upshot is that if you lose one of the gigs, you won't lose your entire income in one fell swoop. You also won't have to go through the painful process of applying for a full-time job (which these days means usually months of looking, multiple nerve-wracking interviews and possible psychological or ability tests), which is a huge time-suck — and all before you even know if the workplace is a good fit for you.
Accept that the work landscape has changed
Time does not move backwards, and neither does culture. If you had a job that you loved and gave you a great salary and benefits in the past, that's great — count yourself lucky. But you may never find that kind of job again — and that's OK. You could find something even better, or at least as good, but in different ways. It's important to always be flexible in life, as the world is constantly changing. Whenever I feel insecure about how much change is happening, I remember that my grandparents lived through the Great Depression, World War 2, massive cultural changes in the '60s and '70s, and more. Being human means cultivating resiliency.
Take stock and build community
No matter how positive your attitude or how excellent your work ethic, you may end up living with less income than you'd like in your later years. This is where community comes in. You are probably already living more frugally (but if not, sit down and look at where you money went over the last few months and what you can cut). And you can also form "resilience circles" of friends or colleagues, a group of people who you can get psychological support from when you're feeling down, and share resources and opportunities when you're on top of things.
Clearly, millennials and older workers have plenty in common — and lots of ways to support each other. Many co-working spaces offer community support meetings, or look for Facebook groups in your area for virtual workers, who will sometimes work together in cafes or at someone's home to beat the loneliness of independent work.
If fear of learning new things (like, say, working online) is the reason for your discomfort about applying for part-time jobs, consider taking a free- or low-cost class that will allow you to jump in and learn in a safe environment. And keep in mind: Learning new things as you age is great for your brain health.