Here Comes the 60-Year Career | Kanebridge News
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Here Comes the 60-Year Career

As people live longer, healthier lives, the traditional 40-year career will become a thing of the past. But that’s going to require a new mind-set—and a lot more planning.

Mon, Feb 13, 2023 8:59amGrey Clock 8 min

Get ready for longer careers. Probably much longer.

Charlotte Japp is setting the groundwork for it. Since graduating from college 10 years ago, Ms. Japp has worked in marketing at three companies in different industries and simultaneously launched Cirkel, a startup that connects younger and older employees for two-way career support.

Currently head of platform at ff Venture Capital in New York, Ms. Japp, 32, doesn’t see her career as linear, and doesn’t picture her progression as moving up a single, well-defined ladder. Instead, she envisions her career as long and varied—a marathon that will involve changing directions, with stops and restarts along the way.

“I know I’m going to have a career over a very long stretch and it won’t be just one thing,” Ms. Japp says. “Plus there’ll be more fluidity between periods of work, school and family.”

Millennials like Ms. Japp, as well as the generations behind them, are starting to think about their careers in a totally different way from their elders. They have no choice: Because they are likely to live healthily into their 90s or longer, they must learn to navigate 60-year careers instead of the traditional 40-year span.

But such a change will require a new mind-set when it comes to planning a career. Instead of advancing vertically up a single path, for instance, people will need to move sideways—and even down at times—as they traverse different jobs and multiple careers. They will have to make sure they have adequate income to sustain themselves over lengthy lives. They will need to figure out where they derive the most job satisfaction so they don’t burn out after decades of working. They will have to keep acquiring new skills to avoid becoming obsolete. And, if they can afford to, they may want to take occasional career breaks to balance their personal and professional lives.

“Over the course of 60-year careers, we’ll need to work and pace our careers differently,” says Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.

Currently, Dr. Carstensen says, men and women at midlife “tend to burn the career-and-family candle at both ends, with lives impossibly packed from morning to night,” while older people who are plateaued or pushed out before wanting to stop working feel underused. She imagines a model where people might work about the same amount of time overall as they do now, but spread that work over more years—thereby reducing the risk of burnout and giving themselves time for personal pursuits and skill enhancement.

All of this could pose challenges for companies, which haven’t structured ways for employees to stay productive and creative over lengthy careers. Few have established flexible routes in and out of the workplace, or “glide paths” toward retirement that enable older workers to work longer but at reduced hours. Less than 10% of Fortune 500 companies have re-entry programs for employees who have taken career breaks for family caregiving or other reasons, according to research by Boston-based iRelaunch, which encourages employers to establish such programs, and helps people return to work after breaks of one to 20 years.

However, if they want to attract the workers they need, employers will have no choice but to adapt. After all, their leaders will likely be in the same position.

Here are seven things for employees to think about as they plan for—and navigate—this new terrain.

Charlotte Japp has worked for several companies and launched a startup in her 10 years since college. ‘I know I’m going to have a career over a very long stretch and it won’t be just one thing,’ she says. PHOTO: MARY INHEA KANG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
1. Expect a career that resembles a jungle gym rather than a ladder

Already, a lot fewer workers expect to stay at a single company throughout their career. That trend will only accelerate as careers get longer. After all, few people will want to stay at the same job for 60 years, even if they could (a big if). It is a recipe for job and life dissatisfaction and stagnant income. And few companies have shown the kind of loyalty that would encourage such careers.

Instead, employees should imagine a career that involves making leaps sideways and across rungs rather than a straight climb upward.

Ms. Japp says she learned to expect this by observing her parents, who both lost corporate jobs in midlife and then successfully pivoted to self-employment. Her father, after a career in advertising, established a stamp- and coin-selling business on eBay, and her mother became an independent adviser to art collectors after working as an executive at a large art gallery.

“The idea of portfolio careers, and change being a positive, was implanted in me early,” Ms. Japp says. Over any career, but especially a lengthy one, you need to cope with two ever-changing variables, says Ms. Japp. “First is the business world, where new companies and many new jobs will be constantly emerging. And personally we change over time—and so do our interests, needs and curiosity.”

2. Lifelong learning, including breaks to return to school, will be essential

It is hard enough now to stay up-to-date with technology and other job requirements, and to train for new opportunities. Add 20 years to careers, and it becomes even more daunting. In addition, many employees will want to start second or third careers over the course of their longer working lives, which will require returning to school for training and maybe even new degrees.

Giulia Pines, who’s 38, worked as a freelance writer—first in Germany where she lived for a decade and then in New York. Two years ago, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and other social-justice protests, she thought about becoming a lawyer and “trying to change policies and help people, but at first I thought I was too old to make that switch,” she says. Then, she realised she likely has decades ahead of her to devote to law.

Ms. Pines is now a first-year student at Brooklyn Law School, has met several other classmates in their 30s and isn’t concerned about starting a law career at 40. “If I’m going to be 40 anyway, I might as well do what I want,” she says. Plus, she adds, she was raised in a family that “never considered retirement, with both my grandfather and father, who were doctors, working until they were unable to do that physically and mentally. I think of what I’m doing now as a next step, without an age attached to it.”

3. Seek flexibility to have a better work/life balance

As people live longer, and careers lengthen, their priorities change. They’ll also face conflicting demands. For instance, for growing numbers of young and middle-aged adults, caregiving responsibilities for older parents overlap with caring for young children. Among the 48 million Americans who currently provide unpaid care to elders or disabled relatives, more than 40% are 18 to 49 years old, according to a 2020 study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

“Everyone is going to be a caregiver at some point, and it should be an acknowledged part of a 60-year career,” says Susan Golden, who advises companies and venture firms about innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities created by longevity.

Ms. Golden is a living example of her argument. She was a partner at a venture-capital company in her 30s, and took only three weeks off after having her first daughter. But she took a break after having a second daughter when she also began caring for her mother. Now she’s encouraging her daughters and other millennials to consider caregiving breaks themselves “so you don’t miss out on the joy of raising children. You don’t have to work straight through 60 years,” she says.

After her own break of about 15 years, Ms. Golden attended Stanford University’s Distinguished Careers Institute when she was 61, or what she calls her “renaissance stage.” She took courses on such topics as entrepreneurship and board governance at Stanford Graduate School of Business, healthy aging at the medical school and on design thinking. And she was among others in their 50s and older who were considering transitions. “Having the support of that community was so helpful,” says Ms. Golden, who also co-teaches a course about longevity’s business opportunities at Stanford’s business school and is the author of “Stage (Not Age).”

4. Learn strategies for restarting a career after a break

In March 2022, LinkedIn introduced a new category—Career Breaks—for users who are building profiles to describe the highlights of their time away from traditional jobs, including family responsibilities, volunteerism and travel. The new label should help normalize the idea that careers aren’t always linear.

Carol Fishman Cohen, chief executive and co-founder of iRelaunch, advises employees to keep detailed notes throughout their careers, not just about achievements but about specific experiences they have had with bosses, employees and colleagues at different jobs. It’s hard enough to remember accomplishments five or 10 years later, but 40 or 50 years? “Those of us who don’t think to keep these records have to re-create the past from memory, which may not be nearly as vivid or compelling as when they occurred,” Ms. Cohen says.

Those who take breaks should keep up-to-date on licenses and professional membership, take online courses to improve and learn new skills and possibly do part-time volunteering or contract work. “Use time during a break to reflect on your strengths and whether you want to return to the path you were on or take a new direction,” says Ms. Cohen, and let prospective employers know that you’ve thought carefully during a break about your commitment to a particular field.

5. Build an intergenerational network

Over the course of a six-decade career, workers need to nurture relationships not just with superiors but with colleagues who are junior to them.

Colleagues who are younger may be more skilled with new technologies, and be able to help older colleagues learn and adapt to them. And because there aren’t clear career paths, it is more likely that positions will shift. A colleague who’s younger in age may advance beyond their former bosses and be in a position to hire them or connect them to other jobs. This happened to Ms. Cohen when she wanted to re-enter the workplace after an 11-year caregiving break: She got a job at Bain Capital, where a former junior colleague she had previously worked with at a different finance company had a key position. He remembered her and helped connect her to others at Bain who hired her, she says.

6. Explore new paths even when you’re enjoying your current career

It’s typical for people to keep their heads down and focus on the job and employer they have, especially if they are satisfied. But in an era of long, multiple careers, it’s important to think about alternative paths before you have to or feel pressured to make a change. The odds are much greater that you’ll need to take that path one day.

To that end, experts advise people to attend professional meetings or conferences in areas they want to learn about, and to spend time thinking about what they might want to do next, just in case. Maybe somebody has worked in operations or IT, but imagines moving into human resources or marketing. It doesn’t hurt to talk with those people in those fields about what might be required. A safety net is a lot more important when you’re staring at, say, 30 more years of working than if you’re looking at 10 more years.

7. Don’t try to plan it all out

It is impossible to map out what will happen over a 60-year career. Too many things—in our personal lives, in the economy, in the workplace—will change. Nobody has a crystal ball that can look that far into the future.

What’s important, rather, is finding jobs and work environments that are both enjoyable and challenging. In the past, when careers typically involved a vertical climb, it made sense for employees to set goals they wanted to reach by a specific time or age. But trying to do this can be counterproductive today. The ability to be agile rather than rigidly focused on a handful of goals will be essential when traversing a career that lasts more than half a century.

“It is all about following my gut, knowing what I’m good at and doing what I enjoy on a day-to day basis,” says Ms. Japp. “The lesson I’ve been learning is to be adaptable. You have to meet the moment.”


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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