Baby-Boomers, Here's Your Wake-Up Call

The workplace has changed dramatically. These days, there's more to maintaining a career than your day job. Get another oar in the water, fast.

I call baby-boomers the bushwhacked generation. Back in the early 1980s, when I began my career, the message to a new hire was "Welcome to XYZ Corporation! We’re so glad you are part of our team. We look forward to a long and happy employment relationship with you."

SEE OUR STORY: Social Networking for Job-Seeking Boomers

Hard as it is to admit, back then I was one of the people peddling that longtime-career Kool-Aid. I was a corporate human-relations person, one who never questioned the idea that if people came to work and put their shoulder to the wheel, they'd earn a nice living and climb the corporate ladder straight to retirement.

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Now that the corporate ladder is sawdust under our feet, baby-boomers need to think differently. Longtime employment isn’t just elusive; it isn't even always a good thing. Every day I talk with employers who say "This candidate seems like a good guy, but I worry about him, too. He spent 26 years at his last job. Do you think this guy can flex, Liz?" In some respects, having many jobs with varying circumstances equips a job-seeker better for today's workplace than one longterm gig.

How is a baby-boomer to deal with the ever-shakier employment landscape? My advice: Grow new muscles. People need altitude on their careers now, and perspective they didn't need when a job search was a once-every-decade-or-so proposition. We need to be aware of the talent marketplace all the time. We have to know which business problems we solve for employers, whether we're job-hunting or not. More than anything, we need multiple oars in the water.

An oar in the water is a revenue stream and a way to exercise professional muscles. If you've been a W-2 type since forever, you likely haven't thought much about additional oars. (Our kids know all about them, however. As a 25-year-old in Denver told me, 'It drives my mom crazy that I've got a degree and five part-time jobs. She doesn't understand that I don't want one full-time gig. I make more money this way, and I don't lose sleep worrying whether my employer likes me or not.')

Back when, having a side job meant bartending or singing at weddings, something most corporate types would shun as too down-market for their tastes. Today, it's different. I encourage every working person to have a business card separate from the one your employer gave you. You could consult, advising overburdened businesspeople in your spare time. You could pick up freelance gigs from the comfort of your den. You can make money in a thousand ways without even blowing your professional cover.

Putting out a shingle isn't just a good idea financially; it's essential for your mojo, too. Solving other people's problems is the best way to grow your connecting-the-dots skills, the same skills we need to thrive in the new-millennium workplace. Here are three of our favorite oar-in-the-water options for otherwise-committed W-2 types.

"Elance" Your Knowledge pairs freelance workers with projects they can complete from home. Projects range from tiny (a graphic designer paying $35 for a more fluid bio than she could write herself) to gargantuan (a six-month project with a five-figure payoff). If you want to put a toe in the second-revenue stream, this is one great way to begin.

Blog About What You Know

Every day I talk with baby-boomers who are experts on all sorts of subjects – including areas of expertise they get paid for at work and ones they've cultivated over the years on their own, outside of work. I recommend that people who know a lot about anything at all start a blog or a Facebook page, to get the "sharing what I know" juice flowing and to enable other enthusiasts in the same space to find them. You'll be amazed what happens when you start writing regularly about topics that interest you, especially when your advice can help other people. It's free to start your own blog at The blog itself may turn into a revenue generator for you, or the contacts you make via your blog may create financial opportunities (or both). What are you waiting for?

Get a Business Card

When it comes to oars in the water, the big message is "Be available when opportunities arise." To get started, go to and get business cards that brand you as something other than your company's assistant manager of whatever. I want you to get business cards, no matter what your work situation is – they cost almost nothing. You can worry about the actual business later.

Sadly, we've taught the baby-boom generation that entrepreneurism is something exotic and risky, not suitable for the average person – absolute hogwash that would have horrified our grandparents. My friend Jody, unsure how to brand herself, ordered business cards that displayed her name over the tagline "Available for Lunch." Those cards got her fantastic freelance jobs and ultimately a terrific W-2 gig. You don't have to pick a business name, design your offerings or create a business plan, at least not yet. Just get out there and start talking to people about their issues. You'll be amazed how fast your new-millennium workplace muscles grow.

Liz Ryan
Contributing Columnist,