Growing Old Disgracefully

The majority of people reading this article – especially LinkedIn readers – will surely be in employment, working for a firm. It’s still the dominant employment mode.

And like younger readers, I was once wedded to my office job, living its day-to-day requirements and being implicitly signed up to the idea that somehow it mattered. If I had been gainfully employed in certain vocations, like medicine or the police, then maybe it would be clearer to see the point of it, and to judge that one was making a small but useful contribution to the quality of society.

There is a justification for private sector jobs, those that have to do with making things and supplying services. They add to the sum of wealth of the firm, which makes profits, pays taxes and makes your country more successful in the world, which in turn pays for the police and health service. Yet at the micro level, it can be hard to see the point. Where’s the lasting value?

For example, I have worked for big British firms – the Woolwich Building Society, Brooke Bond Oxo, Dalgety Spillers and BET plc – and they have one thing in common. They no longer exist. All have been taken over by other firms whose management think that they too have an imperative to succeed and beat the other guy. It’s a playground game for grown-ups; and it’s often a zero sum game.

Unemployability

In my 40s, I came to the conclusion that I was more or less unemployable. I didn’t enjoy the challenge of having staff under my control, and I was told by a headhunter that I didn’t get a new senior position because I didn’t seem to be hungry enough. And she was right – I didn’t want it any more. I think more and more of us feel that way.

By my 50s, I was ready for a change of scene to Spain, and a late-flowering burst of self-employment under the banner of Bojingles. But there wasn’t a grand plan – it developed organically, starting with making radio jingles (which was fun but not nearly enough radio advertisers would pay for a proper song). That developed into scriptwriting and making many thousands of regular radio ads, becoming a voiceover, writing web copy and video scripts for all sorts of companies, and being a sales and marketing manager for hire.

It’s not just me – looking around at old school and university friends, many of them have latterly adopted a similarly ‘portfolio’ approach to business and are consulting, mentoring, working on specific projects for firms and then getting out again.

Men (and women) Dressing Badly

What does that mean to the outlook on life that I, and people like me, have? I think we are freer thinking, we can dress as badly as we did in the 70s, and we are outrageous or iconoclastic when the mood takes us – because we can be. We are growing old disgracefully: and we don’t care.

Alternative models of work such as freelancing have always existed, but they always tended to require a structure involving agencies and consulting firms who promoted the individuals’ skills. The big explosion of home working and true work freedom has of course been sparked by the internet, and latterly the availability of broadband. Without a good connection, we would not be as free in terms of geography or working time: neither of course would we be as free to air our (frequently disgraceful) views on social networks in between our work-related activity.

We hear a lot about the thrusting young things who are busy beavering away in Tech Cities, and it’s great to see them being entrepreneurial and creative. But I would remind you that we are an ageing population and (to quote the clothing retailer) ‘Old Guys Rule’. We’re not ready for carpet slippers and the Daily Mail – we are creating too. “We’re the old generation – and we’ve got something to say” as the Monkees* would now sing.

So when I co-write my first pop hit, and my mate Ian finishes his epic poem, and Richard gets his play put on at the National, we’ll be thumbing our noses at the idea of retirement or that it’s a young peoples’ world. Look out youngsters – we’re coming and we’ve got sharp elbows…

(*Monkees: note to younger readers – like One Direction but with better tunes)

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