Graduation & Retirement: Three Strategies for Surviving Both

It’s graduation season and young people everywhere are listening to speeches rife with promises of new beginnings. With one baby boomer turning 67 every seven to eight seconds, many older adults are embarking on a new adventure as well – retirement. While age, experience, and bank accounts may divide them, freshly minted Gen Y graduates and boomers nearing retirement have two things in common: they are both hopeful yet hesitant about their futures. Here are three strategies that these two generations, perhaps more similar than many realize, can use to navigate the future of work and working retirement together.  

1. Find Out Where You Really Fit In & Be Prepared for It to Change (Often)

Gone are the days of newspaper job clippings and “help wanted” signs in shop windows. One might assume the tech-oriented Gen Y’er has an advantage in this era of online job search, but countless search engines and job postings can be incredibly overwhelming. Where to start? When to end? And what to do when we don't get the response we are hoping for? 

It is not uncommon for Gen Y'ers to hear from friends, "I graduated a year ago, spend my days filling out two or three job applications with pristine cover letters and resumes, show up for the occasional interview, but mostly just wait for firms willing to risk a new hire with plenty of promise but little experience.” Likewise, older adults are looking for work too. The difference is that, unlike the prospect of new college grads expecting to start at the bottom, companies are less smitten by the idea of hiring older adults. Boomers are retiring, willingly or not, and scouring the same online postings for paid positions. The former group: "I'm not entirely qualified for this, but there's nothing else to apply for." The latter: "They will never hire me for this because I'm overqualified (or in some cases, not qualified enough because of new technologies) – and they can't afford me.  

Suggestion for both cohorts: let go of your laptop and lace up your walking shoes. Set up some informational interviews, get in touch with that friend of a friend who may know someone, make some business cards, slap a smile on your face and show up in person. And then go home and apply to a quarter of the jobs you've been applying to. Moreover, Gen Y’ers: adjust your expectations. Today’s corporations are not prepared to provide a job for life and a well-defined career trek – global markets, technology and general uncertainty makes that difficult if not impossible in a world where you may have many careers over a half-century of work. Boomers: most of us are saying our retirement plan is to keep working. The future of work is not necessarily doing more of the same but learning new skills, taking new positions and coming to the table with new expectations. Among them might be accepting a position that is not based upon your ‘seniority,’ but where you can make the best business case to be.

2. Adapt, Adjust, Repeat

In public: "You're graduating/retiring in a week! You've been in school/working forever.  You must be so excited, huh?" You: "Yeah, you bet!"

In private: pacing...sweating...panting...messy sobbing...medicating. These huge life transitions present more than a change of occupation – they take the age-old question of "Who am I?" and magnify it by (insert age here), and then add in the old "and what's my purpose" question for good measure. Many of us define ourselves by what we do, and moving from "student" to “recent grad” leaves a similar taste in one's mouth as the switch from "engineer" to “retired.” Most of us walk warily into the great unknown. No one, at any age, wants to be ‘that guy’ (or gal) who is burning through movies and munchies on his couch, sometimes venturing out into the light only for a new box of cereal or something else with crumbs. 

Suggestion to anyone facing a major life transition: say the following to yourself each day. “I am more than my work, I will adjust to constant change, I will adapt to the new, and I will succeed.” And then go get a hobby and invest time into learning something new – from a new language, technology, or skill to a new experience altogether. Whether you’re moping on the couch or out pounding the pavement, the future is constantly being invented, and it takes constant effort to keep up. Oh, and while you’re learning the ‘new,’ you might as well set up an informational interview at one of those firms that’s inventing it. 

3. Move the “Me” to “We”

It’s no surprise that the original “Me” Generation, the baby boomers, have given birth to another generation that focused on the proverbial “me.” Members of Gen Y, staring down rent payments and college loans, are justifiably concerned about there being room in the workplace for “me.” Baby boomers who’ve seen their 401(k)s shrink since 2008 are now planning to work through retirement to make enough money for ‘me’ to pay for healthcare, general living expenses – and support their parents and children! Both generations may be victims of their life stage, but both would be wise to redefine the “Me” into “We.”

Here is a suggestion: Merge forces. Gen Y'ers, think about your generation's most notable entrepreneurs. Now think about them 30 years from now and beyond. They’re not going to stop innovating just because they’re older. And Boomers: think about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Barbara Walters, Jay Leno, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter at age 22. They weren’t worthless just because they were green. Innovation, creativity, contribution and tech savvy are not the property of any one generation or age. So while our workplace ‘expiration date’ in America (much younger elsewhere) is still mistakenly stamped 65, Gen Y’ers should view the 60-something with one foot out the office door as an untapped resource. Bill Gates does not need Warren Buffet’s cash, but he apparently still listens to the 82 year old sage’s advice, because there are still things to learn, do, and in some cases avoid, that can only be known with the insight and experience gained with time. And meanwhile, at over 70 years old, Herbie Hancock does not turn down the volume on 30-something John Mayer. They collaborate and co-create. Boomers: Gen Y'ers are waiting for their big break. Give them that opportunity by collaborating on a project or two – they may be able to show you new ways to do old tasks and spark innovative new ideas for your and your company. Together, the two “me” generations can be much more than the sum of their parts.

MIT AgeLab’s Julie Miller, MSW and Gen Y member contributed to this article.

Image by Shutterstock

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.