Let’s face it. Ageism against older workers has always existed, but it has never become more obvious than now. Especially with the breath taking pace of technological change.
Once you hit 40, job prospects start to diminish. Employers begin to question your ability to learn and adapt. And at age 50, your prospects drop off a cliff. Exceptions are if you’re pursuing the “greeter at Walmart” minimum wage jobs. Or if you’re sufficiently well connected to be a professional board member. Otherwise, it seems there is nothing in-between.
But what happens when a baby boomer does not go quietly into the night and instead struggles to reinvent himself?
Well, I found the story of someone who did just that. It was both a funny and critical look at the workplace today. And teaches the importance of being financially independent!
Dan Lyons’ Story – It Ends Badly, But Hilariously
I recently discovered the book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons. The author is an early 50s, very accomplished journalist for Newsweek who got suddenly laid off. He fears he will never work again.
But after significant searching and struggle, he struck what he thought was a gold mine. He started working as a content marketer for the inbound marketing start-up HubSpot, which was planning an IPO at the time. (It has since gone public, making millions for founders and certain employees.)
But it turns out that this gold mine is actually a land mine. It completely blows up. And – SPOILER ALERT – he and HubSpot have a very unhappy parting of ways after a little bit over 1 year.
And it seems worse than most situations. There are criminal investigations, executive level terminations, social media flame wars, and exposes in multiple newspapers.
I think some of the problems are related to age, but others are related to a lack of political awareness on Lyons’ part. As a hard-nosed newsman, it seems that Lyons had never been in a pure management role that required constant political maneuvering. As a result, minor clashes escalated into full fledged battles that could otherwise be easily avoided.
My Take-Aways for Financial Independence & Life
But what can we glean from Dan Lyons’ experience as a seasoned, old school worker trying to fit into a youthful start-up?
Lesson #1 – Don’t rely on just your job
For the financial independence minded readers, this should be a no brainer. It may sound extreme, but I believe you should assume you will be given termination notice tomorrow. Since 2008, I’ve always assumed this, and it pushed me to take action. So you should take action now to mitigate that risk.
Lyons was fairly senior worker bee in print media – a dying industry. Lyons had some side hustle money by giving speeches, but it clearly wasn’t enough. And his wife had just left her teaching job due to health reasons when the lay-off happened. As the story opens, the family (they have 6-year old twins) is about to take a vacation to Austria, which they can” just about afford”.
Reading between the lines, it seems that Lyons had never thought about what might happen if he simply couldn’t work again. He seemed to assume that he would always have a job that would pay the bills. So when he suddenly didn’t, he was in a panic.
Lesson #2 – Hypocrisy is your shield
To put it bluntly, to survive in an organization, you need to be identified as embracing the culture. This means dressing, acting, speaking, etc. in uniformity. Even when your inner soul (and logical brain) is screaming in defiance. But keep a part of your heart and your mind well-protected and well-hidden for the one day you achieve freedom. Let hypocrisy be your shield.
Lyons uses indirect references to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 when describing the company culture. He seems aghast and horrified that people seemed to be brainwashed. But this is the rule, not the exception. Actually, I’m surprised that he is so surprised. Every successful organization needs to create an “insider” and “outsider” demarcation. The smart members learn to survive long enough to be financially independent so they can leave on their own terms.
Lesson #3 – Leave your ego at the door.
There’s a reason why you are reinventing yourself. The old you at your old company couldn’t survive. A drowning person shouldn’t disparage their life-preserver. After I moved to Shanghai, I quickly learned to not mention to coworkers my previous high paying, prestigious jobs on Wall Street. I made this mistake in the beginning, and there would always be an unspoken, “What the hell are you doing here?” look. I learned to leave my ego at the door.
Throughout the book, Lyons expresses an eye-rolling, snarky attitude toward his much younger coworkers. At times, he actually did sound like a curmudgeon who was behind the times. It was hilarious to read – and I laughed aloud at times – but I’m sure his condescension irked his coworkers. So when things started to sour, there was no one there to vouch for him.
Your aim should be financial independence, not one-upmanship. Remember that you are a sojourner in a strange land. Your time at this particular company will come to an end. You’re just passing through.
What about you? Have you read the book “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble,” by Dan Lyons?
Do you have any crazy corporate culture anecdotes to share?