Those of us in our 40s and 50s are facing an unprecedented set of circumstances at this stage of our careers. And it’s making the concept of retirement look unrealistic.
First of all, the adoption of automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics has accelerated thanks to the pandemic, even as the technology has vastly improved. It remains to be seen how many jobs are lost in the next few years, but odds are whatever layoffs happen will impact people our age first and foremost.
In a sobering piece from ProPublica, data reveals that once you’re over 50, odds are the decision to leave your job won’t be yours. Although age discrimination is illegal, companies use layoffs and coerced “early retirement” to shed themselves of older employees.
Combine this with the fact that Gen X is generally behind on retirement savings, and a layoff in your 50s could be devastating. Besides, retirement isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.
Plus, the prospect of even greater longevity and vitality is bright for people our age, as long as we take care of ourselves now. So, it stands to reason that many of us will see no reason to stop working at 65, 70, or higher — if we’re still into what we’re doing, which is key.
That’s what’s driving the unretirement trend.
Welcome to the land of the unretired — folks who thought they were leaving the work world only to return because they sorely missed something about it, besides the money. These people in their 50s through 80s retired on pensions or savings — or both — but ultimately woke up to the fact there’s more to life than watching Florida sunsets.
For us, unretirement is a bit different, in that it means planning to not retire at 65. Instead, the idea is to start our own businesses that not only allow us to keep going, but to also want to. All while living wherever we want, and traveling as much as we want.
I got some interesting feedback on our recent piece about midlife entrepreneurs. For many, the drive to start a business is powered by a lack of respect in the job market, which is an established reality even though it’s incredibly short sighted.
It’s no secret that employers have a preference for younger workers. While our expertise and experience should make us more valuable than the kids, we’re also more expensive – and sadly that’s all many firms seem to focus on unless you’re safely in the executive suite.
A Different Kind of Intelligence
It’s true that our mental processors slow down a bit as we age. This is a diminishing of fluid intelligence, which is the abstract problem-solving ability we relied on when we were younger.
But what we’ve gained is called crystallized intelligence. Crystallized intelligence is defined as the ability to use the vast set of knowledge and experience you’ve acquired over the years, and it tends to increase with age through one’s forties, fifties, and sixties. Plus, it doesn’t diminish until quite late in life, if ever.
Basically, when we’re young, we have raw intelligence. But now we have the wisdom to do more than simply generate and process facts. We know what those facts mean and how to use them.
This is why you’ll see college professors older than 65 who are still going strong. More interestingly, a study in The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that the oldest college professors tend to have the best teaching evaluations.
That’s because their crystallized intelligence allows them to be much better teachers than their younger colleagues. A younger professor may have a powerful processor, but lacks the ability to synthesize and explain complex information as well as their older counterparts.
In his book Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, Arthur C. Brooks explores what we lose and gain at midlife. In discussing the diminishment of fluid intelligence and the power of crystallized intelligence, he offers this advice:
There always exists the ability to redesign your career less on innovation and more on instruction as the years pass, thus playing to your strengths with age.
Devote the back half of your life to serving others with your wisdom. Get old sharing the things you believe are most important. Excellence is always its own reward, and this is how you can be most excellent as you age.
I’m of the opinion that you can start any type of business you want in your 40s, 50s and beyond. But there’s a particular type of digital business that caters specifically to those with crystalized intelligence, while providing the ideal location-independent freedom that makes our version of unretirement so appealing.
The Mentor Model
It’s also the type of business I’ve been running for the last 16 years or so. I call it the mentoring model, and it’s basically an expertise-based business that helps guide others to solutions to specific problems they want to solve.
When you think about leaving your job, freelancing or consulting based on your years of experience and expertise immediately come to mind as an option. And that’s a good starting point, but there’s so much more to make of it with the right approach.
Let’s look at the common variations for expertise businesses:
- Consulting: In this familiar model, you use your experience and expertise to create solutions to business problems. It’s a “do it for them” practice that also encompasses freelance services like writing and design.
- Coaching: In a coaching model, you provide individual or small group mentoring to help people achieve a desired result. This is a “done with them” practice.
- Courses: Finally, you can sell your expertise in the form of self-paced courses as digital products. This is the “do it themselves” option.
What you may not realize is that each model can lead to the next in succession, and your business can include all three. All it takes is a bit of strategic intention to build a personal enterprise based on the mentor model.
Based on what you learn from consulting directly with clients, you can then “productize” your expertise into frameworks that work as group coaching vehicles. And those same frameworks will allow you to teach your methodology in the form of one or more online courses.
Of course, the question that’s likely on your mind right now is “How do I attract clients, much less sell courses?” The answer is you first attract an audience of people with the kind of problem you solve.
Attracting an audience as the catalyst for a business is something I’ve done my entire 24 year entrepreneurial career. And the approach has become more mainstream with the emergence of the creator economy.
If you’re not familiar with that term, the creator economy refers to a business model where those who create content get paid directly by their audience. That’s contrasted with the traditional approach of being compensated by a middleman such as a publisher, producer, or other “old media” entity.
If you pay attention to mainstream media coverage of the creator economy, it will almost always have to do with people creating content on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube. But the “audience-first” business model dates back to the early days of blogging and podcasting.
We may use social media to point people in the right direction, and that’s usually to an email list. In fact, the best attraction vehicle for your mentoring business would look something like an email newsletter like Further.
That’s because unlike with creators who are paid (and controlled) by the big platforms, the best way to sell consulting, coaching, and courses is by email. It’s the best digital sales channel there is, and it’s been that way for a long time – with no signs of letting up.
This approach is how I started three profitable seven figure companies between 2007 and 2009. I then went on to create an eight-figure software and hosting company in 2010 using the same audience-first model.
Since that business was acquired, I’m keeping things small. But it’s still possible to make hundreds of thousands or millions in high-margin revenue thanks to having an audience and a few crucial (but inexpensive) technology tools.
Want to Find Out More?
We’ll be exploring “mentor model” businesses inside Well + Wealthy. That’s the Further membership community dedicated to health, wealth, and personal growth for people in their 40s and 50s.
Right now you can get an entire year inside Well + Wealthy for only $49. Or give it a three-month spin for only $15. Our membership pricing will double soon, so lock in your spot and maintain that low pricing for the life of your membership.