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The Gray Hair Career Guide

By Marty Nemko

As we get older, we face special career issues:

How long must I work so I don't run out of savings? You can get an estimate at, and click on “How long will my money last?”

A core assumption in such calculations is, “What is my expected rate of return on my investments?” Many people are counting on their real estate equity to fund much of their retirement. I believe the Bay Area real estate bubble is about to burst. Housing prices cannot remain at a level so high that a physician can’t afford to buy an average home.

Consider selling your investment real estate and perhaps trading your residence for a smaller one or renting. For people with moderate risk tolerance, I recommend dividing the proceeds between a Vanguard Index Fund ( and Berkshire Hathaway stock. The latter is a group of investments selected by Warren Buffett, one of the world’s great investors. I’m more comfortable betting on Warren Buffett’s investment picks than on the future price of a mundane house that currently costs a half million dollars.

How long do I want to work?

Many people retire only to find that a few months after retirement, they’re bored, miss working, or can’t stand being with their spouse 24/7. So, if you’re in good health and it isn’t clear you could fill at least the next year with a more gratifying existence, keep working.

I’m beginning to lose my energy and cognitive skills. Should I retire?

First see if you could adjust your job description so you spend more time sharing the wisdom that a lifetime usually confers. The role of wise adviser, problem solver, and trainer is often less demanding than being a crank-it-out worker bee.

I’d like to derive more meaning from my work. But how?

Many people think the only answer is a career change into a “make-a-difference” career. Especially after age 40, however, this can be difficult to do while meeting your expenses. Easier is to ask yourself, “How can I make more of a difference in my current job? Do I want to mentor a younger employee? Learn a new skill? Speak my truth about a political issue? Take a leadership role in an employee fundraising effort? Speak out against unethical practices in my workplace? Volunteer for a charity that could really use my help?”

I’m unemployed. How can I convince employers to hire me?

Don’t try to hide your age. Sell it. In your cover letter, give an example or two of how your experience has been or could be invaluable to that employer. If you’re in good health and have good energy, point that out. On average, older workers are more, not less reliable than younger ones.

A word about image. Both men and women might consider coloring their hair. In interviews and after you’re hired, avoid clothes mainly worn by seniors, for example, a kelly green alpaca cardigan over a madras shirt. Wear timeless designs: Rule of thumb: Never wear anything a 20-something would call stylish.

I’d like to change careers. Is it too late?

If you’ve got enough drive and ability, it’s rarely too late. For example, Sue Mathias was a stay-at-home mom, but when her kids went off to college, she decided she’d love to be a helicopter based traffic reporter. She got her pilot’s license, wrote to the general manager of the local CBS Radio affiliate and, the now grandmother of 12, got hired!

But what if you don’t have fire in your belly and you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed? Are you doomed to staying in that same old job you’re tired of? Consider senior-friendly workplaces, for example: old-line industries such as banking, transportation, food and wine, nonprofits serving the aged, senior housing, teaching, architecture (Mainly older people are in a position to hire architects), the government (It makes great efforts to not be ageist), fundraising (Big donors are generally older and prefer dealing with their age peers).

Also consider self-employment. Use your lifetime of experience as a consultant? Run an espresso cart (with a name such as “Grandma’s Grind”) in a carefully selected location? Or consider one of the few ways to earn while you sleep-- affiliate marketing on the Internet. (Check out

Advice I’m Giving Myself. I’m now 53. I figure I better use it wisely before I lose it. So, I tell myself to take on only clients I truly believe in, and to share with my readers, clients, and listeners as many new and valuable ideas as I can come up with. The old saw, “No one ever died wishing they spent more time at the office,” doesn’t apply to me. I’d prefer to croak while working.

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