Saturday, September 17, 2011

What will you be doing in your miserable 40s ?

"At 15 I set my heart on learning; at 30 I firmly took my stand; at 40 I had no delusions; at 50 I knew the Mandate of Heaven; at 60 my ear was attuned; at 70 I followed my heart's desire without overstepping the boundaries of right." - Confucius

Confucius was wrong, he never was an IT guy and given the complexity of the modern era, having no delusions in only the first step in planning for your 40s.

A recurring theme in my discussions with my IT team-mates ( who are coincidentally my age ) is that our career mobility faces a drastic reduction the moment we hit our 40s. This means that by the age of 40, it is vitally important that we position ourselves in a place where we can hold onto a job.

For IT professionals, this is bad news. The industry places a very low premium on the experience of most technical professionals, so to survive, we have to perform a balancing act of developing domain knowledge that is largely experience-driven versus keeping up with the latest developments in modern technology.

In the my current environment in NTUC, I urge my team not to benchmark internally, as others within NTUC become more valuable with more social capital, but for us IT guys, we need to convince ourselves that we can find employment somewhere else at the drop of a hat. It's too easy to get complacent in labour union.

So for myself, I have to lead from the front, I just scored my CGEIT, in the middle of my TOGAF certification and very likely to end the year with CRISC. My team has been asked to focus on security management, cloud computing and consumerization to remain relevant for the rest of the industry.

But somehow at the back of mind, for the generation of Gen-X executives, staying relevant within the industry is not enough, here are some of my thoughts which I may not find comfortable echoing within my workplace :

a) Your career income flow is only one flow.

While your dividend income moves with the markets, your earned income has a fluctuation of it's own. The amount of effort you need to maintain your earned income flow depends very much on political connections in the office and how useful you can make yourself to your superiors. You can have a few key projects in a peaceful year but staff turnover can result in a new boss the following year which can result in a personality clash. Having two flows with two different sources of risk can ease you into your 40s in a much easier manner.

b) Your 40s are going to be your most miserable years in your life.

My studies in psychology confirm that our 40s are likely to be our most miserable years. Our careers will become fixed at this stage and we're not likely to climb much further. Family men have mortgages to handle and young kids cope with. It is also logical that many of us will starting losing our parents to old age at this stage of our lives.

Singles are slightly luckier, but they will need to take their parents health as a key consideration for planning their career in their 40s.

c) Gen-X needs to loosen up.

Somehow I think that Gen-Y's priorities are very different and very new age. They probably will not face the same kind of misery we will eventually face because they were never sold to the world of corporate employment and mindless consumerism we were sold to in the 80s and 90s.

While Singaporean used to scoff at making meaning through artistic endeavour in our youth, it's time to use our financial independence to earn back at least a small part of our souls. This means doing something to enrich our experiences through art, entrepreneurship,travel or meditation.

This last point on loosening up is my weakest suit. I'm aggressively pursuing artistic pursuits and using this market downturn to pay for some courses.

Time will tell if I can succeed when I hit my big 4-0 in 2014.

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