Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

We ain't all CEOs

Previously I commented here about the long shadow cast on job-seeking techniques by the legacy of Bernard Haldane and the executive culture of the 1950s. Since then I've had two further reasons to question the conventional wisdom.

A discussion on the LinkedIn group Career Change Central goes on at some length about personal branding, which has become the buzz-phrase of the moment. This one increases its buzziness by an order of magnitude because it discusses personal branding in the context of using social networking for job searches. That has become an even more prevalent buzz-phrase.

It isn't that these ideas don't have merit. It is that examples which speak to the networks and culture of the executive suite don't address the needs of ordinary worker. A friend of mine has stretched his benefits with occasional day labour on construction sites. Sometimes, he says, you have to stand out on the corner with the undocumented aliens. But the job search gurus don't seem to get it.

Along these lines, one reason many people of my generation are anxious or pessimistic about retirement is that they have accepted the generalisations of the financial planning gurus without considering their own situation. Those generalisations recommend financial resources that are perhaps half again what the most diligent working stiff is able to acquire in a lifetime of none-too-stable employment. As a result, they are alarming, depressing, and actually offer more discouragement than encouragement.

I was in a meeting the other day with a non-profit finance person, who pointed out the core fallacy. These generalisations may be valid if you have large and relatively unavoidable expenses, such as a $3000 a month mortgage or children still in college. However, if your children are grown and if you are accustomed to living modestly, she maintained that one can retire on considerably less than conventional wisdom dictates. We had run our own figures recently and come to much the same conclusion.

The lesson for people who feel economically unready for retirement is to do their own math and consider their own situation. The takeaway for financial planners is that we don't all need a new BMW every other year or travel four times a year. Now that the top 20% has to live like the rest of us, the planners would do well to lower their targets in tune with lowered (i.e., reasonable) expectations.

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