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Baby Boomer Career Options

By Galia BarHava-Monteith

“I need help to look at my options after the career period of my life. My priorities are life style and choosing work that I want to do. How do I do this ? And what do I do? I am a baby boomer!”

To find your best path, first you need to understand what your signature strengths are and how you can find ways to use them in your work and life. I also want to introduce you to the concepts of the pleasant life and the engaged life and the implications they have for your ‘post career’ phase!

What are Signature Strengths?

Professor Martin Seligman and his colleagues in the field of Positive Psychology developed twenty-four signature strengths that can be measured. Strengths are things we choose to develop and possess and we can keep building and proactively enhancing them throughout our lives. Much of our happiness and fulfilment depends on our doing so.

The first thing for you to do is to find out what your signature strengths are. Visit the Authentic Happiness website to register and take the VIA test. And remember these are strengths across ALL of your life and what your top five are might really surprise you! We find this reaction with many of the women we work with.

Once you’ve found out what your signature strengths are, do three things:

  1. evaluate how often you actually get to use them in your current work – try to make sure you get to use them at work EVERY DAY.
  2. think about how much you get to use your signature strengths in your activities beyond work
  3. finally consider what other work options are open to you where you could use your signature strengths.

For example, if one of your signature strengths is ‘Love of Learning, ask yourself:

  • Do I learn something new at least once a week at work?
  • Do my activities beyond work let me develop and build on my love of learning?
  • What can I do after my current ‘career phase’ which will enable me to continue to learn?

The answers might surprise you. You might realise that you’d actually like to go back to university to study something different. If another top signature strength is Creativity, Ingenuity and Originality, you might end up taking up art or music.

On the Pleasant Life and the Engaged Life

The next thing that Positive Psychology has to offer when it comes to life choices is the distinction between the pleasant life and the engaged life.

The pleasant life is what most people think of when it comes to retirement. Lying on the beach, spending lots of time with friends traveling and enjoying the good things in life. According to Seligman, the pleasant life is what hedonic theories of happiness endorse: it is about having lots of positive emotions in the present, past and future and working to enhance these emotions. However, studies show that the sole pursuit of pleasure is only marginally correlated with higher life satisfaction and lower depression.

Enter the engaged life. This is the life that pursues engagement, involvement and absorption in everything we do, be it our work, relationships and leisure activities. Flow is the term coined by one of the leading researchers in this field, Csikszentmihalyi, who documented that when people are highly engaged in activities, they enjoy a unique physiological state where time passes quickly, their attention is completely focused on the activity and their sense of self is lost. In essence, being totally engaged is best described as the absence of feeling. When you do something you are totally engrossed in, you forget to eat, to think and even to feel!

According to Seligman, people who want to increase flow in their lives can do so by identifying their signature strengths are and actively finding ways to use them more in everything they do.

Studies on the engaged life demonstrated that people who pursue meaning and engagement have significantly higher life satisfaction and lower depression. This contrasts markedly with results for those who only pursue the pleasant life. Looking into ‘your post-career’ phase of life, I believe this is especially important as so many people enter this phase and very quickly find out that it isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be! So remember, the engaged life is what will generate the most well-being and, yes, happiness for you in the long run.

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