Like all of us do, Lawrence Miller aimed to be happy in retirement. And when he was 54, he decided it was time. He would quit working and, according to conventional wisdom, finally start really enjoying himself. He sold his consulting firm and was ready to let enormous life satisfaction pump him up.

Except it didn't. Once Miller was  free from the daily grind, the only thing he felt was unfulfilled, even though he was literally living the stereotypical retirement dream of sailing the world. He missed helping his clients, and he missed improving himself, too. Some solo consulting for a while helped, but he soon realized he wanted something different.

The solution? Teaching online through Udemy.

Enjoying life through the gig economy

"Udemy does two things for me," Miller explains. "First, it allows me to share my knowledge and experience without the demands of travel. I have 47 years of experience helping organizations change their culture and performance. I can now share that online. Second, it has forced me to develop new skills. It is a new challenge to develop the skills of developing effective online presentations and courses. This is a new muscle to exercise, a new opportunity for growth and experimentation."

And Miller isn't the only  baby boomer using the gig economy to find happiness later in life. A Prudential survey showed that a third of people working exclusively in the gig economy are boomers, and that 3 out of 4 of them like and don't want to change their work situation. Miller hypothesizes this might be because the gig economy allows individuals to use their strengths and gain self-esteem from contributing, minus the demands to conform to bureaucratic pressures. He further asserts that Americans need to face the reality that systems like Social Security and Medicare will collapse if every boomer calls it quits at the "nonsensical" age of 65. There's zero reason to stop sharing, he says, if you're physically and mentally able to give.

 

"I am essentially against retirement as it is promoted in our culture. When you shut down your brain, when you cease exercising the intellectual muscle, you begin the process of death. Most of us will live well into our eighties. The idea that at the magical age of 65 you are supposed to shut down your brain is an insane waste of human capital. Most of us who are in the knowledge economy are at our peak of intellectual skills and value when we are condemned to retirement. One could argue that this is a form of age-based genocide.

 

Other cultures, like the Native American cultures, have honored and valued the elderly and sought their wisdom. Current western culture has worshipped youth and dismissed what I will call the "mature" generation. There is great value in the energy of youth. But, there is also great value in lessons well learned by those of an older generation."

 

A statistical portrait of need--and hope

Frank Visciano, Udemy's VP of Marketplace Content and Operations, says that the world's best teachers aren't always found in traditional classrooms. Diversity, he says, makes Udemy better, and the company welcomes expertise from all ages and backgrounds. And with Udemy now serving 17 million students through 55,000 classes and 60 different languages, Visciano acknowledges that the platform is in a good position to make a positive difference for older workers. 

"More and more Americans are finding they need to spend their golden years working because of longer lifespans and increased expenses," Visciano says. "Almost 19% of people 65 of older were working at least part time according to a recent U.S. jobs report. It may be hard for workers nearing the age of retirement to find employment in their chosen careers (even those with a college degree have less than a 50% chance of finding a job as compared with 35% for those without degrees), and Udemy offers a flexible opportunity to remain vital and productive in a retiree's respective field.  For many, retirement is a welcome opportunity to focus on your true passion and still make a contribution to society, on your terms. On Udemy, we see retirees refining their skills for various pursuits, deeping writing skills--or coding--and increasingly, those with the motivation and time are creating online courses, teaching and sharing their expertise."

Visciano adds that about 70 percent of Udemy content relates to professional skills. While this means young individuals can get a great foundation for their careers, it also means that there are many different options for those with experience to help out while earning a paycheck. And personal transformation classes--for example, a class that teaches you how to play piano--are growing in popularity, too. This demonstrates that people don't just want to gain skills. They want to be better and keep exploring, no matter their age.

Many of us look forward to retirement as a time when we can slow down and take life in leisure. It's that leisure and choice that's supposed to satisfy. But cases like Miller's suggest that happiness when you're older comes from feeling confident that you still have a purpose, from continuing to discover and connect with others. Meaningful work can be a way to access that confidence. The wonderful thing is, what you do and how, when and where you work can be entirely up to you.

Published on: Nov 2, 2017