It’s been a few years since I was 30. My younger daughter just celebrated her 30th birthday this past Monday. I do recall, however, that at age 30 I wasn’t thinking about retirement. In fact, at that age I believe I was working as a newspaper reporter and loving every minute of it.
The reason I bring this up is because I overheard two conversations while at lunch the other day. It’s not my practice to overhear what others are saying, but I was in a restaurant whose tables were somewhat close together. Also I was sitting in a greenhouse dining room of this eatery and the acoustics were such that you could clearly hear everything anyone anywhere in the room was saying. Now I was there to have a quiet, relaxing getaway lunch. It was actually a bit of a celebration for myself and this restaurant was close to my home and has a great menu.
There were two distinct conversations going on. One was between three young men two tables down and over. They were in a computer technical business and talking about the desire to start their own company because they had some kind of unique innovation. The other conversation was between a couple sitting at the table next to mine. They were talking about retirement. How do I know all these folks were 30-somethings? Because at some point I heard age mentioned at each table.
Now I don’t pretend to know what generational alphabetical group 30-somethings belong to…being a child of the 1960’s I hate being labeled…yet will identify myself as a Baby Boomer – go figure! However, I found it interesting that in both conversations there was a distinct lack of hope.
The young men spoke of a company that used to have a machine shop that could have handled this new “thing” they had as the center of their talk, but that the company had had to phase out the machine shop due to the economy. They mentioned another company that had gone bankrupt. One young man said he really wanted to be a part of a new start-up but that it just didn’t make sense to do now. Obviously I wasn’t privy to their entire conversation and I truly tried not to listen but it was a clear demonstration of how the national [and global] economic woes of this past year or two has filtered down to a particular generation and affected their dreams and hopes.
The young couple did surprise me though. Wanting to retire at age 50 but not seeing anyway to do it. Asking one another if it would be possible to have, by age 50, a 401K sum combined with Social Security income that would allow comfortable living for the rest of their lives. I wonder if they realize that if they do retire at age 50 and stay healthy, that they would be looking at another 30 or 40 years? And they are assuming – a huge assumption – that Social Security will be there for them to draw from. And they are assuming – another huge assumption – that they will actually have a sizable 401K to live on.
What struck me the most was the shared pessimism. At one table there was an attempt at entrepreneurial spirit, but it was heavily dampened by harsh economic realities. At the other table was resignation that a desire to retire at age 50 just didn’t look possible…one question I heard was, ‘will I have to work until I’m 79?’
On my walk back home after lunch I thought on all of this. I am hoping that the economy will turn itself around and soon so that the 30-somethings of the world can build fires of enthusiasm under themselves and see possibilities and opportunities. I actually feel fortunate to have lived long enough to know that black clouds part after a time and the sun does come out.