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What to Do When Your Colleagues Are Starting to Retire, But You Feel Like You Can Keep Going?

It’s an issue for LeBron James, but it’s also an issue for the 9-5 cog

LeBron James, the greatest basketball player in the world, is currently in the midst of his 16th NBA season. Last year, many argued that the four-time NBA MVP was having his best season to date, and this year, he’s well on his way to another MVP-caliber season (before he hurt his groin, of course).

In other words, it’s common knowledge that at an age when most athletes are pretty much done — James’ fellow draft class members, which include Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and Kendrick Perkins (all former or current All-Stars) are either retired, retiring after this season or unsigned and well on their way to retirement — James is still at the top of his game. My point being, amongst the many members of the coveted 2003 NBA draft class, James is the last man standing, still playing basketball like the god-king that he is.

Which makes you wonder, what’s a guy working a normal job supposed to do when his friends and fellow colleagues are all busy blowing out the candles on their retirement cakes? Sure, it’s fair to argue that sports reality is a far cry from 9-5 reality. But everyone’s career trajectory being different, it’s not hard to believe that some of us will still feel the urge to clock in at 9 a.m. well past the tender age of 60, while our colleagues are busy doing retirement things, like playing golf or dying.

According to Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, it can feel unsettling or even isolating when you realize you’ve become the oldest employee in the office. “While some folks embrace the ‘cross-generational’ workplace and enjoy the company of their younger colleagues, others have a harder time accepting the fact that they’re no longer on the younger end of the age spectrum at work,” she says. “It can feel challenging to connect with younger colleagues who are at different stages of their lives.”

If you’re uncomfortable feeling like the last veteran worker left standing in the office, there are steps you can take to manage those feelings and stay focused.

Recognize the Value You Bring

“One of the most valuable skills you bring to the table is your experience,” says Augustine. “As an older worker, you have the ability — actually, a responsibility — to share the lessons you’ve learned along the way, and to help influence and motivate others in your field.”

Play the Role of Colleague, Not Parent

“Nobody, not even you, wants to get lectured from someone else at work about how things were done ‘back in my day,’” Augustine tells me. “If you’re going to impart your pearls of wisdom on your co-workers or boss, try to position it as lessons you’ve learned from a previous similar situation.”

Don’t Confuse Age with Experience

“Just as you wouldn’t want someone to judge your work based on your age, don’t do the same to those less seasoned at the office,” explains Augustine. “While they may be younger, you can’t assume they don’t possess the necessary skills or experience to do their job well. This is especially true if you work in a field where there have been many technological advances over the years. Younger generations often had exposure to tools and training opportunities in their teens, whereas you may have had to wait until you were in your first job.”

Invest in Your Network — Both In and Out of the Office

You don’t have to attend every company ‘happy hour’ in order to be deemed a ‘team player,’ but you do need to figure out a way to fit some of these work-related social activities into your calendar,” says Augustine. “Valuable networking takes place during these after-hours team socials, which can lead to new projects and responsibilities back in the office. Find a solution that works best for you, such as lunch-break walks on Mondays or after-work drinks on Wednesdays, and take the initiative to set it up with your boss or colleague.”

Look for Mutually Beneficial Mentoring Opportunities

“If you find it hard to connect with your younger colleagues, look for opportunities to mentor some of the newest arrivals to your group,” Augustine explains. “Remember, your work experience will give you credibility in the office. Leverage it to find the right mentee. Not only will this help you connect with the younger generation at the office and provide you with some gratification, but it can benefit your career, as well.” Augustine adds that just because your co-worker is young enough to be your daughter doesn’t mean she’s unqualified. “In fact, she may be able to teach you new shortcuts or explain new technologies that will help you keep your skills relevant,” she explains.

So sure, you may feel out of touch with an office full of people who commute to work on a scooter but let’s face it, golf is a pointless sport anyway and, well, early retirement is just a quick stop before an early death.