Working across generations to create new solutions

My name's Mary and I’m writing to express my solidarity with Generation Squeeze, and to ask that you include me in addressing the challenges of younger Canadians. The thing is, I’m on the other side of 45 and I recently started thinking seriously about my own retirement.

I might seem an odd fit, when I am not dealing with issues like crushing student debt, or skyrocketing home and childcare costs. You wouldn’t think I’d share your concerns about work-life balance, or about the need for a rethink of the traditional consumer practices – for example, private car ownership.

But the reality is, our challenges and values have much in common.

Many people in my age bracket are wondering if “retirement” in the traditional sense is ever going to be possible – or even desirable.

Yes, many of us own houses that have jumped in value lately. But if we all start selling them off at the same time to finance our retirement, who is going to be able to afford to buy them? Besides, unless we move to less expensive communities, we can’t make financial gains this way.

Personally, I don’t necessarily want to retire. Many of my peers like working, and want to be useful. But continued full-time work through our sixties is daunting. Workplaces these days tend to encourage overwork, and it might be nice to start having more time for other parts of my life.

Maybe, in these two sets of challenges and interests, there are some shared solutions.

A systems thinking approach that transcends age groups could reveal new ways of living and working. For instance, how can the “sharing economy” help to reduce our financial squeeze? Can some creative new approaches to home ownership help unlock some of the value in my real estate while also creating an affordable housing opportunity for a younger person or family? Or, can more flexible work arrangements allow older workers to transition to part-time schedules, opening up good jobs for younger people – and at the same time allowing for mentorship and knowledge exchange across generations in the workplace?

From what I’ve seen, some Generation Squeezers are also eager to find totally new ways of doing things.

The sphere of the social venture is crammed with young people making their own jobs – ones that balance profit and social good. A stroll through one of the three sites managed by Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation shows that younger people are already innovating. Take the Toronto Tool Library, for example, which offers shared access to all manner of useful items – from culinary doodads to power tools to a 3-D digital printers – and lessons on how to use them. And of course, we have the The Minimalists, online sensations who reject a 70-80 workweek to live a “meaningful life with less stuff.”

I hosted a session last June at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University’s Design with Dialogue series to see how others in my age bracket were feeling about their workplace exit strategy and life in retirement. While there were some of the usual personal anxieties about pensions and lifestyle, there was recognition of the broader challenges we all share – and a strong desire to think and act inter-generationally to innovate and strengthen our society and leave a more positive legacy.

So, Generation Squeeze, I’m looking for a partner to encourage more positive intergenerational dialogue on how we can create sustainable solutions for Canadians of all ages. Any takers? Together, we can be a powerful force.

Mary Pickering has worked in the field of environmental sustainability for 25 years and currently focuses on aligning multi-sectoral groups around sustainability solutions.


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  • published this page in Blog 2015-03-04 10:31:25 -0800

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