Founder of Next For Me
Describe your career paths including any twist or turns ending with where you are now.
I am Jeff Tidwell and I am currently in YosemIte Natural Park in California. I had a 35 year career in technology, I worked in Silicon Valley and New York for E*Trade and WebMD, I have worked with a lot of startups and started some companies of my own.
At some point, I started realising that I wasn’t the youngest guy in the room anymore and that people were treating me in a different way. I thought that was completely interesting and ignored it and went on about my way and then I was asked to do a talk about inclusion in tech and so because I am gay and 60 those were two things that were sort of pulling against me in the professional world. But like many of us in this generation who came out of activism and take experimental approaches to how things work, one thing lead to another and I thought there needs to be a voice for what is happening here and I started Next For Me.
Next For Me’s mission is to connect and inspire our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose or a new social contribution. We publish news and resources for our 50+ generation and we host events across the US. With a background in publishing and consumer internet, it was logical that I ended up here.
What decision / experience proved to be the most helpful to your NEW career?
I would say talking about it. I pushed myself into the situation to speak about this publicly and once you talk about something or write about it, it becomes more vivid. With the encouragement of a long-time colleague Chip Conley, who had just written a book called The Wisdom @ Work: How to Reinvent the Second Half of Your Career, I started thinking more about what is called the Longevity Economy. The Longevity Economy reframes our ideas about “oldness” and instead looks at the opportunities being missed by neglecting a growing population of healthy, active elders. It is sort of funny, how an industry of marketers have ignored these demographics in a lot of ways. For example, only 5% of advertising is pushed towards an audience that accounts for one-third of the population in the US.
One thing lead to another and I started writing a series in Forbes magazine and again it illuminated what we were doing at Next For Me and it made me think about it in a clearer way than if we had just been go-go-go all the time. What we started learning was that yes, caregiving for ageing parents matters and knee replacements will happen but keeping people working is of top concern, certainly, rewarding work is important, but also the money really matters if you are living 20 to 30 years longer.
The old retirement rules don’t apply anymore and especially in the US where the idea of a pension is basically gone and living on social security alone means living at the poverty level for many people. This comes at a time when people are still recovering from the financial collapse of 2008, and at the same time their kids are coming home from college with all this debt, and then boom their parents get sick. Through this all you are trying to stay relevant in your work because you need the income and people are starting to say no to you. It is really an existential crisis for those in this 50 to 65 age range. As a company, we doubled down on this and said work matters and from work comes financial readiness.
So much of this has to do with mindset, do you have the strength and the will to reinvent yourself, to try something new, to start a company when the world is saying no to you. At Next For Me, we talk about really practical things like how to up your LinkedIn game, how to make social media work for you and provide guides to help you look for a job. We want to be a catalyst for positive transformation.
Where or to whom did you look for inspiration when thinking about making a career change?
I would say I took inspiration from businesses that work in creative ways, who say we are are going to be agile and quick and scrappy and figure out a way to do this without spending all our time looking for money. I have been involved in startups and knew I didn’t want to repeat that whole Silicon Valley thing where you spend all your time hustling for investment instead of getting your product right. There is a sacrifice of course because you are operating with a whole lot less capital and the money you have is coming out of your pocket or friends and families. It puts the heat on. We are a for-profit business. We care a lot about saving this generation from financial ruin. But we think it is smart to practice what we preach and we preach that now is a good time to make money and bring your wisdom with you and everything that comes with that.
So can you give some examples?
The Lean Startup is a really great book and it has become almost a bible in Silicon Valley for startups. It’s about learning what your customers really want, testing, measuring and repeating to constantly improve your product or service.
Another book I read last year is called New Power. The authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timmsy talk about how the new communication structures in the world have changed the power dynamic, we see this a lot with Facebook and Twitter and how this has impacted everything from politics to business. In the appendix to the book, there is a glossary of terms that help define the New Power and one term that really stood out for me was the idea of a “camel”. In their words “a camel delivers economic returns that are less spectacular than those of its alter-ego the ‘unicorn,’ but serves an important social function and can sustain investors and its community for the long term.” This really appealed to us, we have big ambitions but in these early days we are trying to sustain ourselves by selling what we know, so we sell research to marketers. For consumers, we want to be a catalyst and for marketers, we are letting them know that they are really missing the boat and we can help them better understand this audience and know how to talk to them.
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Start selling from the beginning and I don’t mean to get investment. What is the product? I think that is part of the problem with this startup culture, the thinking goes, get a big audience and get them hooked, then figure out how to make a profit. We don’t subscribe to that necessarily, we think that taking your time and understanding the market is more valuable.
What do you think the biggest challenge is for people making a career re-entry or re-invention later life?
Themselves. Resistance. People think, ‘I don’t want to learn Slack, I already have too many inputs coming in’ or ‘All these kids do is text and they don’t use punctuation’. So what, things change. It is about being open to learning new things because the world has changed, even looking for a job has changed so much from when you first got out of college.
And don’t forget about keeping your networks going, your network ages out and if you are trying something new, there is a whole new world of people and connections to be made.
There’s ageism, there is no denying that but hopefully, that is changing with all this talk about diversity and inclusion. Still, only 8% of companies include age in their diversity and inclusion programmes. This stuff is really embedded in us, we have been raised with these ideas of what old people are and we dismiss ourselves. Open your mind, step back, try and learn some new things and you will see doors open a lot more easily for you.
What do you think are the opportunities for people wanting to work into their 50s and 60s and beyond.
I think they are good if you have the right attitude. The world is changing, there is a shortage of workers and so once companies realise, either by the threat of lawsuits or new laws or just because they need help then they are going to have to change their cultures. There is a lot of proof that an intergenerational workforce is more productive and more creative.
What is your top tip for people thinking of re-inventing their careers?
First of all, do some personal exploration. What’s important to you? What do you stand for? What are the principles that you want to operate within? Who do you want to associate with as a result of this? This gives you a foundation to start exploring things and a road map to ask yourself does it comply with my core values? And if it doesn’t, move on and go as quickly as you can to the next thing.
Recommendation: Favourite book to read, a website to browse or podcast to listen to while drinking coffee?
Because networking is so critical I suggest a book by Karen Wickre called Taking the Work out of Networking. She is not only an advisor to our company but she is also a former executive at Twitter and Google. She is a self-professed introvert and yet she is the ultimate networker and connector and she writes about how to do it in a way that is complementary to the person that you are meeting and to you.