Tapping Into the Wisdom of Baby Boomers

Tapping Into the Wisdom of Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers
(Image: iStock.com/kali9)

In the never-ending analysis of this of this year’s presidential election, one somewhat overlooked issue was the age of the candidates.  Yes, Donald Trump is the oldest president ever elected, but I mean age on a deeper level than that.  President Obama, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton were born in 1961, 1946, and 1947, respectively. This makes all of them baby boomers.  And, upon the inauguration, Trump will become the third U.S. president born in 1946, following Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

What does this mean?  Well, besides 1946 being a popular year for birthing presidents, it means that baby boomers’ grip on the presidency, which began with Bill Clinton in 1992, will persist for at least another four years. By 2020, in fact, baby boomers will boast a 28-year run in the White House, with 32 years likely in their crosshairs.

Despite the persistence of baby boomers as presidents, they have started to recede from other segments of society.  According to a 2015 Gallup poll, only one-third of the oldest baby boomers (i.e., those born in 1946, like Trump) are still working.  Also, baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day.  This large number means many more empty work spaces for eagerly waiting gen-Xers and millennials to fill.  It also promises that thousands of promotions await gen-Xers and millennials, as the generational turnover of power ensues.

Less clear, however, that the generational turnover of power means the transfer of knowledge in business, government, and elsewhere.  Recently, President Obama declared that he envisions himself serving as a coach for a new generation of leaders, after his presidency.  Given his accomplishments and the odds he overcame to achieve them, one can only imagine the depth of knowledge and wisdom that President Obama will someday pass on to aspiring progressive leaders. By the same token, one can only imagine the benefit to our society as a whole, if President Obama’s fellow baby boomers enter into a similar coaching and knowledge-sharing arrangement with gen-Xers and millennials.

I have witnessed the benefits of such coaching firsthand in my life.  In the last decade, my parents, who are on the upper end of the Baby Boomer age range, both retired from Ford Motor Company after each spending over 30 years there.  After retiring, they largely tucked away their pearls of wisdom formed through decades spent navigating the unpredictable waters of corporate America.  Then, when I joined the ranks of corporate America following a stint at a law firm, the pearls finally emerged.  Drawing upon their experiences, they have coached me on everything from how to handle certain situations to generally speaking, the various considerations that I, as an African American man, should ponder, in order to advance in my career.

As I receive career coaching from my parents and others their age, I recognize that the pearls of wisdom they offer were formed only through the harshness and turmoil of a more difficult time. Today, I and others of my cohort are the beneficiaries of their struggles in the latter part of the 20th century.  Someday tomorrow, it will be our turn to pass on the lessons from our challenges in the early 21st century.

For now, however, I propose a New Year’s resolution for millennials and gen-Xers alike.  We’ll always be generational rivals, but, when possible, let’s put our age and other differences aside in order to tap into the valuable wisdom of baby boomers and retirees.  They’re almost always willing to share their wisdom, the wisdom itself is free, and each one of us is almost always made better after receiving it.




Stephen BallStephen L. Ball is Government Affairs Counsel for CSAA Insurance Group. A proud Wolverine, Stephen has a B.A. in Political Science and a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Michigan. He also has a J.D. from Harvard Law School. For more information about Stephen, see his LinkedIn page.