Are You A Museum Baby Boomer? Consider This: Leaving Well is the Best Revenge

cartoon strip

Dear museum baby boomers, this post is for you.

If you were born after 1964, this may confirm or support some of your worst fears, so you may want to give it a pass. Here at Leadership Matters we’re now in the chapter where some of our museum mentors are retired–taking cooking classes, exercising like fiends, traveling, reading novels–while others are beginning to announce their retirement dates. Or they are starting to do the work to make that happen: achieving the last, penultimate position, beefing up their consulting business, downsizing, buying the forever home. You know the drill.

Then there are the folks who should be planning their exit, but aren’t. The only decision they’ve made is to stay on as long as possible. They’re treading water, sucking up big(ger) salaries, and contributing in the most lacklustre fashion. They give the rest of us a bad name. Don’t get us wrong. We more than understand that the overall crappiness of museum salaries may mean working ’til age 70 isn’t a choice but a necessity. But, we firmly believe that employees should be judged by their contributions, never by their age, gender or race. And age and length of tenure don’t give you the right to coast–at least not until you’ve announced your exit date. In fact, no matter what your age, we hope you’re not coasting, but instead contributing your best self at work.

Study the colleagues you admire most, whether in the museum field or elsewhere. They are probably individuals who are constantly on a path of reinvention. They are probably not people hiding behind we’ve-always-done-it-that-way–or people who believe social media is the instrument of the devil. They’re the people who somehow link their institutional knowledge, which may be vast, to what’s going on the museum field, and always manage to say something new (and wise) in meetings. They are the people we all want to be when we get over our case of impostor syndrome.

So if you’re a boomer, we urge you to be a contributor ’til the day you pack up your office. Perhaps your museum or heritage organization has a succession plan in place. Whether it does–and they are excellent planning tools–you can have a personal succession plan as well. Just as you strategized your career when you were in your 30’s, 40’s or 50’s, a personal succession plan can help design your exit.

Don’t wait ’til you’re on your way to your retirement party to whine that no one picked your brain, and asked about that great store of knowledge you’ve amassed. Write it down. This actually applies to everyone. Commit work flow and basic tasks to a document. That way even if you have a skiing accident, your colleagues can step up and complete some basic tasks.

And if you are retiring, what information would someone need to do your job well on day one? How have your organization’s quirks informed the way you do things?  Were you a path-breaker in your position? Would you be willing to train your successor, and if the answer is yes, what might that look like? Perhaps the most important thing you need to strategize is what you’ll do when your days aren’t consumed with meetings, openings, and planning. Write that down too, but don’t share it. That’s for you and the rest of your life.

It’s summer. The days are long, and a lot of us are on vacation. If you will retire this year, commit to making the next 12 months the most fruitful ever. Go out with a bang.

Joan Baldwin

Advertisements

4 Comments on “Are You A Museum Baby Boomer? Consider This: Leaving Well is the Best Revenge”

  1. Evelyn Fidler says:

    “But, we firmly believe that employees should be judged by their contributions, never by their age, gender or race” well said and I wish it happened more in the museum field. Great blog post and everything you said should be taken to heart. I missed the baby boom generation by 1 year and I have a few years before retirement but I should consider some of the things you mentioned.

  2. David Grabitske says:

    This is why history institutions should have an oral history program in place for its employees.

    The post is relevant to me right now as today is my last day at the venerable Minnesota Historical Society. I’m not retiring. I am moving up by moving out. From the North Star to the Lone Star. From “du Nord” to “del Norte.” I’m reinventing. And, been planning this since 2009. I’m looking forward to an amazing opportunity. Moving history forward.

  3. I missed being a boomer by 2 years but think about my retirement and legacy frequently. Teaching the next generation of museum professionals at Seton Hall University (in addition to my consulting practice), I worry that the next generation of museum workers won’t have mentors to help them along. Please – as you plan for retirement, or are retired, or even if you are thinking about retiring, consider volunteering as a mentor for those just entering the field. There are also many mid-career professionals who are having second thoughts about their choice of museum careers. They need your advice and support! The professional networks of AAM (including EdCom, Registration, DivCom, and I believe others) have formal and informal mentoring programs in place.

  4. As an already-retired boomer museum worker, I would be VERY interested in your evidence for the statements: “Then there are the folks who should be planning their exit, but aren’t. The only decision they’ve made is to stay on as long as possible. They’re treading water, sucking up big(ger) salaries, and contributing in the most lackluster fashion. They give the rest of us a bad name.” I believe in evidence-based blogging. Please enlighten us concerning the source for your opinions on these specific matters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s