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“Finternships” Could Make Use Of So Much Knowledge Capital, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:03am

It’s possible I have too much time on my hands.

That’s quite an image. I see my hands, on the keyboard. Are they weighed down? No. I have time enough, just time enough.

But I do have more capacity than I’m using. It’s been two years since I retired. In that time, I’ve been a newlywed, I’ve decorated my house, I’ve tended my garden. I’ve gotten sick, and lain on the sofa, despondent and barely moving. That was not fun.

Recovered, I look around at everything both in place and in motion and I understand that I can do more. 58 feels youngish, even the kind of 58 that’s almost 59. I imagine heads nodding.

We’ve talked here about possibilities, volunteering, writing a book, and so on. Those threads are spinning. Someone also suggested going back to school. I loved college, and feel no need to repeat the liberal arts, but there is one skill that interests me, from my work life. Software design, i.e. interface design and user research. There are courses I could enroll in, if I chose, and maybe work I could take on, subsequently.


What if, in addition to internships, we had “finternships?”

See, in the corporate world, we take a fairly linear view of success. One becomes CEO, or CTO, at ages that vary depending on the size of the company. Other paths are assumed to be a weaker, failed version of the heroic course. As a result, if you’ve been a vice president – albeit of small organizations in my case – for over a decade, it can be hard to go back into the work force as an individual contributor.

I imagine in other areas — science, academia, medicine, law, politics — one faces a similar issue?

But what if we formalized the process for those at the end of their careers, just as we are doing, increasingly, for those at the beginning? What if we institutionalized something where people who topped out could step away honorably and into another, lower role? Perhaps with retraining?

A “finternship.” Or as academia does, emeritus. I imagine a meeting, in which someone leans over to ask in their colleague’s ear, “Who’s that?” and she answers, “Oh, that’s our fintern.”

After all, so many baby boomers are booming into later life. And even if we tire of the politics of upper management, or the travel, or the long hours, we know a lot. Many of us are consulting, or changing careers, but always unofficially, with no articulated space in the corporate story.

Heroic mythology requires both the king and the magician. In 2015, let’s say a queen and witch. The magic people are traditionally quite old. They may no longer saddle up, no longer carry a spear, but without their counsel one loses the war.

In a pinch they’ll even cast spells.

Hey, it’s just a thought.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

42 Responses

  1. I know that in North Carolina, there’s a nonprofit that employs older, retired folks as consultants and puts their skills to use in a reasonable fee for service model for nonprofits… I always thought that was genius!

    1. Yes – for people interested in that world, or with applicable skills, it would be great. Also such a good way to contribute. If any nonprofits want to build a software product, they should feel free to contact me here;).

    2. @Dallas, I am also going to just say that if, perhaps, you wanted, you could probably start a life coaching service for younger women. I would sign up ;)

      1. Dallas, this I do for free:). In all seriousness, if you’d like to, send me an email and let’s see if I have any counsel at all to offer.

  2. One of my projects was to start a blog. I also went back to school to work on my business skills towards a Bachelor of Science. Love your blog. It has been one of my inspirations. You need to get a grant to start your “finternship” program?

  3. Retirement is such a wonderful luxury, the time and space to do what pleases you. For me that’s gardening, friends, my nephew, physical maintenance, travel. For you….software. I think whatever ideas you come up with will be most interesting, hope you’ll keep us posted.

  4. Great idea! For my 57.birthday, 12days ago, I’ve got a Rob Riemans ( Dutch author) Shool of life. These are interwiews with interesting people ,all older than 75 , to save their life wisdom and to show how much is it still needed. I started reading,but left it home (real book,hardcover,heavy to take for holidays ),it is very interesting.
    These things are also about intelectual invisibility of people of certain age. A lot of wisdom and skills lost in vain,one has to find his/hers own way to share it. It is important to talk about it and you’re one who started!
    Have a nice weekend

  5. There’s a program in our area where successful retired business people volunteer mentor young people in business.

  6. I think it’s a great idea. I’m blown away though by the subject of your interest, in awe. I’ve thought about going back and taking some landscape design courses (just for myself) but I never liked homework, and that (besides the issues of parking at UCLA) keeps me from it.

    I always think of you as more of a right brained person, but then you remind me and it startles me – I guess you’re both.

    1. @kathy, Ah, yes, the challenges of the dual-brained;). And to be clear, it’s not coding per se I’m talking about, it’s designing the experience of the user. Some code is required, but just the littlest bit.

  7. I like the idea of ” finternship”, even if my autocorrect tried to change it to “finger ship”.

  8. The federal government has a version of this– retired career employees can come back as “re-employed annuitants,” often in an advisory role or to mentor/train younger workers. I was lucky enough to work with several re-employed annuitants early in my career, and benefited a lot from their knowledge. Don’t know how well it would work in the private sector, where people tend to change companies frequently, but a staffing agency with retired professionals available for part time/temporary consulting gigs would be an interesting entrepreneurial opportunity.

    1. @Miriam, That’s exactly what I had in mind. The only difference would be that rather rejoining a specific organization, one slots into a role designed to make best use of end-of-career knowledge, in conjunction with new individual contributor skills.

  9. User interface seems like something that could be commoditized and turned into a consulting gig. Is there a Linked-In group for it? That would be a place to start. You’re out there with software developers galore, do you have contacts who’d be looking for someone to come in and do that?
    I’d think if you want to work a little more it might be good to take action before all your work contacts fizzle out and the industry changes too much. Imagine a website promoting your service/skills and see if you can get all the particulars assembled.

    I worked part-time for 15 years when my children were small before switching to full-time. Nowadays I sometimes think I wouldn’t mind switching back.

    1. User Experience, as it’s usually called these days, is a known and well-populated domain. In my experience, hiring for UX staff is done via portfolio as much as anything, although connections are always important. So yes, I’d need to do this soon, but, the industry changes all the time, so I’d have to retrain and leap directly into looking for a position, portfolio in hand as proof that I’m worth hiring.

  10. This is not a mind set for successful retirement. The purpose of retirement is not to be promoted…thats done. The goal of most people I know who are happy in retirement, is to take some of those skills and do something different. My husband, a physician is now a sort of free lance medical educator working with both the local medical school as well as a distant one, but also with a physician assistant program. A close friend who was once the dean, and then vice provost of a major university, returned to her teaching persona and does continuing education workshops that allow her to pursue her first love:travel. The compensation for the end of the prestige job, is the freedom of choosing your schedule, traveling when you want to, and discovering new interests (my husband…a medical specialist who worked 80 hour weeks, discovered the kayak about three years ago, something he had never done even once in his life). My nephew, until recently the VP of Corporate Communications of a major multinational corporation, retired last year, early and is now teaching the same topic at a good university, as an adjunct…a totally different challenge for him as he never had to develop lectures before.

    My brother-in-law was once a senior editor of the NYTimes. When he retired, he volunteered at SCORE…an organization of retired business people from many branches of that world, who provide guidance to entrepreneurs trying to start their own businesses. He helped them write business plans, develop networks, etc, and found it very rewarding, not just because it was helpful but because it exposed him to an aspect of the business world that he had never paid attention to before…a new learning opportunity for him as well. A similar organization might be a good fit for you.

    I hope you find a fit for yourself that gives you more satisfaction than you are finding in your life now, although I would urge to reframe this in your own mindbecaue I can’t help thinking you are closing yourself to possibilities that might be really exciting.

    1. I’m not sure you understood my thinking and intent here. But in case I was not clear in general, let me add this. Life is good, I am happy, I am fortunate – albeit graced with a little of the anxiety I refer to in the blog tagline. I just spend a fair amount of time trying to optimize, because, privilege. Going into UX would not be a promotion for me, as I used to manage the Director of the UX team, it would be a new set of skills and two (institutional but not personal) steps down. In fact, it would be way lefter-brained than anything I did previously, and as such, fun as heck. On the other hand, I may just keep on doing as I’m doing:).

      The idea was to throw a wrench into the traditional ideal of retirement, i.e. struggle to the top and then do something completely different.

      Just one of many Saturday morning thoughts.

  11. Love the idea of finterships!

    As a new lady to the field of design research and user experience, I encourage you to take some classes! We could really use more women in the field, especially women with the business and leadership experience you have.

    There are not enough user researchers who understand the importance of talking to the business side, and any company you join (as a fintern or in any capacity) would benefit greatly from your expertise!

    This video by UX leader Leah Buley talks about the (dis)connect between UX and corporate strategy:

  12. Have you looked to see if there’s a branch of SCORE in your area? It’s potentially great for business mentorship; I only had one session because the business I was starting was tech and the “mentors” were used to more franchise businesses (and were themselves in real estate). It was still useful, mind you, for local legal things and general reassurance, but I then went for most of my “useful” mentorship (how to estimate; how to sweeten contracts with minimal loss; etc.) to my fantastic former boss. But you could potentially be an enormous asset to women (or anyone) starting a small business, and SCORE might be a way to get connected.

    In tech specifically, there’s an enormous breadth of experience in older employees that is very important for preventing the same mistakes from being made over and over again. It’s important to stop at “adjusting overoptimistic expectations” and not go on to “being a total wet blanket such that nothing ever gets done”… but there are many errors that can be taught about rather than re-experienced by every single batch of newcomers to the field. I think this could be a very useful part-time experienced role; the “check this process or plan for common errors” person; but employees or visionaries who are willing to listen and learn (and do things the right way the first time rather than blindly blazing ahead) are less common than one would broadly prefer. But they do exist, so there might be a chance for the concept…

    1. @KC, I’ll check into it. The software product field is particularly swarmed with advice at the moment, but, as soon as this particular boom fizzles, I imagine counsel would be welcome;).

  13. My husband has a fintern plan worked out for his retirement. He is going to teach sailing. He will get paid very little, maybe nothing and likely work alongside college kids. He’s worked on every level in the field and “topped out” years ago, but is very excited to back for no other reason than the love of it.

  14. It’s called “wisdom,” and I think we have a lot to offer. I love this idea!

  15. SCORE is one way to go. But being interested in learning to code myself, I found a group which meets locally at a bar/restaurant weekly downtown, a division of the group, Girls Code, a national org. I found it as a part of the App “meetup.” There’s no charge and all levels of expertise are welcome inc. none. Hope you can find a group! Good luck!

  16. User interface design is a wonderful field. In my first career as a technical writer I met many people interested or active in the field at Society for Technical Communication (STC) meetings. Taking courses and building a portfolio sounds like fun. You could always try it and see if you want to pursue it further.

  17. Hi Lisa, You will totally find way to make your talent, interests and experience converge.
    My husband, a Princeton ’83 Elec Eng/Comp Sc major could use a bit of your career advice- I’ll email you.
    -Linda, NY

  18. Interesting thread. I am in here in Mpls, MN and on the board of an organization called SHIFT ( We are focused on working with midlifers in transition, however they define that…work, personal life, spiritual, health, etc.

    We have a program called midternships(TM) and are in the process of ramping that up again – another resource for folks in transition is an org called

    This is a very timely conversation and gaining momentum across the U.S.

    Thanks for tackling this!

  19. Hi there, I’m a long time reader, first time commenter, prompted by your post yesterday (8/22). This was by far my favorite recent post of yours. I came originally for fashion and interior design ideas, but stayed for social commentary. As a new mom, I’m inspired by the bits of wisdom and reflections about your grown children. I love your Saturday posts most of all, and make a point to check in on the weekends. I’ve thought about this one several times since I first read it. Please keep sharing!

    1. @Diane B, It’s very nice to meet you. It means so much to know that people are out there, reading. I can always look at the numbers, of course, but somehow just one actual person is so much more than 100 points on a Google graph. Thank you. And congrats on being a new mom, I wish you and your little one all the best.

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