Even though he is past the prime of his career, last night Jay Leno came back to NBC with a new prime-time show -- after his retirement from The Tonight Show. Leno is back, and he is right in successor Conan O'Brien's front yard.
As guest Jerry Seinfeld jokingly put it last night, "Back in the 1990s, when we retired, we actually left!"
As I watched this first episode of Jay Leno's second show, it occurred to me that this is indeed art copying life. All across America - in the nonprofit sector and beyond - Baby Boomers are increasingly retirement-challenged.
Some will have trouble exiting jobs due to serious economics challenges. This is real challenge that our society must address by strengthening our social safety net. In the nonprofit realm, which is my greatest concern, we must develop excellent ideas and systems to ensure that retirement from nonprofit careers is viable.
However, other Boomers will not step down even if they could. (Leno certainly doesn't need the cash.)
Unlike their predecessors, it seems, Boomers will forge the 'encore careers' discussed by Civic Ventures. These encore careers, it seems, will be preceded by encore premieres, and, one assumes, encore retirements at some point.
In contrast to Jay, when Johnny retired after his long-term commitment to The Tonight Show, he left with the dignity and finality of the Greatest Generation.
Of course, Jay still has plenty of humor and ideas to contribute to our weeknights, and he can probably make NBC a good little profit. There is no reason he should stop being a productive comedian. In fact, I would think there is much that younger performers can learn from him and his cohort, as he learned from those who came before him.
The key question is: Do Boomers who "boomerang" back into the workforce have to do so in ways that directly compete with their successor generations? Can we find ways to compliment rather than directly compete with one another? Could we actually create new value together rather than cause economic conflict between the generations?
For Conan's sake, and for all of us, I sure hope so.