Generation Gap - Work Advice from Boomers to Millennials: Kay Wylie Jacob

by Jon Minners | October 24, 2016

  • My Vault

- Photography by Kristina Rudic

Which generation is more successful in their careers – baby boomers or millennials?

Companies benefit from the knowledge, experience, and loyalty of baby boomers, but they also benefit from the unique perspectives of millennials, who are able to seamlessly adopt new technology. The general belief is that baby boomers are losing jobs to their younger counterparts, but, in many ways, the two opposing generations complement each other in a way that benefits employers.

We traveled to The Senior Planet Exploration Center at 127 W 25th Street in New York City to find the answers. When you enter Senior Planet, it is not uncommon to watch millennials working with seniors to teach them everything from computer literacy to using a smart phone and tablet. One such senior is Kay Wylie Jacob, 68, who has been visiting Senior Planet to learn new technologies that can help with her career as a dancer.

Like Henry M. Soto, the retail manager turned artist, and Calvin Alexander Ramsey, the former insurance salesman turned award-winning author and playwright, Kay sat down with us to discuss her unique career in a job that is temporary in nature, which often makes it difficult to know exactly where your next paycheck will come from. Kay offered insight into what it means to embrace life as a freelancer, revealing the pros and the cons.

Kay is an artist and educator with a Ph.D. in Performance Studies and an MFA in Dance from New York University. She has parlayed her education into a long list of accomplishments in performance, choreography, lectures, and instruction.  

“I’m devoted to the art form,” she said. “I’m 68, and I’ve been lucky enough to have worked my entire adult life – since I was 18.”

Kay’s background in performance includes work with Twyla Tharp and 10 years of experience as Artistic Director of the Big Apple Dance Theatre. During her concert dance career, she performed in 25 U.S. cities and traveled to 10 countries. She even toured as a dance soloist for the National Endowment for the Arts Artist-in-the-Schools Program.

She’s choreographed a number of routines, including commissioned work for Middlebury College, the University of Louisville, Halifax Dance Company in Nova Scotia, The New School, The New York Feminist Art Institute, and off-Broadway shows.

Despite how successful she has been, Kay recognizes that dance does not provide an easy career trajectory. Kay knew full well what to expect from her profession, and she warns millennials to research the career they want in order to determine if it is right for them.   

“You don’t go into dance expecting to make money,” she said. “More often than not, you end up living hand-to-mouth, so I’ve had to be open to taking other jobs.”

Kay believes that many careers offer alternative jobs that professionals should take advantage of if they want to have options in their career. Besides performance, Kay has also lectured at colleges and museums in the U.S. and Canada. Currently, her work at Alvin Ailey includes teaching Tiny Steps in the Ailey Extension Program, as well as staff development and consultation for the Dance in Education Program.

Tiny Steps is a movement and music class for parents and their children, with live accompaniment for two- to three-year-olds in the Ailey Extension Program. Through her work, Kay has introduced over 1,200 parents and children to an experiential movement and music class in the Ailey tradition.

“I really like working with kids,” she said.

Kay truly enjoys her current work, but she admits that there have been fewer job opportunities as she’s moved on in her career. Still, a well-respected body of work can open up a lot of doors.

“All of the jobs I get are usually freelance or part-time,” she explains. “But as long as I can dance, I’m happy.”

Kay knows that freelancing can be scary to a lot of people, especially those who have just made the jump into the unknown. “When you work freelance, you know it’s not going to last, so you are always looking for a new job,” she said. “It’s a struggle, but don’t get discouraged. You have to just keep plugging away.”

Freelancing, especially contracted work, could result in a number of job interviews. Kay notes that in any job interview, your reputation isn’t enough, because “you have to ask questions.”

The questions you should ask differ based on the position you are applying to fill. For Kay, many of those questions center on the classroom.

Kay offers some examples of questions she may ask: “Who will I be teaching? Do any of the students have any developmental issues? What type of movement will be involved? What type of room will I be teaching in? Is there enough space? Are there chairs in the room?”

“You have to always be prepared,” she added.

Preparedness involves more than just asking questions; it also means staying up-to-date on new skills. Kay comes to Senior Planet Exploration Center to learn to use new technologies that might be beneficial to her, such as Fitbit, a technology used to help achieve training goals.

“It’s crucial,” she said, before joking, “I’m actually behind, but the staff here that works with me are a lot more patient than my daughters are.”

Her training led to a four-month partnership between her and OATS (Older Adult Technology Services), the organization that runs Senior Planet, from June to September of this year. Kay played an integral role in the creation of Team Senior Planet, a fitness program for seniors of all fitness levels, ages 60 and over.

Kay performed a number of duties, including teaching older adults how to use gym equipment, do low-impact aerobic exercise, and use Fitbits to track their programs. In addition, an essential part of the program involved facilitating team spirit and encouraging fitness as an integral part of total wellness.

“I get very excited about teaching,” she said. “When all is said and done, you really just have to love what you do.”

- Special Thanks to the Senior Planet Exploration Center

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Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search

Tags: Baby Boomers | Career Advice | Freelancing | Job Search | Millennials

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