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From “No Way” to “My Way”: Boomers Take a Fresh Look at Working in Retirement

From “No Way” to “My Way:” Boomers Take a Fresh Look at Working in Retirement

by Dr. Carolee Duckworth
For the NABBW

caroleeduckworthMany retiring Boomers consider working after Retirement to be a very bad alternative. Perhaps you number yourself among them. And you have your reasons.

For one thing, you have worked for multiple decades, always with the dream ahead of a retirement free from work. Given the pace of your life – the business trips that have kept you away from your family – the late-night paperwork – the continuous upheavals of office politics, and all those other ups and downs, successes and stresses – you can only hope that you will make it through to the promised land of leaving all this behind. What sounds appealing is the idea of what you will NOT be doing. Ever again. Forever.

There are numerous objections to the thought of work after retirement. Even if finances suggest otherwise, the idea of “needing to” continue to earn money is the subject of complaints, defensiveness, and even anxiety. First and primary, is the objection that you have had enough. You are deathly tired of what has become repetitious, even mind-numbing, after so many years of doing it.

Second, you may feel that the reality that you will need to work after retirement is something that is being done TO you. It is not your fault so someone else should fix it. You blame the economy for diminishing your retirement savings. You fault your employer for not offering a better, or perhaps any, retirement plan. And of course there are the Healthcare providers and drug companies who should be controlled, or who should control themselves, and stop gouging us all by extracting fees and charges that are unreasonable, even appalling. We point to these external forces as the underlying cause of the unsustainable situation many of us Boomers find ourselves in. Certainly the problem is large enough, given that 77 million of us have either crossed over into retirement or are about to do so, that dramatic measures should be taken somehow by someone.

Third is the objection that you want your freedom. You don’t want work to tie you down ever again. Been there, done that. You have earned the right to do just as much NOTHING as your heart desires.

Last, and perhaps most significant, is the anxiety that even if you did want to work after retirement, “Who would want me?” This is the clincher that undermines many a thought about the notion of working after retirement. It is only human to consider it easier to step aside than to face the fear of possible rejection.

Had Enough of What?

Ironically, the obverse of each of these objections becomes the essential point as well as the challenge ahead for working in retirement. Start with the objection that you have had enough. The real question is “had enough of what?”

Yes, in all likelihood you certainly HAVE had enough of what you have been doing for the past 40 years. But there is other work to be done, including work at which you would thrive. Life and work in a well-designed retirement generally will not involve doing more of the same. To work or not to work in retirement is very dependent on what work, exactly, you engage in next.

Given that your retirement life will probably last up to 30 years or more, it is important that you take the time to consider and explore what “career” will come next for you. The key is to find your optimal next work. Your next work needs to be fulfilling and engaging to the essential YOU—the YOU that may have yet to be expressed, or even discovered. Work in retirement does not mean continuing in the same work rut of your past. Your retirement work needs to be work on a path (or paths) that enthralls and excites you.

Not Your Fault

For past generations, having “enough” money for a retirement without work was dependent on employer paid pensions, Social Security, and saving up in advance. This spawned the idea that coming up short must be someone’s fault, if not your own. Working with a financial advisor traditionally assumed a retirement budget with many cutbacks in spending and even lifestyle. The mathematics of planning for retirement, then, was to attempt to determine how much money you would need to stockpile in advance in order not to “run out.” And later, if someone did end up running out of money, it was most probably “their own fault.”

The notion of your being the one “at fault” if you find yourself financially unprepared for retirement can and should be set aside in many, if not most cases. In today’s work and economic climate, retirement timing is most typically the reverse of what we plan or expect. While 46% of us plan to retire “late,” in order, at least in part, to amass more money for retirement, only 3% of us are able to do so. And while only 6% of us plan to retire “early,” almost two out of three of us (64%) do end up retiring early, frequently not at our own initiative.

The essential point is that determining who or what is at fault, however self-assuring this exercise may be, is an exercise in futility. Wherever the fault may lie for the financial situations we find ourselves in when we retire from our lifelong careers, and however limited the “fixed” income we find ourselves faced with, the fact remains that there are solutions to all this. If your fixed income is too confining, then the solution is to UNFIX it. In order to unfix your income, the critical task is to find retirement work that is based on the essential YOU and that is an expression of your particular talents, interests, values, creativity and meaning.

I Want My Freedom

Yes, of course by the time you enter retirement you do what your freedom. A 40-year career is a long stint to be at the mercy of a job that dictates how you will spend the vast majority of your time. The appeal of traditional retirement has been, and will always be, the ability to determine for yourself how you will spend your own time.

But the essential point is that, with proper retirement design, and through a careful exploration of how you wish to combine the seven retirement pathways – Life of Leisure, Life of a Volunteer, Life of Travel, Life of New Work, Life of an Entrepreneur, Life as a “Creative” and Life of a Student — (from the book “Shifting Gears to Your Life and Work after Retirement by Carolee Duckworth and Marie Langworthy) – work can be an appealing and engaging part of the balance. You really can have your work and freedom too.

Who Would Want Me?

The idea that no one would want to hire a retirement-age Boomer is blatantly untrue now, and will become even more untrue in the years ahead. With 77 million Boomers leaving the workplace, and only 48 million Gen Xers stepping in to replace them, labor shortages are predicted and will become more serious over time.

Beyond the current work to be done, and the decreasing workforce available to accomplish it, there will be a high level of job growth for work in the “social sector,” as predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. “Social sector” job growth will add 7 million new jobs between now and 2018, with approaching 6 million of these new jobs particularly well suited to older workers.

Another key employment factor is that 90% of firms are now using contract workers, spending over $120 billion a year in this sector. Upwards of one third of the workforce is now composed of contract labor. Given the part-time nature of contract work, and the ability to take breaks between contracts in order to pursue other plans like travel or family visits or studies, this domain represents major opportunities for retiring Boomers to design a balanced retirement work life. Yet another arena for fulfilling retirement work is entrepreneurialism. The highest rate of entrepreneurship is now reportedly in the 55 – 64 age group. And studies show that older entrepreneurs have higher than average success rates!

Another option that is replete with work possibilities for retiring Boomers is working online. Current studies show online work growing at twice the rate of standard on-site work. Over 80% of small businesses plan to satisfy at least one half of their support needs by hiring online workers. Already there is a 30% higher demand than supply to fill a vast range of types of jobs for online workers. Working online can be combined creatively and well with other retirement paths, including Life of Leisure, Life of a Volunteer, Life of Travel, and/or Life of a Student.

Once it may have been true that work in retirement was an unappealing, “unfair,” and confining prospect to be avoided if at all possible. It would be no surprise if you initially believed this too. But the traditional retirement paradigm has shifted, and will continue to do so.

With our many fulfilling work options emerging, combined with the mind-altering projections for our dramatically increased remaining lifespans ahead, we exit the first two phases of life, “Becoming” and “Being,” and enter our third phase of life—“Redefining”— with a new excitement about what lies ahead for us, personally and professionally.

We are not “done” yet. Moving ahead into this next phase of life and work is a deep, individual and all-essential process. By completing this process for yourself, with intent and self-awareness, you will create your own best NEXT personal opus… one that you will enter with vitality, enthusiasm and a sense of meaning.


Dr. Carolee Duckworth is a retired educator and current author, recognized in the areas of career change, online learning, and online work. She has earned her own living online since the 90s and has provided guidance for thousands of others to do the same.

Her recently published book, SHIFTING GEARS  to Your Life and Work After Retirement, co-authored with Dr. Marie Langworthy, is available on Amazon and on the Shifting Gears website at http://www.ShiftingGearstoYourLifeand WorkAfterRetirement.com.

She is a contributor to Boomer-related publications, web sites, and blogs, and is available for interviews and workshops on Boomer retirement and career issues.

Her degrees include a BA in Psychology from Duke, a Masters in Instruction Design from UNC Chapel Hill, and a Doctorate in Instruction Technology & Distance Education from Nova.

Carolee Duckworth is also in the process of authoring and publishing a series of unique travel books that provide all the guidance needed for a “Great Trip” made independently.

NABBW Contributing Author

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