Work or Retire

This article is the first in a series PRiME Women will be featuring in the next 30 days on retirement. We’ll not only look at those of you who are nearing retirement or already retired, but also those of you who are still 10 to 15 years or more away from retiring and the steps you can take now to enjoy the next “act” of your life.

Have you been thinking about the “R” word? If you are one of the 77 million Baby Boomers in the United States, you probably have been thinking about what you’ll do next.

The “R” word. . . Retirement. Not everyone’s favorite word or concept. It doesn’t have to be retirement like your parents did or your grandfather. This is a new era, and we are the social explorers. The Baby Boomers have not done things conventionally over their lifetime, and why should they now? With longer lives and abundant opportunities, they are reinventing retirement.

The message of this article is that you can design your own next chapter – and you can call it anything you want. You can call it retirement, or a new chapter, a new phase of life, or semi-retirement. You can call it a portfolio life, which is working, volunteering, and just enjoying life, that is, having a combination of things. The next chapter of life can take shape in new and different ways, depending on what you decide. Indeed, it will be defined by a variety of factors, but you can design it.

But, you ask, how to get there? Fears and confusion often arise in association with thinking of leaving a full-time career, and many people will resist it.

Indeed, many people will continue to work long past 60 or 65, some into their 70s and 80s, with 57% of Boomers planning to work longer than they had thought before the 2008 recession. They may need to keep earning money, or just may not want to stop. They may continue to work in the job they’ve always done, but phase back, or work in a different capacity in that field.

Other Boomers will leave their career field and start along a new path. They may take a break in between to enjoy some of the fruits of retirement and then start a new type of work, full-time or part-time. This new enterprise could be based on an old interest and or new passion. For example, Kim retired as a corporate accountant and went back to school to reach her youthful dream of being a math teacher. Others start their own business, such as opening a music store, catering parties, or walking dogs.

Stories of reinvention abound. There’s the lawyer who was pressured into the law by her parents. While she was a pioneer as a female lawyer in the early 70s, she has reached the age where she doesn’t want to be a lawyer anymore. Her interest is in crafts, and she is going to open a small shop with her sister. We know someone who wanted to do more traveling and actually became a travel writer after having had a career in real estate. There are many models and many examples of people who pick up an old passion or start something new. See Passionate Work for a great example of pursuing what you love.

People do fear losing their identity and self-esteem. There is a fear of losing the comfort of whipping out your business card and having it say Maye Smith, Commercial Banker, or Jodie Jones, Director of Sales, or whatever it is, because our identity all the time we’ve been adults has been associated with the kind of work we do. Don’t you often get asked the following question when you meet someone: “What do you do?” The concern people have about retirement is, “How do I answer that? If I leave that career, and I can no longer say I’m a certain thing, how will I identify myself? What will my business card say? Will I have a business card? (You can always print a business card) What is my identity? What brings me self-esteem?” A great read on this topic is The Cocktail Party Answer To What Do You Do? After You Retire.

And relevance. People worry about whether they are going to be relevant if they leave what they have been doing. Imagine someone who was working for a religious institution or a non-government organization (NGO) that feeds the hungry. Or  having been a business woman or a therapist. If they leave that behind, there’s worry about relevance. I would maintain that one can still have relevance on those fronts in a new chapter because something else will take the place. And you, in deciding what that is, have to take pride in it and learn how to talk about it.

So, instead of your saying “I was a therapist, and now I’m retired,” you might say, “I’m very excited about the volunteering I’m doing with after-school programs, and I’m spending more time with my grandchildren and traveling widely with exciting opportunities.” It’s a little elevator speech. It conveys to people that you are still active and involved, doing interesting things, and have reinvented into your next life chapter.

The financial fear is running out of money. Nobody wants their children to have to support them. Nobody wants to be changing lifestyle to such a degree that they are really unhappy. And the quandary is that people are living longer, and no one really knows how long they will live. We can do countless calculations about how much money we need, but we don’t really know if it’s enough. So, in making those calculations, you need to put the number up pretty high.

The life expectancy now for a 65-year old woman in the US is 85.5. It’s a pretty long life, and it’s an average. You might be one of the people who live to 95, which is 30 years beyond a traditional retirement age. To support ourselves, it’s important to figure out ways to continue to make money, save money, and spend less. There are many ideas and techniques for that. See Retiring Well After A Big Career on how a prime woman not only found a way to do something she loved but used her old career to develop a part-time consulting business to fund her passion for wine and leave her retirement fund untouched.

From our extensive research and hundreds of interviews of people who are facing these decisions or have made them, my co-authors and I can say most certainly that the “R” word can be an exciting and rewarding time of life, with so many opportunities—jobs available for pay and for volunteering, extraordinary opportunities for travel, chances to learn, time for you and your family, and much more. We like to say the “R” word really means reboot and reinvent for the next chapter of your life!

Nancy Bearg is a guest contributing editor and co-author of The Retirement Boom: An All-Inclusive Guide to Money, Life, and Health in Your Next Chapter  and Co-founding Partner, Reboot Partners LLC. Visit their website.


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