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From "No Way" to "My Way": Boomers Take a Fresh Look at Working in Retirement
Expert Author Carolee Duckworth
Many 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 that is 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 working after retirement. Even if finances suggest otherwise, the idea of "needing to" continue to earn money is the subject of much complaining, 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 "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 to point at. They should be controlled, or should control themselves, and stop gouging us all by extracting fees and charges that are unreasonable, even appalling. We name these external forces as the underlying cause of the unsustainable situation in which we find ourselves. Certainly the problem is large enough, given that there are 77 million of us who have either crossed over into retirement or are about to do so, that dramatic measures should be taken somehow by someone.
Third, your objection may be 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 you may feel that: "Even if I did want to work after retirement, who would want me?" This is the clincher that undermines many a thought about the notion of continuing to work 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 an essential point about the challenges ahead if and when you do decide that you want to work after 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 doing what you have been doing for the past 40 years. But there is vast array of other work that needs to be done, some of which you may not even know about, and including work at which you would thrive. Life and work in a well-designed retirement generally does not involve just doing more of the same. "To work or not to work" in retirement is very dependent on what work, exactly, you will engage in next.
Given that your retirement life and work will probably last up to 30 years or more, it is essential 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-- work that is fulfilling and engaging to the essential YOU. 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 that engages and excites you.
It's Not My Fault
For past generations, having "enough" money for a retirement without working has been an exercise in mathematics. Planning your retirement with a financial adviser traditionally has started with the "knowns" of what income you expect to receive, combining employer-paid pensions, Social Security, and savings, and what income you will need, assuming a retirement budget with many cutbacks in spending and lifestyle. The "result" from this mathematics exercise is a prescribed amount of money you will need to stockpile in advance of retirement in order to live on a shoestring budget and "not run out." And if you do end up running out of money, it must be someone's fault, probably your own.
In today's work and economic climate, the need to establish who or what is "at fault" if you find yourself coming up short financially for a work-free retirement is not only unproductive but difficult. High on the blame-assigning list is that retirement timing typically has become 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 reassuring this 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 want 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 always will 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") retirement work can be an appealing and engaging part of the balance. You really can have your work and your 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 seven million new jobs between now and 2018, with approaching six 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 1/3 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 entrepreneurship. 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!
Working online is yet another option replete with work possibilities for retiring Boomers. Current studies show online work growing at twice the rate of standard on-site work, and already there is a 30% higher demand than supply to fill a vast range of jobs for online workers. Over 80% of small businesses plan to satisfy at least one half of their support needs by hiring online workers. Working online can be combined creatively and well with other retirement paths, including leisure, volunteering, travel, or study.
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 the many fulfilling work options emerging and within reach for seniors, combined with the mind-altering projections about our dramatically increased remaining lifespans ahead, we exit the first two phases of life, "Becoming" and "Being," and enter our 3rd 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.

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