Even when I was much younger the notion of “retirement” seemed strange. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that at some point, after working and saving for many years, your best, most indulgent life would begin. I could never see that the magical time would be one of no big agendas, no “must do” this or that. In my view, some form of work and play should be on life’s To Do List throughout every age and stage.
Most Americans now will not have a choice. The all play and no work retirement is becoming farther and farther out of reach. Many will work well into the traditional retirement years to make up for savings shortfalls—but is that a burden or a hidden blessing? Though returning to the workforce and/or continuing to work in “retirement” will be a necessity for many women, it’s also valuable time for exploration, purpose, fulfillment and personal growth.
The “no work” retirement may not in fact be as wonderful as it sounds. Too many days with too slow a pace leave too many hours to ponder ailments and advancing age. Many of the most interesting women I know are working well into their 70s and 80s with great energy and enthusiasm. The work makes them feel vital, connected and current. They both learn from and mentor younger workers. And they all have a lot of fascinating things to talk about, never giving the impression that they are removed from the mainstream or “old”.
The secret among many I know in the 50+ demographic is to shift to work that feels as compelling as play. A former communications executive runs a B&B. An art historian has lectured aboard cruise ships. A former advertising pro is now an adjunct professor. The IT professional who set up a complex trading floor is now a part-time troubleshooter for a local bank. The founder of a big accessories company now runs high-end seminars for women. The former English teacher writes resumes for outplaced employees. A consultant helps high-profile family offices and corporations build better teams. A former college alumni director counsels people battling addiction. That’s just a few, and they’ve all repurposed their skills and experience, thought creatively about the work that fits their lives—and found ways to keep money flowing into their retirement accounts.
A great article, “Face the New Retirement Reality”, aptly states that “retirement in the modern era likely will be a time of new work, not no work”. Most importantly, they note that it provides more financial security to retirees, as well as positive psychological benefits. “Those who work in retirement typically report feeling happier and more fulfilled than those whose professional lives shift into idle.”
The end goal is a secure retirement and a sense of fulfillment—and you need to have a positive vibe throughout the retirement planning process, too. It’s not easy because all the retirement statistics engender feelings of failure and defeat. The 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, for example, says that Baby Boomers have a median nest egg of just $127,000—to fund a retirement that could last 30 years or more. Though it’s important to motivate people to save, these statistics point fingers and induce guilt—when not all savings shortfalls are due to financial ineptitude or many years of living it up. You are where you are in terms of retirement planning—and you have the power to make positive change. And if you need to keep working or return to the workforce to live comfortably in retirement, see it not as a punishment but an opportunity.
Perhaps you will be more content if your thirty-year retirement is not filled with thousands of “extended weekend” days. While two-day weekends can provide fun and relaxing recharge time, we all tend to feel more vital and energized as we tackle projects and tend to commitments during the week. It’s easy to lose your edge and feel out of touch when too many days have too little structure. And as noted in a Brookings Institute study, “Why Aging and Working Makes Us Happy”, late-life workers (those working past retirement age) working full-time or voluntarily employed part-time are typically happier and more satisfied with their mental and physical health than their fully retired counterparts.
Just about everyone needs to fill their retirement coffers, and it’s never too early to consider how some kind of work can keep you mentally and financially fit as you age. Work doesn’t have to be boring, stressful or very high paying to boost your savings or your zest for a long and happy life. —KAS
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