Career Tip of the Month

Redefining Retirement

According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day. The traditional model of retirement involved working until you were 62 or 65, retiring, and then enjoying the "golden years." Today, better health and longer lifespans have enabled retirees to enjoy a new phase of life. In contrast to the stereotypes that we grew up with, today's retirees are active, engaged, and mentally sharp. Social connections, meaning, healthy lifestyles, creativity, intellectual stimulation, and giving back are common themes that motivate today's "retired" individuals. Some will continue to work (out of necessity or desire), while others will formally "retire" from one job and move into another, change careers, or even start a new business. Many will choose to spend time with their families, volunteer for their favorite cause, travel, learn a new hobby, or enroll in classes at their local college or university.

In 1930, the life expectancy was only 58 for men and 62 for women. Today, according to the Social Security Administration, a man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84 and a woman can expect to live, on average, until age 86. About one out of every four 65 year olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95. Given better health and longer lives, it is not unreasonable to expect today's retirees to live an additional 15-30 years beyond retirement. The question now facing retirees is what to do with all of that free time?

People plan for everything else in their lives - their career, their vacation, their new home, but not how to handle the non-financial aspects of retirement. Abruptly stopping work without having anything to fill the void can be a shock to the system, especially for individuals whose identity was strongly tied to work. The lack of structure seems to be the greatest hurdle to overcome for many new retirees. Lack of structure can lead to boredom, even depression, and lack of social contacts can create even more problems. Part of good pre-retirement planning is a thorough understanding of who you are, and what you will need (or what you will miss) when you stop working. Do you have a Type A personality? Then scheduling a variety of volunteer, hobby, or leisure activities will be critical in retirement. Individuals who thrive on social contact will need to plan social activities and engagements into their retirement calendar on a daily basis.

Many retirees want to continue working, but not necessarily in their previous job or profession. They want to do something different, or something that is more personally meaningful. Beyond the financial benefits of continuing to work, people who work after retirement often remain more active and socially connected, which can mean better overall health and fewer medical issues. Retirees who choose not to work can use leisure, hobby, and volunteer activities to create a new identity and sense of purpose during retirement.

For many older Americans, retirement is a process, not a single event. Retirement is a perfect example of the fluid nature of career development, the value of knowing yourself and what your purpose is, and using courage and transferrable skills to reinvent yourself later in life.

If you're seriously contemplating retiring, make sure that you have a game plan in place to replace work with other meaningful and fulfilling activities. Perhaps there's a hobby that you want to focus on full-time. Maybe you want to work part-time, start a new career, or your own business. With a little imagination and some research, the choices are endless!

Mary E. Ghilani, 2014