MONEY Second Career

Why the New Boomerang Workers Are Rehired Retirees

hand holding boomerang
Dragan Nikolic—iStock

How to go back to work in retirement where you had a full-time job.

You’ve no doubt heard about boomerang kids who return to their parents’ homes in their 20s (maybe you have one). But there’s a growing group of boomerangers who are typically in their 60s: retirees who return to work part-time or on a contract basis at the same employers where they formerly had full-time jobs.

If you’ll be looking for work during retirement, you might want to consider avoiding a job search and becoming one.

Employers That Rehire Their Retirees

A handful of employers have formal programs to rehire their retirees. The one at Aerospace Corp., which provides technical analysis and assessments for national security and commercial space programs, is called Retiree Casual. The company’s roughly 3,700 employees are mostly engineers, scientists and technicians, and Aerospace is glad to bring back some who’ve retired.

“With all the knowledge these people have, we get to call on them for their expertise,” says Charlotte Lazar-Morrison, vice president of human resources at Aerospace, which is based in El Secundo, Calif. “The casuals are part of our culture.”

The roughly 300 Aerospace casuals (love that term, don’t you?) can work up to 1,000 hours a year and don’t accrue any more benefits (the company’s retirees already get health insurance). Most earn the salary they did before, pro-rated to their part-time status, of course.

Why Aerospace Corp. Brings Back ‘Casuals’

The “casuals” program lets Aerospace management have a kind of just-in-time staffing system. “It allows us to us to keep people at the ready when we need them,” says Lazar-Morrison.

Ronald Thompson joined Aerospace’s casuals in 2002, after retiring at age 64. He’d worked for the company full-time since 1964, in program management, system engineering, system integration and test and operations support to the Department of Defense. “It’s a really good way to transition to retirement,” he says. “You need both the physical and mental stimulation to keep you young.”

Thompson worked up to the 1,000-hour limit for the first couple of years. Now that he’s in his mid-70s, he’s cutting back to about 10 hours a week, mostly mentoring younger Aerospace employees. I asked Thompson when he planned to stop working. “I guess my measure is when people won’t listen to me anymore,” he laughed. “That will happen.”

At MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government, about 400 of its 7,400 employees are in an optional, flexible “part-time-on-call” phased retirement program. These part-timers can withdraw money from MITRE’s retirement plan while they’re working.

Why Some Employers Don’t Have Rehiring Programs

Why don’t most employers do what Aerospace and MITRE do?

For one thing, it takes a considerable investment in resources to set up a program for former retirees. So the ones who can most afford it are those with skilled workforces who offer customers specialized knowledge.

For another, some employers are wary of getting trapped by complex labor and tax rules. For example, the Internal Revenue Service generally requires firms with retirement plans to delay rehiring retirees for at least six months after they’ve left.

But benefits experts believe boomeranging can make a lot of sense for retirees and the employers where they had worked full-time.

“I think this is really logical away to go back to work, so there is a lot of potential growth if it is made easy,” says Anna Rappaport, a half-century Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and head of her own firm, Anna Rappaport Consulting. “The legal issues need to be clarified and made easy.”

Outsourcing to Bring Retirees In

A growing number of companies are outsourcing the task to bring in some of their retirees. The independent consulting firm YourEncore, created by Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly, acts as a matchmaker between corporations looking for experts to parachute in and handle pressing problems and skilled “unretirees” wanting an occasional challenge and part-time income. YourEncore has more than 8,000 experts in its network; 65 percent with advanced degrees.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of America’s “Blue Bring Back” program lets managers request a retired former employee if there’s a project or temporary assignment requiring someone who knows the company’s culture and procedures. Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group manages the program.

Tim Driver, head of RetirementJobs.com, plans on getting into the business of making it easier for employers to re-employ their retirees. His research shows that this type of program works best for companies needing ready access to talent with unique, hard-to-find skills and flexible schedules, such as insurance claims adjusters. When a storm hits, Driver says, insurers need to quickly dispatch trained property-damage adjusters who are knowledgeable about their claims processes and policies.

“It’s an attractive approach for companies that want to have people accessible but not on their books [as full-time employees],” he says.

The option of participating in an formal outsourcing arrangement is likely to grow with the aging of the baby boom population and their embrace of Unretirement. In the meantime, this kind of work deal “will be mostly ad hoc,” says David Delong, president of the consulting firm Smart Workforce Strategies.

How to Get Yourself Retired in Retirement

How can you get a part-time gig with your former employer when you retire?

Delong recommends broaching the topic while you’re still on the job. (My dad always used to say that six months after you leave an employer, people start forgetting you; they’ve moved on and have figured out how to get along without you.)

“Raise the idea with the boss,” says Delong. “Don’t assume they wouldn’t be interested in having you back part-time. The worst they can do is say, ‘no.’”

Taking a job with your former employer in your Unretirement can be a win-win situation for you and your once-and-future boss. After all, you have the knowledge and the skills to do the job well and the employer knows who you are and what you can do.

I suspect this kind of boomerang arrangement will become a bigger slice of a boomer movement toward flexible, part-time work in retirement.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes twice a month about the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications of Unretirement, and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org or @cfarrellecon on Twitter.

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How to Tap into Your Creativity to Build a Second Career

Jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, 89, at left, with Ed Laub, 62. JamesRicePhotography.com

Who says innovation peaks in your 20s? Some artists reach their prime in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.

When we lived in Bremerhaven, Germany in the early 1960s, my younger sister and I eagerly shared the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The first one, Little House in the Big Woods, was published when the author was 65.

For the 50th anniversary of his class of 1825 at Bowdoin College, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem (Morituri Salutamus) which ran through a list of giants who did great work late in life—Cato, who learned Greek at 80, Chaucer, who penned The Canterbury Tales at 60, and Goethe, who completed Faust when “80 years were past.” Longfellow, then 68, exhorted his aging classmates to not lie down and fade. No, “something remains for us to do or dare,” he said.

For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

The assumption that creativity and gray hair is an oxymoron is a widely held stereotype. What’s more, the notion that creativity declines with age is deeply rooted, but it’s also deeply wrong. Anecdotal and scholarly evidence shows overwhelming that creativity doesn’t fade with age—or at least it doesn’t have to.

Launching Innovative Second Careers

University of Chicago economist David Galenson has taken a systematic look into the relationship between aging and innovation, discovering that many famous artists were at their creative best in their 60s, 70s and even 80s.

Galenson’s favorite example: artist Paul Cézanne, who died at 67 in 1906. Cézanne was always experimenting, always pushing his art, never satisfied. Thanks to his creative restlessness, the paintings of his last few years “would come to be considered his greatest contribution and would directly influence every important artistic development of the next generation,” wrote Galenson in Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity.

The same holds for many others, including Matisse, Twain and Hitchcock.

“Every time we see a young person do something extraordinary, we say, ‘That’s a genius,’” Galenson remarked in an interview with Encore.org, a nonprofit helping people 50+ launch second acts for for the greater good. “Every time we see an old person do something extraordinary we say, ‘Isn’t that remarkable?’ Nobody had noticed how many of those old exceptions there are and how much they have in common.”

One of those “remarkable” people is Ed Laub, 62, a seven-string guitarist in New Jersey who plays with famed jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, 89. (Pizzarelli’s bass player is 95.) I caught up with Laub after a weekend gig in St. Louis and Denver and before the group took off to play in Miami.

Playing guitar is a second career for Laub. His grandfather was a founder of Allied Van Lines and Laub worked for some three decades in the business, alongside his father.

Laub started taking lessons from Pizzarelli when he was 16. When he neared 50, Laub realized that what he really wanted to do was play guitar full-time. His parents had passed away, so he sold the business in 2003 and began teaming up with Pizzarelli. They now perform about 100 times a year in all kinds of venues—auditoriums, jazz clubs, private parties and a regular gig at Shanghai Jazz, a Chinese restaurant/jazz club in Madison, N.J.

Laub told he me has used his business acumen to boost their pay. “What I found out is many creative types have no idea how to manage a business,” he said. “No matter how creative you are, if you do it for a living, it’s a business.”

Boomers Taking Career Risks

My suspicion is the old-aren’t-creative stereotype is a major factor behind the rise in self-employment among boomers. Many people in their 50s and 60s are eager to break away from their jobs if management won’t give them the opportunity to exercise their creative muscles.

Barbara Goldstein, 65, of San Jose, Calif., gets her creative juices flowing by promoting artists. She’s an independent consultant focused on public art planning with clients including the California cities of Pasadena and Palo Alto. “I have as many ideas, if not more, than I did in my 20s and 30s,” she said. “What happens over time is you learn things and you become much more effective in the work you do.”

Goldstein noted that with age, you realize if you want to get something done, you have to go for it—there’s no point in waiting because time is precious. To further broaden her horizons, Goldstein is a fellow at the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, a new, one-year program helping older professionals think through the next stage of their lives.

“If you’re always doing the same thing it’s hard to be creative,” she says. (Incidentally, if you know someone 60 or older who’s just now doing great encore career work, nominate him or her for Encore.org’s 2015 Purpose Prize.)

Economists Joseph Quinn of Boston College, Kevin Cahill of Analysis Group and Michael Giandrea of the Bureau of Labor Statistics have found a sizable jump in recent years in the percentage of people who are self-employed in their 50s and 60s. “Older workers exhibit a great deal of flexibility in their work decisions and appear willing to take on substantial risks later in life,” they wrote. And, I’d add, they’re creative.

What can you do to stay creative in your Unretirement years?

  • Don’t isolate yourself. Be willing to engage with people from diverse backgrounds and of different ages, as Goldstein does.
  • Try something new, experiment, take a leap. That’s what Laub did, going from moving van boss to professional guitarist.
  • Go back to school to pick up new skills.
  • And when someone disparages older people for their lack of creativity, tell them about Cezanne and Matisse.

With time, the Unretirement movement will demolish yet one more stereotype holding people back.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes twice a month about the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications of Unretirement, and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org or @cfarrellecon on Twitter.

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How to Build a Second-Act Business with Your Millennial Kid

Combining complementary skills of two generations can be a recipe for success

It’s awesome working with my dad,” says Case Bloom, 30. The feeling is mutual, says his father, David, 58: “We are good complements to one another.”

Among the more striking developments I’ve learned researching my new book, Unretirement, is the rise in boomer parents going into business with their adult children, like the Blooms—co-owners of Tucker & Bloom, a Nashville, Tenn. luggage business.

In the past few years, setting up a multigenerational enterprise has been a mutually savvy way for boomers and their kids to deal with tough economic times. The parents typically have capital and plenty of experience, while their adult children burst with energy and tech skills.

From ‘You’ to ‘We’

The Blooms, and their business manufacturing highly-crafted messenger bags targeted at the DJ market, are a prime example. Before opening shop, David had spent his career in bag design and was director of travel products for Coach in New York City before he lost that job. When Case was in college in Nashville, studying business, he’d offer pointers to help his dad’s venture. “His logo was so bad. Horrible,” laughs Case. “I’d tell him, ‘You’re doing it wrong. Do it like this.’”

Eventually, Case says, it became “We should do it this way. The business happened organically.” Today, father and son each own half of the company, which has seven employees. David handles design and product development; Case is in charge of anything to do with the brand image and online sales. He’s also the one making frequent runs to Home Depot for the business’s factory and to the Post Office for shipments. “I have a different set of skills than my father,” says Case, who is also a part-time DJ.

When Kinship Is Friendship

One reason for the growing second-act-plus-child trend: surveys repeatedly show that today’s young adults generally get along well with their parents—and vice versa. “The key is an attitudinal shift in the relations between generations,” says Steve King, founder of Emergent Research, a consulting firm focused on the small business economy. “Boomers are close to their kids and the kids are close to their parents.”

Take Amanda Bates, a Gen X’er, and her mother Kit Seay, co-owners of Tiny Pies in Austin, Texas. “We’ve always had a close relationship, feeding off one another, finishing each other’s sentences,” says Kit, 73. They’d long wanted to do something together.

Several years ago, Amanda got the idea for making handheld pies from her son’s desire to take pie to school. So she and her mother began selling small pies, based on family recipes, in local farmers markets. They now sell them throughout the state, mostly through specialty stores, and opened a retail storefront at their wholesale facility in March 2014. Kit focuses on the creative and catering side of the business; Amanda’s in charge of the basics of running an enterprise. “The trust is there,” says Kit. Amanda agrees. “Yes, the trust is there. If she says something will get done, it will.”

Teaching Your Child Trust

Trust and complementary skills are also themes for Lee Lipton, 59, and his son Max, 25, and their Benny’s On the Beach restaurant in Lake Worth, Fla.

Lee, the restaurant’s principal owner, came out of the clothing manufacturing business, moving to Florida after the Calvin Klein outerwear line he ran with a few partners was sold. He bought Benny’s a year ago. Max, who’d wanted to get into the food business, is one partner; the other is chef Jeremy Hanlon. Lee’s the deal maker, Max manages the restaurant and executive chef Hanlon handles the kitchen. “The three of us trust each other incredibly and when one person feels strongly about something we tend to do it that way,” Lee says. “Very rarely after talking do we disagree, and that format was identical to my past partners. I want to teach Max and Jeremy that closeness.”

For second-act family businesses, creating boundaries between work and home is advisable, but easier to say than do. Speaking about her current relationship with her mom, Amanda Bates says: “We used to go out together and have fun, go to garage sales, that kind of thing. Now, when we get together, the business always come up. Even at family dinners, we end up talking business.”

The Win-Win of Multigenerational Businesses

But in the end, it’s family that makes these businesses succeed.

Bianca Alicea, 26, and her mom Alana, 46, started tchotchke-maker Chubby Chico Charms. in North Providence, R.I. with $500 and less than 100 charm designs at their dining room table in 2005. They now have roughly 25 full-time employees and sell several thousand handmade charms. Alana is the designer; Bianca deals more with payroll and other aspects of the business. “It’s important to remember you are family,” says Bianca. “Things don’t always go according to plan, but at the end of the day you have to see one another as family.”

Intergenerational entrepreneurship, it turns out, can be a win-win for boomers and their kids. For the parents, it’s the answer to the question: What will I do in my Unretirement? For their adult children, working with mom and dad provides them with greater meaning than just picking up a paycheck.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes twice a month about the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications of Unretirement, and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org or @cfarrellecon on Twitter.

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How to Make the Tricky Switch to Nonprofit Work

Coming from the corporate world might not be seen as a plus.

When I was researching my book, Unretirement, I was struck by how many boomers wanted to connect their passion to a paycheck by doing nonprofit work. People with long careers in the private sector often told me that they were eager to do things like help tackle homelessness or address recidivism or educate at-risk children.

The late historian Daniel Boorstin called nonprofits “monuments to community.” And it’s little wonder that growing numbers of boomers are acting on their desire to give back through this incredibly diverse sector, rich with opportunities. Nonprofits range from huge institutions with the trappings of big business to mom-and-pops with a cadre of dedicated employees and volunteers.

Making the leap from the for-profit world to the nonprofit one isn’t always easy, though.

(MORE: Mistakes to Avoid If You Want a Nonprofit Job)

How Not to Do It

When I gave a talk last August at Verrado, a multigenerational planned community in Arizona, a man in the audience had everyone in stitches relaying his tale of self-inflicted woe as he tried making the switch.

When he retired from a corporate career in IT management, he said, he hoped to take his skills to a nonprofit and make a difference. But after getting a job at one and loudly telling his new colleagues they were doing IT all wrong, he was soon thanked for his insights and shown the door. The same thing happened at another nonprofit. These days, he told me, he’s driving a car to make some money while rethinking his approach toward working at a nonprofit — still his goal.

When I relayed his story to Kate Barr, executive director of the Nonprofits Assistance Fund — a Minneapolis-based group that offers capital and expertise to Minnesota nonprofits — she didn’t find it surprising. “It’s a myth that nonprofits don’t know what they’re doing,” says Barr. “Most of them do.”

Start On a Board

Barr, who made the transition from the corporate world with aplomb, has some smart advice for midlifers who’d like to do it. She started her career as a dancer at small dance companies, pirouetted into banking and after 22 years of that (eventually becoming a senior vice president), landed her Nonprofits Assistance Fund job in 2000.

When professionals ask Barr how to make a similar shift, her first question to them is: “Do you serve on any nonprofit boards?” If not, she says, get on some before jumping careers. Board membership, Barr says, offers an opportunity to understand the dynamics of nonprofits.

If you think joining a board is just for the uber-rich who can write big checks, Barr says you’re mistaken. While some nonprofit boards recruit solely from the wealthy and the well-connected (think big-city orchestras and major nonprofit hospitals), many of the nation’s roughly 1.44 million nonprofits don’t (think local food banks and small arts groups).

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As a board member, you’ll be expected to make an annual contribution to the cause. But often, the sums are relatively small. “There are lots of boards to choose from,” Barr says.

Volunteer to Be a Volunteer

Another way in, says Charles McLimans, “volunteer your services” at a nonprofit. “Ask, ‘what do you need me to do?,’” he advises. Like Barr, McLimans, 49, speaks from experience.

He began his career in the corporate sector, including work at REFCO, the commodities trading firm. In 2006, when he moved to Naperville, Ill., to be closer to his family, his sister suggested he volunteer at Loaves and Fishes, a food pantry. In 2008, he became its executive director and only full-time employee.

He’ll soon move to Milwaukee, Wisc. to be President and Chief Executive of Feeding America, Eastern Wisconsin, a 45-person employee hunger-relief organization. “It’s a great opportunity,” says McLimans.

Crosby Kemper III, Executive Director of the Kansas City Public Library, has a few other questions to think deeply about before making the leap to nonprofits. “I’d say the first thing you have to do is ask yourself, ‘What do you want to do with your life? What gifts do you have to give to the world? What do you want to do with the last part of your life?’”

(MORE: Find a Nonprofit Job Matched to Your Passions)

Kemper asked himself those questions before taking the library position in 2005.

Like Barr, Kemper had been a long-time banker (although he took some major career breaks, including a year teaching English in China). He became Chairman and Chief Executive of UMB Financial in 2000, based in Kansas City, Mo., and retired five years later. When the possibility of the library job came up, he talked it over with close friends and met with patrons of the library. Although he enjoyed his business career, Kemper says, “ultimately it didn’t fulfill everything I wanted to do. The life of the mind and the civic role are important, too.”

How to Do a Nonprofit Job Search

No matter what mission or cause attracts you, some of the keys to finding rewarding work at a nonprofit are the same as with any thoughtful job search: Figuring out what do you really want to do, understanding your skillset, knowing what you have to offer and tapping into your network for job leads.

What’s different about the job search at a nonprofit is the opportunity to experiment — to test-drive the combination of your talents and an organization’s needs through volunteering. By learning about a group from the bottom rung of its career ladder, you can understand the intricacies of the nonprofit without romanticizing working there.

After all, even with the most noble vision, every nonprofit is like any other business, with plenty of shortcomings and frustrations. But through volunteering, you’ll live with them and can then decide whether to try to convert your free labor into a part-time or full-time paid position that’ll add meaning to your life.

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Still Working After 75—and Loving It

Singer Willie Nelson performs during an “In Performance at the White House” series event
One of many working seniors, singer Willie Nelson, 81, is still on the road. Jacquelyn Martin—AP

Growing numbers of Americans in their 70s and 80s love their jobs and have no plans to retire. You might be one of them someday.

Willie Nelson is 81; Warren Buffett is 84; Mary Higgins Clark is 86 and David Hockney is 77. All are still working and going strong. So are more and more Americans 75 and older. You might be one of them someday—and glad of it.

In a recent interview, British painter David Hockney—one of the world’s greatest living artists—captured the joy, meaning and youthfulness he continues to draw from his profession. “When I’m working, I feel like Picasso, I feel I’m 30,” he told Tim Lewis of The London Observer. “When I stop I know I’m not, but when I paint, I stand up for six hours a day and yeah, I feel I’m 30.”

‘It’s What I Enjoy Doing’

I imagine that sentiment rings true for Mark Paper, age 81. He’s President of Lewis Bolt & Nut Company in Wayzata, Minn., a firm owned by his family since 1927. Paper took the helm from his father in 1962 and remains deeply involved in the company’s expanding operations. He gets daily and weekly reports, stays in touch with its executives and flies out to visit the manufacturing plant in La Junta, Colo. several times a month.

“Why not stop working?” I asked Paper. “You have money. You’re 81 years old. Haven’t you heard of retirement?” His answer: “It’s what I enjoy doing.”

Plenty of other septuagenarians and octogenarians feel the same way.

Although people working at age 75 and over are a distinct minority—comprising less than 1% of the total labor force—roughly 11% of American men 75 and older are still at it and 5% of women that age are. By contrast, in 1992, only about 7% of 75+ men and 3% of 75+ women worked.

Indeed, after declining sharply in the early postwar decades, the average age of retirement in America has risen over the past two decades, to 64 for men and 62 for women, calculates Alicia Munnell, head of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

While the labor force participation rate for men 75 and up is currently about double that of the rate for women, the gap is expected to shrink. Boomer and Gen X women are well educated and more attached to their jobs than previous generations.

‘I Can’t Imagine Not Being Employed’

Marilyn Tully, 75, loves working, too. She has been self-employed her entire working life in businesses mostly revolving around the home and interior design. “I can’t imagine not being employed,” she says. “Especially if you still have the energy, which I do and, like me, you have the creative urge.”

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been rough patches. In 2007, she and her husband had to shutter their Naples, Fla. furniture business, a casualty of the housing market implosion, and her interior design company suffered. These days, her design business is picking up, she represents a successful jewelry designer and consults on inventory management for high-end designers. (Her husband handles the administrative and IT sides of her firms.) When they aren’t working, they sail Florida’s gulf coast for two weeks at a time on the trimaran Tully’s husband built. “It’s a good life,” she says.

‘It Keeps Me Young’

Newspaper publisher Jerry Bellune of Lexington, S.C., 77, works at a pace that would leave many younger workers gasping. He says running the Lexington County Chronicle & Dispatch News with his wife, MacLeod, offers him “enjoyment, exhilaration, a strong sense of mission and purpose.” On top of that, says Bellune, “it keeps me young, working with younger people and helping them grow personally and professionally.”

And he has no plans to stop. “I’d like to work as long as I’m able and can still make a contribution,” Bellune told me.

Here’s a typical workweek for him: Mondays and Tuesdays, he’s usually at the office, writing, proofing pages and talking with the staff about coverage, and the rest of the week he’s mostly writing and helping with community endeavors. Weekends are busy, too, writing weekly and monthly articles for a business magazine and two trade magazines. (He’s also a consultant and manages a family investment fund. Tired yet?)

The Bellunes do take breaks, traveling abroad several weeks a year and spending time at their vacation home. “We have an excellent staff that permits us that leisure,” he says.

‘It Keeps Me Off the Streets’

Funeral assistant Jerry Beddow, 75, loves working, too. A year after retiring as a high school principal in 1994, Beddow began his current job at Patton-Schad Funeral and Cremation Services in Sauk Centre, Minn. He works about three to four hours a day, helping position caskets at the funeral home, carrying flowers, talking to grieving families and driving the hearse. “It keeps me off the streets,” he laughs.

After researching my new book, Unretirement, I’ve come to believe that the ranks of people 75+ earning a paycheck will expand in coming decades, especially among better educated employees and businesss owners. It isn’t inconceivable that the average retirement age when the youngest boomers reach their 70s in the early 2030s could approach 70.

“Public opinion in the aggregate may decree that the average person becomes old at age 68, but you won’t get too far trying to convince people that age that the threshold applies to them,” notes Pew Research in its report, Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality. “Even among those who are 75 and older, just 35% say they feel old.”

The ones who are able to keep working well into their 70s, I think, will find themselves leading richer lives, both financially and psychically.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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Why Phased Retirement May Become the Hottest Boomer Benefit

Older federal workers will be able to work part-time before retiring. Other employers are likely to follow.

Many Boomers aren’t ready to retire (even if they’re eligible for Social Security and Medicare) but they’re eager to leave behind the demands of the 40-hour workweek, let alone the 50-hour grind.

Little wonder that the concept of phased retirement — gradually trimming back your workdays while holding onto some benefits — is growing in popularity. And the new federal-employee phased retirement program launching this month could make it more widespread, ultimately leading more businesses to offer the benefit.

“Phased retirement allows you to dip your toes into the shallow end of the retirement pool,” says Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “You get to test it out.”

The Benefit of Flexibility

But an official, employer-sanctioned phased retirement option open to all its near-retirees isn’t a common benefit yet. The 2014 National Study of Employers by the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management says 12 percent of employers with 1,000 or more employees let all or most workers phase into retirement.

“If employers would accelerate the drive for flexible work arrangements, everyone would be better off,” says Richard Johnson, labor market expert at the Urban Institute. “Flexibility is important.”

I particularly like formal phased retirement programs — rather than ad-hoc versions worked out quietly between particular employees and their bosses — because they let near-retirees dip their toe into what they’ll do next. And, when the programs are done right, they also include a mentorship provision, where the older workers phasing into retirement spend some of their last days at their employer passing on their accumulated knowledge and skills to their younger colleagues.

A Federal-Employee Phased Retirement Program Begins

The new federal phased retirement program, which technically began accepting applications Nov. 6, is one such program. To qualify, you must either be covered under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. With the former, you must have worked at least 30 years and be at least 55; with the latter, the minimum age for someone with 30 years of service is age 55 to 57.

Federal employees who’ll take phased retirement will work 20 hours a week and receive half their pay and half their retirement annuity payout. They’ll also be required to devote 20 percent of their time mentoring other federal employees, most likely their successors.

The option should “help the federal government attract and retain skilled people,” says Jeffrey Sumberg, specialist leader in Deloitte’s Federal Human Capital Practice. “It’s potentially a win for all.”

Phased retirement has been on the federal government’s human resources wish list for years and the Obama Administration advocated for a program in 2010. The average age of the federal workforce is 47 (four years more than the overall workforce) and the fear has been that decades of accumulated skill and knowledge would leave in a boomer-led “retirement wave.”

Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) proposed federal employee phased-retirement legislation in 2012, which was rolled into a transportation bill that became law. (The estimated cost savings from the program was used to offset the cost of a rural school initiative.)

A Slow Rollout

But government being government, the rollout of the program will be—to put it kindly—gradual. Each federal agency must come up with its own program design. Consequently, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 1,000 workers will take advantage of the program initially, a small fraction of the federal government’s two million-person workforce.

Still, forecasts are that the phased retirement will become available for many federal near-retirees in 2015 and 2016 and that the program will grow in popularity. The Departments of Defense and Energy, for instance, are expected to let their employees begin applying in early 2015. “Everyone is really excited about this, but we’re waiting for it to get off the ground,” says Klement.

The impact could eventually be huge. The federal government’s program may well lead other industries and companies to add formal phased retirement initiatives to their benefits offerings.

“Hopefully the federal government will encourage more companies to be more supportive of the phased retirement option,” says Anna Rappaport, a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and head of her own firm, Anna Rappaport Consulting. Adds Deloitte’s Sumberg: “The federal government gets a bad rap on many things, but when it comes to work flexibility they have been ahead of the curve. To the extent the government can be a model, it could encourage private industry.”

What Two Phased-Retirement Workers Say

What is it like holding down a job in a phased retirement program? To find out, I spoke with two employees of Herman Miller, the office furniture manufacturer based in Zeeland, Mich.

At Herman Miller, employees who are 60 or older with at least five years of service at the company qualify. They can phase into retirement over a period of six months to two years, keeping their full-time benefits all the while and receiving take-home pay based on the number of hours they work. As with the federal program, phased retirement employees at Herman Miller must mentor younger workers — in this case, their eventual replacements.

Tony Cortese, senior vice president of people services at Miller, says his firm’s employees who sign up for phased retirement have the view that “I’m ready to retire, but I’m not ready to go today.”

Jake Boeve retired from Herman Miller at 68 in June, where he was in charge of information technology inventory management, after entering the phased-retirement program two years earlier. A nearly 49-year Miller vet, Boeve worked four days a week the first year of his phased retirement and three days the next.

The transition helped him get into a retirement mindset, he says. “You have to be physically, mentally and financially ready for retirement,” Boeve says. “I would highly recommend phased retirement.”

Tom Riemersma, 64, has six months left in his Herman Miller phased retirement. For much of his 46-year career there, he worked in the model shop, creating prototypes. He says his life has been so structured around hard work at Herman Miller that he wanted to ease into retirement. “Phased retirement has worked well for me,” he says.

Riemersma enjoyed training his replacement, though he says that did lead to a few “awkward moments” personally. “You’re phasing yourself out. Not always easy to do,” he notes.

He’s now working three days a week, down from four during his first year in the program. “Now, I find my weekends are too short,” he says.

That’s just a phase he’s going through. It’ll end soon.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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Ranger with snowmobile, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Ranger with snowmobile, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Blickwinkel—Alamy

These retirees found a way to spend all their time on pursuits they love.

“Damn the submarine. We’re the men of the Merchant Marine!” That singsong phrase woke me up every morning for seven months on my first ship, the SS San Francisco. I went to sea after graduating from college. For four years, I worked on ships, mostly tankers, steaming through the Suez and Panama canals, past the Rock of Gibraltar at midnight under a full moon, stopping in ports like Athens, Dubai, and Yokosuka. A number of my peers had similar adventures after college, including leading wilderness trips, tending bar, teaching English overseas and traveling around Europe picking up odd jobs. Ah, those were adventurous days before the desire for a career and family responsibilities took over.

Peter Millon is living the adventure, too—in his Unretirement, at age 69. Last year, he spent about 70 days skiing the slopes in Park City, Utah, when he wasn’t working four days a week for ‎Rennstall World Class Ski Preparation, repairing skis and waxing skis for racers. Essentially, he split his retirement time 50/50: working half-time and pursuing his passion the other half. In the off-season, Millon plays golf with his oldest son who lives in Salt Lake, fishes and takes target practice. Not bad.

Leading a Wealthy Life

A wealthy industrialist? A Wall Street master of the universe? A high-tech titan of business? Hardly. Millon isn’t wealthy, but he leads a wealthy life. “Do something you love, something for you,” he says. “Don’t do it for anyone else.”

Millon began his career working at a small ski maker in St. Peter, Minn. He then spent decades as a technical director at Salomon North America and its various competitors. During the real estate bubble years, Millon was selling high end appliances for the home, living in a townhouse in Massachusetts. Business tanked when the bubble burst, and he took advantage of an early retirement package. Three years ago, he sold the townhouse and moved to Utah where he was known in the ski community, picking up a condo on the cheap. These days, Millon lives comfortably off Social Security, some investments and the income from his part-time job.

The ‘World’s Oldest Intern’

John Kerr is living the 50/50 life in his Unretirement, too, working as park ranger in Yellowstone between May and September. He didn’t plan on becoming a ranger, though. Kerr had a four-decade career at WGBH as a marketing and fund raising executive, retiring at 65. “It took the shock of the change to rattle my bones a bit,” says John Kerr. “I had way too much energy and experience to sit around.”

His exploration took him out to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where Kerr has a small condo. While walking around Bozeman, Mont., he saw a sign for the Yellowstone National Foundation, which supports Yellowstone National Park. He walked in unannounced and from an off-hand remark during a conversation with the organization’s head, he learned it had an internship opening. Kerr applied and for the next year he was “world’s oldest intern,” talking to visitors about wolves.

Kerr became a Yellowstone ranger five months a year for the next nine years, living close to Jackson in the winters and using his time off to visit family. Now 76, he recently moved back to New England to be near family. Still, he expects next season he’ll return to Yellowstone. “It has been a great adventure,” he says.

Advice for Your Unretirement

When I asked Kerr and Millon what advice they’d give to others in their 60s and 70s eager for adventure, Kerr emphasized the importance of an open mind. “You have to have your eyes open and your ears flapping,” he chuckled. Millon suggested drawing on the relationships you’ve made over the years and the skills you’ve developed without trying to compete for the kind of job you had earlier in your career.

What I took away from both men is that the financial penalty of working fewer hours and doing more of what you love can be much less than you might think.

“The key is that when your interests align with your work, there is nothing from which to retire,” says Ross Levin, a certified financial planner and head of Accredited Investors in Edina, Minn. “We save money to ultimately create a lifestyle. If that lifestyle doesn’t need much money, then we need to save less.”

Think of it this way, says Levin: You earn $10,000 a year in your fulfilling work on a ski slope or in national park or down in the Florida Keys. That’s the equivalent of having $250,000 in investment assets, assuming the 4% withdrawal rule (a standard guideline for safely taking money out of retirement savings). A $20,000 income is the equivalent of $500,000 in assets, and so on.

Much of the conversation about prospects in the traditional retirement years often forgets how creative people are at coming up with solutions. Many Unretirees I’ve interviewed over the years have found they made significant cuts in expenses without slashing their standard of living.

So, if your career didn’t leave you with the kind of portfolio that pushes you into the ranks of the wealthy, that doesn’t mean you can’t construct a comparable lifestyle. The question is: What’s your adventure?

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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Signing up with an encore career matchmaker can be a smart way to find fulfilling, paid work in retirement.

WANTED: Retirees looking for flexible, paid part-time work in their field of expertise.

Now, that’s a help-wanted ad many boomers dream of running across in their Unretirement years, isn’t it? Well, for Harry Coleman of Cincinnati, Ohio, that’s pretty much what happened, thanks to a “matchmaking” service.

Coleman worked for Procter & Gamble (P&G) for 30 years, mostly in product development, and decided to grab P&G’s juicy retirement package at age 51 in 2008. “The last nine years at P&G were a blast,” he says. “But I wanted more of a work and life balance and you can’t do that if you’re working 50 to 60 hours a week.”

A Three-Bucket Approach

These days, Coleman, now 57, embraces a “three bucket” approach to life.

The first two buckets are for volunteering and charitable activities (mostly through his church) and for “goofing off”—golfing, traveling and taking on projects around the house.

The third bucket relates to that ideal help-wanted ad. In this bucket, Coleman takes on flexible, fulfilling, paid part-time consulting positions he has found since he retired mostly through a firm called YourEncore. “The jobs keep me engaged mentally on the work side; I can pick and choose projects,” he says. “Yet I have the capacity to be more involved in other things.”

YourEncore, based in Indianapolis, Ind., is essentially a matchmaker between large corporate customers around the country looking for experienced brainpower to address a pressing business problem (typically for about 10 weeks) and seasoned, skilled Unretirees who are eager for a challenge and part-time income.

YourEncore was created in 2003 when P&G and Eli Lilly, the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant, asked consultant John Barnard for a way management could draw on the knowledge and expertise of retired employees. Boeing quickly joined the venture to recruit “retired engineers for urgent and complex technical projects,” as an internal company online newsletter put it.

Companies using YourEncore are largely in the food, consumer product and life sciences industries. So far, more than 8,000 people have found work through the matchmaker; 65 percent of them have advanced degrees. The pay is good, although the exact amount depends on the person’s experience, the company, the difficulty of the project and the time commitment.

Encore Career Matchmaking Services Are Sprouting

YourEncore is just one example of the growing number of matchmaking services targeted at retiring boomers. It focuses on private sector work, but many others specialize in the social venture space, creating bridges between for-profit careers and nonprofit encores for the greater good. Some are regional, such as Experience Matters in Maricopa County, Ariz. ESC of New England runs an Encore Fellows program in greater Boston. Other matchmakers like ReServe, headquartered in New York City, have national and international ambitions.

Though the Unretiree matchmaking business is pretty new, it’s already starting to puncture a common stereotype: that the idea of gray hair and creativity is an oxymoron. For example, YourEncore workers have earned a reputation for creative problem solving, says Peter Kleinhenz, manager of the its P&G office. “You can be really productive when you don’t have a career that needs to be advanced or turf to protect,” says Kleinhenz.

New York City-based ReServe offers a very different business model, but it, too, acts as an encore career matchmaker.

ReServe connects 55-plus professionals with local nonprofits, public institutions and government agencies. Aside from its New York operations, ReServe also places candidates — typically former lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, corporate recruiters and the like — in Baltimore, Md.; Miami, Fla.; Newark, N.J.: Boston, Mass.; southeast Wisconsin and New York’s Westchester County. ReServe has placed more than 3,300 workers at more than 350 organizations.

ReServists work for a $10-an-hour stipend, well below their market value during their earlier career. (Another $5-an-hour is split between the company managing payroll for the person and ReServe.) The job is between 10 and 20 hours a week and the average ReServe contract lasts nine months to a year.

“A good proportion—50%—are not really looking to do what they have done before. They want to use their skills in a brand new setting. The common denominator is transferable skills,” says Lorrie Lutz, chief strategy officer at Fedcap, a New York-based nonprofit that combined with the smaller ReServe in 2012.

For example, Lutz says, an accountant with a passion working with kids might spend a stint as a math tutor. A marketing professional might employ her skills at a government agency struggling to get its policy message out.

Giving Back for Your Next Career

ReServe plans on operating in every state and taking its program overseas. “We think we have a great idea here. There’s a generation of talent here and abroad. Boomers are the most-educated generation,” says Lutz. “They have so much to give back.”

That’s certainly the case with Scott Kariya, an IT recruiter for 23 years who “retired” at 52 in 2006. Quickly bored, Kariya reached out to ReServe. He didn’t find an open position at the time, but in 2008 talked his way into a job at ReServe’s main office.

He worked there three days a week using his recruiting skills, spending the rest of his time volunteering at the local Red Cross, managing his investment portfolio and doing other things. “Everyone wants to stay busy,” says Kariya. “But I think a lot of people get tired of the 50-hour workweek.” Today, he heads up ReServe’s information technology operations.

A common denominator among encore career matchmakers is the amount of effort they put into finding the right people for clients’ needs. YourEncore gains an understanding of the proposed project from P&G, Lilly or another corporate customer, and then uses that to find the right experts. ReServe learns about the skills and passions of its applicants so the client partnerships are fruitful.

I’ve witnessed the same matchmaking ethos at Experience Matters in Phoenix and with the national Encore Fellowships Network. Although the infrastructure is still being built, the future looks bright because corporate America and nonprofits seem more aware of the talents and skills of available boomers.

Locating a Local Matchmaker

To find an encore career matchmaker in your area, you might start at the Encore.org site. But you may need to take a more indirect route, by networking locally. For example, in Portland, Ore., Life By Design NW serves as an information clearinghouse. JV EnCorps (part of the Jesuit Volunteer Network) recruits people 50 and older in Portland and Bend, Ore. and Seattle, Wash. In Kansas City, you could check out Next Chapter Kansas City, a grassroots networking group for boomers.

At the moment, the supply of people eager to keep using their accumulated knowledge and creative insights exceeds the demand for their services. But organizations like YourEncore and ReServe point the way toward a model that allows for engagement and compensation for people who’d otherwise have lots of time on their hands.

It’s a model that may well end up defining Unretirement the way Sun City symbolized retirement for a different generation in the 1960s.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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Senior painting in studio
Lynn Koenig—Getty Images/Flickr

You aren't limited to a second career. Be ready to embrace a third or fourth career as opportunities come along.

Most of my boomer friends tell their adult children to plan on multiple jobs and careers. The era of corporate loyalty and the organization man and woman is long gone, they (and I) say—due to a hypercompetitive global economy and their likely desire to embrace new opportunities throughout their work lives. Good advice.

But boomers ought to heed this insight, too, embracing multiple acts during the second half of life. I think you shouldn’t just plan on a second career, but maybe a third or a fourth.

Linda Lyman: On Her Third Career

That’s also what Linda Lyman told me with a smile when we met at a Phoenix breakfast event for UMOM, a nonprofit helping families break the cycle of homelessness. She’s exploring her third career in what I call Unretirement (also the title of my new book on the trend).

Lyman moved to Phoenix 31 years ago, eventually managing legal services for a land developer. On the 17th anniversary at this job, a colleague congratulated her and asked: “What will you do for the next 17 years?” The thought of spending another 17 years at one place jolted Lyman, then 46.“I have to get out of here,” she thought. “I am going to do something more meaningful.”

Lyman next began working at a small nonprofit that mentored at-risk kids, New Pathways for Youth, and ran the group successfully for a decade. She loved the work, but decided it was time to “retire” earlier this year. “Ten years is a long time,” Lyman says. “I needed to have more life balance. I left on my own terms. It’s good.”

Now Lyman, 58, is eager to teach in an inner-city school. “I want to do something that I’m passionate about,” she says. “Teaching is what I thought I was going to do when I was in high school. It’s nice to be circling back.” Her husband is 65 (he’s retired from Intel) and the couple is open to relocating for Lyman’s teaching job, with Wisconsin and Minnesota high on her list.

Ginia Desmond: Heading Toward Career No. 5

Ginia Desmond is now on her fourth career and may be heading towards No. 5. My sense is that she has danced from one adventure to another.

Desmond was a serious artist early on, with a Masters in Fine Art. She painted in Argentina while living there with her first husband and then in the Phillippines, where her second husband—Charles Kepner, founder of the Kepner-Tragoe consulting firm—worked.

Desmond brought some Philippine fabrics back when they moved to Tucson about a year later and sold them to a local boutique. The store owner wanted to buy more fabrics, so for her second career Desmond created Sangin, a trading company importing baskets, fabrics, lighting fixtures and similar items from the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

She ran the business for 27 years and sold Sangin in 2003. “I never got rich,” she says. “But we didn’t go broke and I employed a lot of people.”

Time to return to her first career, she thought. So Desmond again picked up her charcoal, oils and watercolors and worked at becoming an established artist.

But Desmond took a screenwriting course at the University of Arizona in 2004 and fell in love with writing screenplays, which led her to career No. 4.

She’s since written a dozen-plus scripts; some have been optioned and she has been hired to write a few others. One of her scripts is Lucky U Ranch, about a bullied boy living in a trailer park in the ‘50s who is helped out by an angel appearing in a Cadillac that’s pulling a shiny silver trailer. A local director liked it and offered to turn the script into a movie if Desmond could find a producer.

She thought about the offer and finally landed on a producer—herself. Could this be career No. 5?

“I could buy a home or I could make a movie,” says Desmond, now 72. “I’ve bought several homes. Why not make a movie?”? She put up the money, is hoping for a winter release and is now working on another screenplay, Singapore Fling, about revisiting the island nation late in life to meet up with an old flame.

While Lyman and Desmond have led very different lives, they’ve both taken a savvy approach in approaching their encore careers.

For example, Lyman took advantage of her retirement from New Pathways for Youth to think through her options. When she kept coming back to becoming a teacher, she reached out to a few that she knew to glean insights about the job.

At the moment, Lyman is thinking about applying to Teach for America. The program is best known for hiring young college graduates and placing them in schools in low-income communities, but the organization has been increasingly opening its doors to midlifers.

Desmond has a talent for finding intriguing opportunities, but was careful to ensure that she could afford her latest venture: movie producer.

She didn’t let her enthusiasm for the project put her finances at risk. An unusual source of income helps: she gets royalties from her songwriting father, whose best known hit is Here Comes Santa Claus.

Turns out that for many of us, our Unretirement may not be our encore career but encore careers. Pretty cool.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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When You’re Bored Silly in Retirement

140918_RET_Boredom
Martin Diebel—Getty Images

After taking a break from your career, you may need a break from retirement. Here's how three retirees found their next act.

Ah, retirement! Playing golf whenever you like. Fishing when the mood strikes. Cocktails in the afternoon and barbequing on the patio. But what do you do when you try out retirement and you’re bored stiff?

Ask Ken Howard, 67, of Greer, S.C., who built a successful trash hauling business and sold it to Waste Management in 1997. “I was really looking forward to getting rid of all the everyday headaches that come from running a company,” Howard recalls. So he built a house on a golf course, but soon found that after “playing a good bit of golf I got bored.”

His retirement lasted about five months.

Howard then bought a car wash…and then another….and then another. He now has eight. He has also bought a septic pump business (largely run by his son and nephew) and owns a small real estate investment company.

“I still get excited about cutting a deal,” he says. “Doesn’t matter if it’s $200 or $200,000.” These days, Howard says, he spends a lot of time at his family’s lake house, “but when I am in town I’m usually at the office.”

Even Del Webb Got Bored

Former utility executive Jackie Hauserman, 72, took a retirement package in 1998 when her company, Centerior Energy, was bought. She moved from Ohio to Florida, first to Naples and then to Bonita Bay. Retirement didn’t take, so Hauserman got a real estate license in 2001, at 59, and has been selling for John R. Woods Properties ever since. “I have been really busy. It is fun,” she says.

Even Del Webb, developer of America’s most famous retirement community — Sun City, near Phoenix, Ariz. — couldn’t live the life of leisure. A 1962 Time cover story about him said: “Del Webb, the hulking, slope-shouldered, long-striding 63-year-old who hates to be called Delbert, could not stand the life in one of his own Sun Cities for more than a few days — or a few hours.” He preferred working.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned while researching my new book, Unretirement: Most people desire to live their third age doing something between full-time work and full-time golf. And many new retirees find themselves easily bored without working part-time, even if they don’t need a paycheck.

Certainly, that sentiment was repeatedly expressed at a recent talk I gave at Verrado, a new multigenerational development outside Phoenix, where residents found the initial joy of sleeping in and enjoying an early cocktail faded with time. All were now working part-time or looking for the right retirement job.

The Shock of the New

The swing from racing to embracing leisure to seeking work isn’t really surprising. Put it this way: You spend many years holding down a full-time job (or multiple part-time jobs), so freedom from bosses and job stress is liberating at first. Many people have a bucket list of delayed projects and postponed travel, too. But… Your career and the expertise you’ve built up over a lifetime are also a big part of who you are.

So putting it all behind you can be a shock.

“After awhile, you then wake up and something isn’t quite right,” says Joel Larsen, a certified financial planner at Navion Financial Advisors, in Davis, Calif. “Successful retirement means finding fulfillment and meaning. And a lot of fulfillment and meaning comes from being good at what you do.”

4 Myths of Aging and Retirement

His insight echoes the results from the recent Merrill Lynch survey, Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations, Career Reinventions and the New Retirement Workscape.” Conducted in partnership with Age Wave, the demographic consulting firm, the survey disputes four popular myths about aging. They are:

  • Retirement means the end of work
  • Retirement is a time of decline
  • People only work in retirement because they need the money (the reality: meaning and purpose matter, too)
  • New career ambitions are only for young people

I’ve grown convinced that most people need to take a break from their careers — they need to retire — before they can Unretire. It takes a break to figure out the next stage.

Adopting a Fresh Perspective

“You have to get out of the work mindset and take a fresh perspective,” says Ellen Griggs, 59, an excellent example of someone who has taken deliberate steps toward Unretirement.

Griggs had a successful career in finance with some storied firms (Paine Webber and Strong Capital Management among them) as Chief Investment Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Client Advocate and Investment Consultant. In 2011, at 56, Griggs took a year off, traveling spending time with her family and working on a 160-year-old home on Cape Cod.

She also hooked up with Boston-based New Directions, a career transition organization focused on helping executives and professionals figure out what’s next. “During my career I had never been introspective about what I was going to do when I retired,” she says. With New Directions, “I got to kick the tires.”

She’s since ended up filling her days with a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit activities, including being a member of the philanthropic trust board at the Boston Medical Center and a board director at Evanston Capital.

How to Beat Boredom in Retirement

So, what should you do when playing golf isn’t enough and you want more meaning and purpose in retirement?

Reach out. Talk to your network of friends and former colleagues who know your skills and strengths; ask them what they think you should do next.

If you’ve decided what field you’d like to migrate into, part-time, attend a local industry meeting and find out how others made their transition. This is a low-cost way to glean information and make contacts.

Potentially even more powerful is hooking up with similarly challenged retirees who’ve decided to put their leisure days aside.

For instance, Experience Matters in Phoenix matches talented private sector workers looking for their next act with community-based nonprofits. Similarly, Shift is a Twin Cities-based organization with a goal of guiding midlife life transitions toward “purpose, passion and a paycheck.” And the Encore Fellowships Network is another path for experienced professionals who want to devote time at social-service organizations.

Another resource: your local community college. These schools are creating courses and meeting spaces for boomers looking for a next act. You can look up programs near you at the website for the American Association of Community Colleges’ Plus 50 program.

It’s a safe bet that in coming years, people will talk less about golf and leisure in retirement and more about preparing for a new stage of productive and creative work in their Unretirement.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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