TIME Aging

Life Lessons From One of the World’s Oldest Men

Charlie White
Charlie White, photographed in 2008 at age 103. Doug Dalgleish

Charlie White, who died at 109, was able to separate the things he could control from the things that he could not

One sunny Sunday morning seven years ago, shortly after we moved into our new home in suburban Kansas City, I noticed that my neighbor across the street was busy in his driveway. Wearing only a pair of shorts, his barrel chest rippling, he was using a sponge and a garden hose to wash his girlfriend’s purple PT Cruiser. Did I feel a twinge of envy at all that this scene implied—the Saturday night romance; the love-interest perhaps dozing languorously inside as her man basked and flexed? No comment. With a glance at my own battered minivan, with its sticky cup holders and booster seats smelling faintly of baby puke, I went inside.

What made the scene especially memorable was that my neighbor was 102.

When you meet a man who is 102, you don’t expect to know him very long. Yet my friendship with Dr. Charles White—Charlie—wound up lasting seven years. Charlie died on Aug. 17, about an hour after he turned 109. That was long enough for him to leave a powerful mark on me.

Talking to Charlie was like falling into a history book. He was born in 1905, during the first months of the William Howard Taft administration. Buffalo Bill Cody and Chief Geronimo were still alive; John F. Kennedy and Laurence Olivier were not yet born. The Wright Brothers had made their first flight not 20 months earlier. Henry Ford had not yet started to mass-produce cars. Among the names the world did not yet know: Lenin, Mao, Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Louis Armstrong, Shirley Temple, Peter Pan.

As I mentioned, he was quite a physical specimen. In our first conversation, he bemoaned the fact that he had recently been compelled to give up golf, at 101. (It was several years before he surrendered his plans to resume the sport.) Even more amazing, though, was Charlie’s brain. He salted his conversations with details plucked effortlessly from yesterday’s newspaper and events of a century ago.

I asked him once if he could recall the old Newman Theater, where young Walt Disney premiered his first Laugh-O-Gram animations in 1921 before moving to Hollywood. Charlie answered with a vivid tour of every movie house in the city circa 1921—not just the Newman, but the place around the corner where his sister played the organ to accompany silent reels, and another place a few blocks from that, and the vacant lot where films were screened on hot summer nights before air conditioning. Then he painted a word-picture of Electric Park out south of town, at the end of the streetcar line. That was the place where Disney watched in awe as the nightly tableaux of human actors rose from fountains on hydraulic lifts each evening. With its manicured landscaping, nightly fireworks, and miniature train puffing around the perimeter, the amusement park of Charlie’s youth fed the imagination that would eventually create Disneyland.

The first doctor in Kansas City to specialize in anesthesiology, Charlie could discourse at length on the invention of modern medicine. He could tell you what it was like to be a general practitioner making house calls in the Depression, removing tonsils with picture wire. It was a hard life, making ends meet on late payments and barter—no health insurance back then. When science advanced beyond ether and brandy for surgery patients, he leapt at the chance to learn anesthesia at the Mayo Clinic. That was 1944. He later learned that his specialty had side benefits; Charlie confided to me that he rendered his kids unconscious for long drives across Kansas on their way to vacations in Colorado.

Charlie had a lot of laughs over the decades. He loved to tell about the time that he and his boyhood friend—later the controversial journalist Edgar Snow, friend of Mao—set off cross-country on dirt roads in a rattletrap 1919 automobile. When the car and their money gave out in California, the lads picked fruit to buy food and hopped freight trains to get home. He worked his way through medical school blowing the saxophone in a dance band. He heard a promising young Kansas City jazzman named Charlie Parker in a local club.

Another local guy, Harry S. Truman, once sent Charlie to South America to assist in a surgery on the president of Peru. Diplomatic immunity suited Charlie. He smuggled a pet monkey on the return trip, which lived in his home for years.

But his was a real life, which means that it wasn’t all laughs. Charlie knew grief from boyhood. His father, a minister of the Disciples of Christ, was killed in a freak elevator accident when Charlie was only eight. His mother took in boarders to pay the bills; some of them were doctors—that’s how Charlie found his future. Later, his first marriage was a trial of mental illness that ended in his wife’s suicide. As the decades passed, Charlie outlived his friends, his associates, even one of his children.

What this rich life taught him was a kind of inner peace, an equanimity reflecting the robust wisdom known as Stoicism. Charlie was able to separate the things he could control from the things that he could not, and he didn’t fret about matters beyond his power. One of his daughters told us once that she was complaining about an insufferable certain someone we all knew when her father told her to stop. You can’t change people like that, Charlie schooled her. If I let such people irritate me, I would have been dead a long time ago.

He taught me something even more useful in the last months of his life. By then, his superhuman body was finally wearing out. Charlie was nearly blind and mostly deaf, though his mind never faded. More and more of his charming and straightforward conversation has to do with his readiness for death. He wasn’t depressed about the oncoming end. Even less was he angry or fearful. He didn’t pine for days past nor pick scabs of regret and resentment.

Instead, it was as if Charlie had reached the end of a long day at the amusement park. The moments of delight and surprise, along with the moments of pain and fear, along with the moments of exhaustion and exhilaration, along with the moments of wonder and love—all culminated in the hazy afterglow of the closing fireworks and the dimming lights.

It was time to leave.

Charlie White lived the dream of countless men and women in my generation, the insufferable Baby Boomers. Hale and hearty well past 100, forever handsome with his rakish moustache and abundant hair, Charlie was prosperous, comfortable, ageless. And that dream led him to a graceful acceptance that … it ends.

Don’t get me wrong: I am all in favor of long and healthy lives. But there is something unseemly in the modern notion that science should aim to cure us of death. Charlie came closer than anyone else I’ve known to that vision of endless life. Close enough to decide that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. He saved me a good deal of fretting. Thanks, Charlie.

When I heard that he was gone, I thought of Emily Dickinson, for some reason: “Because I could not stop for Death—He kindly stopped for me.” I smiled to know that Charlie was glad to see him.

TIME Sex

Here’s What a 100-Year-Old Sex Therapist Thinks is Wrong With Sex Today

She says our hectic work lives are killing our sex lives

+ READ ARTICLE

She was born before the invention of the stop sign, but sex therapist Shirley Zussman has some thoughts on ‘hooking up.’ “I don’t think it’s as frantic as casual sex was in the sixties,” she says, noting that modern ‘hooking up’ isn’t as exciting without the context of a sexual revolution. Besides, she adds: “In the long run, sexual pleasure is just one part of what men and women want from each other.”

At 100, Dr. Zussman is still a practicing sex therapist in New York City. In the 50-plus years since she began counseling people about all things related to sex, Dr. Zussman has witnessed everything from the legalization of the contraceptive birth control pill in 1960 (she started in sex therapy shortly afterwards) to the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s to the rise of internet porn in the new millennium.

She’s one of the oldest sex therapists in the world, but that might be the least extraordinary thing about her life and career. Born at the beginning of World War I, she graduated from Smith college in 1934, in the same class as Julia Child. Zussman was mentored through her graduate dissertation by Margaret Mead, and in the 1960s learned about sex therapy from Masters and Johnson, the inspiration for the Showtime series Masters of Sex. Her husband, a gynecologist, performed one of the first legal abortions in New York.

Here’s what she has to say about casual sex, cell phones, and how our hectic work lives are changing our attitudes toward sex.

On how being busy hurts your sex life:

“The use of time is very different in our society today. People are busy all the time. That was not true when I was growing up. At this stage of our development, we want to cover everything, we want to know everything, we want to do everything, and there’s also [our personal] economy which requires an immense amount of time and effort…There is a limit to how much energy and desire and time you can give to one person when there is all this pressure make more money, to be the CEO, to buy a summer house, people want more and more and more. Desire requires a certain amount of energy.

It’s a consequence of being exhausted…The most common problem I see is a lack of desire, a lack of interest. I had a patient say to me, ‘ I love my husband, I love making love to him, but I come home from work, I’ve been with people all day, I just want to crash.’”

On an increased openness about sex:

“I don’t think that the stigma around sex therapy exists like it was in the early years. People were ashamed they had to go to a psychiatrist or a social worker, because it means they needed help. Many people resist the idea that somebody needs to tell them how to have sex.”

“There were changes in the culture, too, there was the sexual revolution. There was the development of the pill, women were freer to let not worry so much about getting pregnant, there was every magazine and TV program talking about sex, there was every advertisement using sex to sell their product. There was an overwhelming immersion in the whole idea of getting more pleasure out of sex. It was not just about having babies.”

On what she learned from Masters and Johnson:

“They were recognizing that it was not all just glamorous and wonderful to be sexual, but that one almost had to learn to be a good partner…Their way of communicating was one of their greatest contributions, and that was not to talk so much about it, but to start with touching and caressing and stroking and kissing, and not rush for that golden bell in the middle of the carousel. It doesn’t start with the man having an erection and then you have intercourse, 1,2,3.”

And what she thinks of the TV show:

“I went to the preview party and met some of the actors in it. I was introduced to Michael Sheen, and he knew that I had known Masters and Johnson, so he said ‘tell me, how do you think I’m representing him?’ I said, ‘I think youre doing a pretty good job, but there’s a major difference.’ He said, ‘whats that?’ I said, ‘you’re handsome.’”

On her weirdest experience in 50 years of sex therapy:

“Someone called me and said he needed some help. He said ‘I’m a bad boy and I’m looking for someone for spankings.’ I had to make it clear that that’s not within my range of expertise.”

On the difference between casual sex in the 60s and ‘hooking up’ today:

“I think there’s a big change in the way we view casual sex. In the 60s it wasn’t just casual—it was frantic. It was something you expected to happen to you, you wanted it to happen, it was sort of a mad pursuit of sexual pleasure. But I think over time the disadvantages of that kind of behavior began to become apparent. There was the emotional crash– the intimacy was not there in the way that people need and want. There was a concern about sexual diseases, and then eventually AIDS made a major impact on calming that excitement.”

I think what was expected of casual sex – frantic sex– was something that didn’t deliver. Because in the long run, sexual pleasure is just one part of what men and women want from each other. They want intimacy, they want closeness, they want understanding, they want fun, and they want someone who really cares about them beyond just going to bed with them.”

I think hooking up includes some aspect of the kind of sex we were just talking about, but in a very much modified, and limited way. It’s not as frantic.”

On the popularity of oral sex:

“Oral sex was always part of the picture. I think primitive people learned how to get pleasure from oral sex, we just didn’t know about it. Oral sex was never talked about in your mother’s generation or my mother’s generation or my generation in the early days.”

On internet pornography:

“There’s nothing new about pornography. It’s been around since prehistoric days…I think that’s a healthy thing that people have the ability and the freedom to allow themselves to fantasize. But I have a number of patients who sit in front of the computer and watch pornography online, and somehow lose interest in seeking a partner. I see that a lot in some single men who don’t make the effort to go out in the world to face the issues, face the possible rejection—they satisfy their sexual needs sitting in front of the computer and masturbating.”

On living to be 100:

“We’ve been brainwashed to think that we all become couch potatoes when we’re old. You have to have expectations of yourself! You can make friends in many different ways, but you have to make the effort. You can’t say ‘oh , all my friends died,’ or ‘they’re sick,’ or ‘they don’t want to do what I want to do.’ You have to make an effort to find those new people. They don’t just come running to your door the way they might have when you were growing up.”

On the evils of cell phones:

“I’m shocked at the lack of connection between people because of iPhones. There is so much less of actual physical connection. There’s less touching, there’s less talking, there’s less holding, there’s less looking. People get pleasure from looking at each other. From a smile, and touching. We need touching to make us feel wanted and loved. That’s lacking so much in this generation. Lack of looking, lack of touching, lack of smiling. I don’t get it. I don’t get how people aren’t missing that, and don’t seem to think they are.”

 

 

 

MONEY

These New Programs Help Workers Retire at Their Own Pace

The federal government will allow employees to phase in their retirement by working part-time. But private companies are slower to offer this benefit.

Gwendolyn Ross will turn 66 in November, but she isn’t ready to retire. A deputy comptroller for the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami Beach, Florida, she hopes to work until she’s 70—but she would like to cut back her hours.

“I have some health issues that require a lot of visits to the doctor, and I’d love to have more time to visit my family in Michigan,” she says. At the same time, she needs to keep working to prepare for retirement. “As I get closer to it, I realize I’m not as financially ready as I thought I would be when I was younger. The time went by really quickly.”

Ross is a great candidate for a new federal government program that will allow workers to opt for a phased retirement. Participants in the program, which launches this fall, will be able to work half-time while collecting half their pensions after they reach the eligible retirement age.

For the government, the program is expected to be a money saver. The Congressional Budget Office estimated recently that 1,000 employees might take advantage of phased retirement annually, and would continue work for three years. That would cut required contributions to the government’s pension system by $427 million from 2013 to 2022, and boost worker contributions by $24 million.

But phased retirement also will help the government retain talent and expertise at a time when the “brain drain” from an aging workforce is a major concern. About 600,000 people, or 31% of the federal civilian workforce, will be eligible for retirement by September 2017, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Phased retirees will be required to spend at least 20% of their time mentoring younger employees.

“It can help people who want to phase out over time, but it makes sense for the whole workforce,” says Kevin E. Cahill, a research economist at Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work. “Younger workers can tap into the knowledge that the older crowd has, and make sure it doesn’t get lost lost.”

Worker interest in a flexible glide path to retirement is strong, and it’s not limited to the federal payroll. A survey this year by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 64% of workers—of all ages—envision a phased retirement involving continued work with reduced hours. For workers closest to retirement, frequently cited reasons for continued work included financial need (34%) and a desire for income (19%). But 34% had a desire to “stay involved” or said they enjoyed their work.

Employers have been slow to respond. Just 21% of respondents to the Transamerica survey said their employers offer phased retirement—and that figure may be too optimistic.

The Society for Human Resource Management reports that 11% of employers provide some version of phased retirement, with only 4% having formal programs. Cahill’s research shows similar employer disinterest in phased retirement programs.

“Sometimes there are institutional or administrative restrictions,” he says. “And some employers may have good reasons not to offer flexible hours.”

Much more common, he found, are workers who find what they need by changing jobs. “These are bridge jobs that carry people through from their careers to withdrawal later on from the labor force,” he says.

Some experts think phased retirement options will become more popular as the economy improves and labor markets tighten, particularly as demand for specialized skills rises. And the federal government’s move could be a catalyst for change in the private sector.

Each federal agency will write its own eligibility rules, and phased retirement won’t be a guaranteed right for all workers. But basic eligibility will depend on which of the two major federal retirement programs covers an employee.

The government has a legacy Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), a traditional defined-benefit system, and the newer Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), a defined-contribution program with a small traditional pension component.

CSRS employees will be eligible for phased retirement at age 55 with 30 years of service, or at 60 with 20 years of service. FERS employees must be 60 with 20 years of service, or have 30 years of service and have reached their minimum retirement-eligible age.

Interest in the program is strong, according to Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

“The number of phone calls we get from members tells me there are a lot of people waiting for this,” she says. “Many of them are ready to take a step back, but they don’t really want to quit yet.”

TIME

6 Foods That Can Age Your Skin

184360278
Gummy Candies Juanmonino—Getty Images

There’s a reason why your skin feels a little off after a series of holiday parties, BBQs, or mojito-filled beach days: “What you eat affects your skin—for better or worse,” says Ariel Ostad, MD, fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. While a few indulgences won’t age you overnight, a continuously poor diet can accelerate the aging process of your skin (and teeth) over time. Here, 6 foods to consume in moderation in order to look as young as you feel.

Health.com: 13 Everyday Habits That Age You Faster

Sweets

Sugar overload may kick-start a process called glycation. The theory: When you eat more sugar than your cells can process, the excess sugar molecules combine with proteins, creating “advanced glycation end products” (appropriately referred to as “AGES”), explains Dr. Ostad. Ultimately, AGES may damage your skin’s collagen (the protein that keeps skin firm and youthful).

Unsurprisingly, too much sweet stuff is also bad for your smile. “Sugar sticks to your teeth, encouraging bacteria, decay, and discoloration,” says Brian Kantor, a cosmetic dentist who practices in New York City. If you treat yourself to something sweet, swish water around your mouth afterward to remove any buildup.

Health.com: 10 Easy Ways to Slash Sugar From Your Diet

Alcohol

A healthy liver means healthy skin. “When your liver is functioning well, toxins that could potentially affect the skin are expelled naturally through your body,” says Dr. Ostad. “But if toxins build up in your liver, and aren’t broken down properly, your skin can develop a variety of issues, like acne, sallowness, and wrinkles.” Drinking can also trigger rosacea outbreaks.

To top it off, alcohol is dehydrating and bad for your sleep, which was associated with accelerated aging in a Case Western Reserve University study. “Inadequate sleep is linked to wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, and reduced skin elasticity,” says Dr. Ostad.

White wine

White wine falls into its own category because of its surprising dental damage. While a glass of red will give you instant “wine mouth,” the acid in white wine damages your enamel and makes your teeth more prone to longer-lasting stains. So if you always end your day with a glass of chardonnay, your teeth may be more vulnerable to those coffee stains the next morning.

Here’s what not to do: brush your teeth immediately after drinking (same goes for any acidic drink). Brushing already acidic teeth can further the erosion of your enamel. “You need to give your teeth time to remineralize after being bathed in an acidic beverage,” says Maureen McAndrew, clinical professor at the New York University School of Dentistry. “I’d wait an hour after drinking before lifting a toothbrush.”

Charred meat

That black char on your burger? It may contain pro-inflammatory hydrocarbons, which could present a problem since inflammation breaks down the collagen in your skin, explains Dr. Ostad. You don’t necessarily need to banish BBQ from your vocab, but at least make sure you scrape off the black stuff, and clean the grill afterward so you don’t contaminate your next meal.

Health.com: 6 Ways to Have a Healthier Barbecue

Salty foods

You might not cook with salt, but that doesn’t guarantee your intake is low. “Many canned foods are preserved with sodium, which can make you retain water and cause a ‘puffy’ look,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, former president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery, and dermatologist practicing in Massachusetts. If you need a quick fix, combat fluid retention with a moisturizer that contains caffeine (it’s known for reducing puffiness when applied topically).

Health.com: 13 Shockingly Salty Foods

Processed meats

Think: Deli meat, sausage, and bacon. “Many of these meats have sulfites and other preservatives, which can trigger inflammation in the skin, and accelerate the appearance of aging,” says Dr. Ostad. They also tend to be high in salt, which can make you look puffy. (Not to mention, processed red meats have been linked to heart disease.) Try swapping the deli meat on your sandwich for chicken or turkey. If you can’t say goodbye for good, use less meat, and load up on veggies.

14 Foods That Make You Look Older originally appeared on Health.com.

MONEY retirement planning

9 Steps to a Successful Retirement Plan

These time-tested moves can help you achieve a retirement that meets your financial goals and is emotionally satisfying too.

Your retirement will benefit from an informed understanding of key numbers, as I explained last week. How big is your nest egg? How much money will you need to live on? How much should you draw from your funds each year? How long do you expect to live?

Whether your retirement is successful, however, will depend not so much on these numbers but on whether your later years fulfill your emotional needs.

Money is important to happiness, of course. But there are other requirements here, including feeling secure about your future, not being exposed to investment risks you consider excessive, satisfying your concerns and goals for the legacy you wish to leave behind, and, when all is said and done, feeling you’ve run the best race of your life.

These are emotional and aspirational goals and you can’t put numbers to them. Yet, everyone has them, so it’s important to factor them into your retirement savings, investing and spending plans.

I’ve written gobs of stories about “can’t miss” and “best practices” retirement plans, speaking with retirement experts across the spectrum. From them, I’ve fashioned an approach to retirement that I like so well that I’ve adopted it for my own retirement plan. Here it is.

My advice to you, as with pretty much all financial advice, is to use this approach as a starting place. Adopt it, modify, or toss it out. But by all means, think about it and use it to help you make your own retirement plans.

My plan is shaped by my risk tolerances (low) and desire for financial security (high). It creates a 100% likelihood that I will not outlive my money. It is also a strategy that includes the needs of myself and my wife. We are willing to leave some money on the table in the interest of security. And we also are willing to defer some retirement income and thus “lose” money should we die earlier than we hope.

Step One: Add up sources of guaranteed retirement income—Social Security and pensions. In terms of longevity risk, the odds favor at least one member of a 65-year old couple living into their 90s. Therefore, give serious thought to deferring Social Security until age 70, when it has reached its maximum value.

Beyond being guaranteed, Social Security payments also increase each year to reflect the prior year’s inflation. They are, quite simply, the very best retirement dollars around. And I don’t buy all the gloom-and-doom stories about the program’s demise. Social Security will be here for a long, long time.

Step Two: Unless you know a shorter life is in the cards, opt for joint survivorship payments on any pension proceeds. They will be smaller than payments that would stop upon you or your spouse’s death. But both pensions will continue so long as either of you live. The goal here is to maximize security, not dollars.

Step Three: Tote up how much guaranteed money you will receive every month once you stop working. This could be a long time off or, depending on an adverse health or other life event, just around the corner.

Step Four: Build a detailed record of household spending, perhaps divided into major spending buckets—mortgage, utilities, good, cars, insurance, out-of-pocket healthcare, etc. Make note of required versus discretionary spending.

Step Five: Compare your projected guaranteed retirement payments with your current required spending needs. The goal here is for the two numbers to match. If they do, then in a worst-case world, you will always have enough money to keep a roof over your head and maintain a lifestyle that is close to the one you now have.

Step Six: If your fixed income today is projected to be smaller than your current fixed expenses, you will need to downsize. This might involve your home. Getting out from under mortgage and upkeep costs is the largest downsizing opportunity for most people.

Step Seven: If downsizing doesn’t get you there, consider using a portion of your nest egg to get more guaranteed lifetime income by purchasing an immediate annuity that will close the gap. This would reduce your savings, of course, but it scores very, very high on the “Sleep at Night” scale! Consider a longevity annuity as part of your solution.

Step Eight: Having balanced your fixed income and expenses, you can tap your investment portfolio to fund the gratifying things you want to do during your retirement years. If market returns are good, you will be able to do more. And during the inevitable periods of poor market performance, you can reduce discretionary spending without putting your basic standard of living at risk.

Step Nine: Set aside a portion of your savings against the day when one of you dies, so that it can compensate for the loss of one Social Security benefit. If you want to leave a financial legacy, set it aside here as well. If you still own a home after downsizing, use your equity as a piggy bank you hope never to break open. But it will be there for healthcare and other unforeseen emergencies.

That’s my plan. What’s yours?

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. He is an award-winning business journalist and a research fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

MONEY Second Career

How to Shift From Full-time Work to a Part-Time Second Career

Choir Teacher
Nicole Hill—Getty Images

Here are proven strategies for finding both money and joy in your transition to retirement.

If you’re a boomer you may remember small “hippie” shops selling fringe jackets. Maybe you still have one of them stored in a closet. If so, your Age of Aquarius memento might have been created by Lincoln Wolfe, now 60.

In recent years, Wolfe has made the transition from full-time (high stress) manager in the craft leather business to part-time (low stress) consultant to the industry. His job duties now range from training young workers to planning factory layouts.

“I didn’t want to work full-time for anyone,” he says. “I enjoy what I am doing at a more relaxed pace. This is retirement.”

Downshifting In the Field You Love
Transitioning from a 40-hour-plus workweek to a part-time schedule in retirement that’s less of a grind, but still in the field you’ve grown to love, may be your idea of retirement, too.

Here’s how Wolfe and professional singer Fay Putnam told me they did it and what you can learn from their experiences.

Wolfe decided he was done with school at age 16 and headed for Florida where he started a business with a 24-year-old, making sand-cast castles on the beach and selling them to various outlets. A customer in New Jersey hired him about a year later, launching his career in the leather craft trade.

Wolfe worked his way up in the industry, sometimes running his own venture and other times for an employer. In the early 1990s, Coach (the high-quality leather goods designer and manufacturer) hired him to oversee the technical development of new products — moving leather goods from the designer shop into mass production.

Coach grew dramatically and the job became increasingly intense, especially when production moved offshore to India and China. But since Coach went public in 2000 and Wolfe’s shares had appreciated some 13 times by 2005, he then had enough money to retire on.

Growing a Consulting Business
When he began consulting from his home in Lambertville, N.J., Wolfe’s initial contracts were, as you might expect, from Coach. His business then expanded through referrals. These days, Wolfe works about a third of the time, usually on the road.

His “unretirement” timing was fortuitous with the revival of the American leather goods industry—mostly designer products catering to urban hipsters. In 2012, Wolfe began consulting with Shinola, the Detroit-based Made-In-America producer of handcrafted watches, leather goods and bikes.

When we talked in late July, Wolfe was in Dearborn, Mich. writing an industrial sewing curriculum for the Makers Coalition, a trade group formed to apprentice a younger workforce into artisan leather manufacturing. The program will be housed at Henry Ford Community College’s Michigan Technical Education Center.

Singing a New Song
Leather craft is an art. So is singing. Fay Putnam spent her career as a professional singer, putting long hours into her craft, mostly with choirs such as the Gregg Smith Singers and the San Francisco Symphony choir. Putnam also had a side business as a voice coach.

She moved around fairly frequently because her husband, Frank, was a U.S. Navy aviator. Now 68, Putnam has started a part-time business in Portland, Ore. as a voice and speech coach.

“I love doing it,” she says. I wouldn’t keep doing this if I didn’t love it.” Although, she concedes, she’d welcome a few more clients.

Putnam and her husband moved to a condo in downtown Portland from the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago. Their son and daughter-in-law live there; so does her husband’s brother. And their money now goes farther. Most of all, Putnam says, they were tired of the San Francisco metro area’s horrendous traffic jams.

Frank is now retired, but Fay wanted to stay engaged in her art and teach the voice and breath control techniques she learned over the years. Most of her business is helping entrepreneurs and employees polish their public-speaking presentations. She coaches some singers, too.

Takeaways From Wolfe and Putnam
Wolfe’s and Putnam’s stories highlight a number of critical aspects that others in their 50s and 60s should take into account as they mull their next chapters.

Both built their new ventures on their existing knowledge and skills, rather than shifting to unfamiliar fields. For most boomers, I don’t believe there is any reason to succumb to the lure of reinvention—the urge to embrace a radical makeover—especially if the goal is finding part-time work that offers a financial and psychic reward.

And yet, much of the late-in-life transition narrative we often hear extols the new, the different, the dramatic change.

You know the story. Someone has labored long in a cubicle, or spent hours as a road warrior, for corporate America. Now, in the last third of life, she finds her passion, somehow manages to open a winery, basks in its growing sales and gets invited to speak about reinventing yourself at global conferences.

Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly. But I wholeheartedly agree with the cautionary wisdom of Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org, in a recent Harvard Business Review column.

He wrote: “After years studying social innovators in the second half of life — individuals who have done their greatest work after 50 — I’m convinced the most powerful pattern that emerges from their stories can be described as reintegration, not reinvention. These successful late-blooming entrepreneurs weave together accumulated knowledge with creativity, while balancing continuity with change, in crafting a new idea that’s almost always deeply rooted in earlier chapters and activities.”

What I applaud about Wolfe and Putnam is that they smartly exploited what they already knew. It’s an insight echoed in a 2010 paper by professor Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University and Mark Melnick of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. When investigating jobs that might be available for aging workers, the authors felt boomers should exploit their skills — albeit, sometimes in a different setting or even industry.

“In many cases, older workers could carry their existing skills and credentials into a new setting,” they wrote. “For example, a registered nurse might move from a major hospital to a community clinic; a computer systems analyst at a private software company might take a job in local government; a civil engineer at a private construction firm might work on a state government highway project.”

Training for the Transition
Of course, you still may have to pick up additional training or education to ease the transition.

Putnam spent her career on the creative side, so she realized she needed to know more about the practical aspects of running a small business. “Most of the time, in the training that artists get, business savvy isn’t included,” she laughs.

To wise up, Putnam took a month-long business basics class called “Better, Smarter, Richer” at Portland Community College. It was designed specifically for solopreneurs and creative entrepreneurs like herself.

The course taught Putnam how to build her website and market her services to local business groups. Best of all, she says, her classmates continue to get together, share information and cheerlead for one another.

Flexibility Is a Must
Like Wolfe and Putnam, many boomers want to continue earning an income during retirement, but put in fewer hours. Their desire for the “big job” and to climb the ladder of the “big career” lies in their past. Phyllis Moen, sociologist at the University of Minnesota, says what many boomers desire are: “not so big jobs.”

Wolfe and Putnam found it much easier to create their flexible work schedules by tapping into their backgrounds rather than attempting ambitious life overhauls. “Older workers value flexibility,” says Richard Johnson of the Urban Institute. “They don’t want to work 9 to 5, five days a week.”

Wolfe’s story reinforces the benefits of flexibility in a different way that will strike a chord with many in their 50s and 60s. He has dialed back on his consulting services recently after being diagnosed with cancer. His prostate cancer has been successfully treated, but Wolfe must now spend more time paying attention to his health, watching his diet, exercising, meditating and so on.

He still enjoys consulting, but his priorities have changed. Cancer has that effect. “I think that I would try to be more engaged than I am now if it wasn’t for the stress of travel,” he says.

Thing is, assuming their health holds up, both Wolfe and Putnam have achieved something all of us desire: Control over their destiny. They can curtail working if they want to. They can stay engaged, if the work remains interesting. It’s their choice.

Not bad for a next chapter.

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.

Related Links:

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,212 other followers