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Protecting Your Retirement Plans in Uncertain Times: Boomers, Do Your Thing Again!

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In this chapter, you consider how you can effectively make choices affecting your future as a boomer. You need not make choices based on your “phase in life,” but you need to consider why you want to do what you want to do.
  • There are no rules for how we behave at forty-two or fifty-nine. We will decide what is right and appropriate for us. We will take chances; we will seek out or create jobs that fulfill us, volunteer work that sustains us, family and friends who nourish us. We are not marching through prepackaged decades, checking them off on some master life list.
  • —Susan Crandell, Thinking About Tomorrow

Myth: It’s Too Late to Make Big Changes

Under a widely held view, you have three phases of life: education (and growing up), a career (working, raising family), and retirement (withdrawal to a life of leisure). This implies that your career is monolithic and when it is over, it is over. Your destiny is retirement. You cannot change course, nor can you put off inevitable decline and withdrawal in your senior years.

As the earlier quote suggests, it is never too late to change course—to take on new interests, skills, and activities, or even reinvent yourself. Most people need to redefine themselves at some point between age 35 and 70. You may even feel a need to do this multiple times during the long span of your adult years. You face your own unique set of challenges and will make your own unique choices. There is no single path; you need not follow the paths of others. In the years ahead, you will have ample opportunities to step up and seek out the options that are meaningful and appropriate for you.

Whereas the typical worker of the nineteenth century was a farmer who worked the earth until he or she died or became incapable, today’s workers are primarily knowledge workers who need to adapt to new challenges and opportunities. You are likely to continue to work, but you will take on new and different working roles—whether for pay or not. It is likely that you may not retire until you are 70, 80, or older; if you stay active and adaptive, you may never fully retire.

As a boomer, you have the advantage of being a member of a self-reliant, independent, and sometimes rebellious generation. Active boomer professionals are working to stay fit and active, make contributions, and remain vital. In so doing, they are setting new standards and expectations regarding careers, work, and retirement—charting new paths for younger generations to follow. Most boomers have had multiple jobs (and often major career shifts), marriages and divorces, and relocations. As a result, boomers will make personal choice the norm, not following a lockstep pattern of life phases. The new realities of today’s world provide opportunities for you to be active and healthy for decades more, to continue to enjoy life, and to prepare for a secure retirement, when and if you want this experience.

In this chapter, you consider how you can effectively make choices affecting your future as a boomer. First, you ask yourself questions that are essential to self-reflection and assessment by evaluating opportunities and making choices. These questions are similar to those you may have asked early in your career, but now need to be tailored to your experience and your more-fully developed sense of values and purpose. Next you consider the influence of your past choices and the influences of phases, cycles, or turning points in your life. You need not make choices based on your “phase in life,” but you need to consider why you want to do what you want to do.

You have a variety of choices, ranging from minimal change in your life to radical transformation or reinvention. Exploring alternatives is useful when thinking about the scope and difficulty of choices you may make. This chapter also presents factors that may constrain or limit your choices among options, such as your financial situation, health, or family responsibilities. Constraints are important to consider, as you don’t always have the freedom or the capacity to do what you wish. You will consider how to bring your thoughts together and turn them into a practical action plan, one that has specific, near-term steps that are aligned with your long-term direction.

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