Date: Feb 12, 2009
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.
Ask Yourself the Right Questions
For your choices about future work and retirement to be good ones, you need to assess the realities of your situation, consider your needs and goals, and evaluate your options. The following questions can help you make thoughtful decisions and lead you to your optimal choices:
Reality assessment—What are your strengths and limitations? What are your critical capabilities? What is your financial picture? What are the assets on which you can rely?
Career accomplishments—How can you leverage your experience? What are the specialty skill sets and competencies of which you are most proud? What professional and social networks can you tap to assist in your search to define your next steps?
Goals and aspirations—What do you want to experience that you’ve missed so far in life? What interests you? What turns you on? If you had more time and resources, what would you most like to do? With whom do you want to spend your time? What do you want to accomplish? For what do you want to be known? What do you want your legacy to be? How do you hope to make a difference?
Opportunities and options—What is your attitude about retirement? When is the right time for you to retire? What are the opportunities that are out there for you? What are the different options? What are their pros and cons? What are the obstacles that lie in your way? What is keeping you from achieving/accomplishing what you want? What risks are you willing to take?
Visioning—How do you see your future? Among your circle of family and friends, who else shares your vision for the future? What would your life look like if the changes you envision were to occur? What will you gain? What would you lose? What do you want to be careful to avoid?
Action steps—What life changes are you willing to make? What help or resources do you need to initiate change? What are your next steps? What is your timeline for action-taking?
In practice, making choices is often a step-by-step, evolutionary process. Decision-making is typically iterative as you jump from one choice point to another. Often we find ourselves taking action steps that make sense to us, but we aren’t sure why or how to explain our decisions. Sometimes you may think you know exactly what would make you happy but then later find out life didn’t turn out as you anticipated. When this occurs, you need to rethink your priorities and plans.
Often important life choices are serendipitous. We embrace opportunities as they arise, often without a lot of careful analysis or planning. For example, many of us got into our first jobs based on our college major (which was often not an entirely rational choice) or based on inputs from recruiters with whom we talked and offers we received. Opportunities to change jobs or companies are often responses to opportunities that arise or the result of initiatives taken by others recruiting you. At this time in your life, think about how you can be proactive—the initiator who identifies options and pursues opportunities.
Peter Drucker once said that strategy is not about future decisions, but about the future of today’s decisions. Your good choices include consideration of both your immediate options and your longer-term future. You need to consider both the facts as you know them today—and also your expectations for the future. This is like a zoom lens. You focus close-up, but expand your lens to include wider considerations and changes that may possibly occur in the future that influence your decisions. Choices are decisions about actions you will take in the short-term, with consequences for the long-term. For example, you may decide at age 60 to start a business, but will you still want to be building it ten years in the future—working long hours and risking your retirement assets as investments in your endeavor? Alternatively, if you decide to retire early in order to travel to exotic places—a desire you and your spouse have long had—what are you likely to do in three or four years, after you have done “enough” traveling? If you expect to live twenty or thirty active years in the future, you are well advised to make today’s choices with your future view in mind and be flexible enough to revisit your choices as the years go by.
- When you climb a rock face you move up one small space at a time, sinking your grappling hook into a rock crevice just within your reach, pause to look around, and then move up and repeat the process. You climb the mountain, with a goal in mind, but it is an exploratory process, with each part of the climb within your immediate reach as you progress.
- —Rob Cahill
Reflect on Lessons Learned from Experience
At this stage in your life, with all the experience you have accumulated, you should be well prepared to consider your choices for future work and retirement. What are some of the lessons learned by others that you should consider? Here are a few.
Be very realistic about where you are, but very optimistic about where you can be. Consider the following:
- Engage your heart as well as your head. Unleash your imagination and stretch your potential. Follow your instincts—don’t overanalyze. Go “straight from the gut” as CEO Jack Welch advised in his book of the same title. Or “think without thinking” as Malcolm Gladwell advised in his book, Blink. Relax and be yourself.
- Make your own clarion call—what excites you? What will be your ideal future?
- Ask yourself what value you will add in the future—what difference will you make to society, your organization, customers, or your family and friends?
- Recognize that just doing different things doesn’t necessarily add up to changing yourself and your path for the future. Changes need to be big enough to make a difference—letting go of the past and moving to a “new place.”
Most people are optimistic when imagining how our own plans will turn out, believing ourselves to be more competent and in control than we actually are. And as we get older, we tend to recall our happy experiences more than the unpleasant ones. Research suggests that optimism is often self-fulfilling—your attitude helps you overcome adversity. At the same time, people tend to be more pessimistic about general, big-picture matters, such as global warming or world peace. As a rule, psychology looks at negative or discouraging factors rather than the positive ones. Martin Seligman, psychology professor at University of Pennsylvania, has argued that we should take the positive side of psychology and how people can build “authentic happiness.”
Always be authentic. Take the following into consideration when trying to find out your essence:
- Separate your past work role or job from the real (and future) you. Don’t let your past jobs or roles define you for the future. Reach down into yourself and be the person you really are, and want to be.
- Face your self-limiting assumptions and attitudes and bring them up to your consciousness so you can deal with them. Were your past failures merely learning experiences? Have you avoided activities because you weren’t sure you had the skills? Do you fear the unknown? Have you had a “can’t do” attitude you need to overcome?
- Be honest about your personal progress and your satisfaction with it. You must be the judge of yourself and your work. Gandhi said, “Man becomes what he believes himself to be.”
- Look for signs of real change and celebrate them. Don’t let the illusion of change keep you from making substantive progress. Companies often restructure and implement cosmetic changes that conceal shortcomings that ultimately slow growth and development. Don’t let this happen to you.
- Use self-assessment tools to identify your strengths and weaknesses, interests, and “drivers.” Several books provide detailed checklists such as in the book by Sadler and Miners or websites such as authentichappiness.com, futuredecisions.com, or 2Young2Retire.com.
- Authenticity means being yourself—how you present yourself to others, how you interact with others, and what you are, are all consistent with your real personality and character. You are genuine if you are not “faking it,” trying to kid yourself or others that what you are saying is consistent with your behaviors. Authenticity requires that you know yourself well, that you reflect the qualities you’ve had through your life, and that you adapt (but not too much) to social norms, so that you represent your inner self, and you aren’t acting.
Don’t Go It Alone
Don’t depend solely on yourself; rely on input and support from your friends, family, and colleagues, as follows:
- Acknowledge that you are not alone in facing choices. Many others are grappling with similar issues and trying to figure out how to move forward in uncharted territory.
- You can also rely on professionals and consultants to assist you with fact-finding, analysis, and assessment of your unique situation.
- Develop a knowledge and awareness of issues that will spark discussion and dialogue at home and in the workplace, creating momentum and shining the spotlight on this topic.
- Learn from the experience of others and from common themes and lessons learned.
It is important that you at least talk with your spouse, partner, or significant others. A Fidelity Investments survey of 502 couples found that 41% of couples gave different answers when asked whether one spouse would work in retirement. Men often underestimated how long their wives would continue to work. When asked whether their nest egg would allow them to lead a comfortable existence, 37% of the couples gave different answers.
Bring Your Thoughts Together
Create your mental model of where you are and where you are going:
- See all the factors that affect your choices and your future. Too many poor decisions made about relocations or new jobs are based on thinking too narrowly and not considering the implications.
- Challenge your own thinking. There are no right or wrong answers—just those that are the best fit for you. Your answers build on one another—and become a completed puzzle. Over time, you will fit in all the pieces of your vision for the future.
- Understand the difficulties of doing what you want to do. Are opportunities open to you? How well prepared are you for your choice? Will working independently as a free agent professional be difficult for you? Are you prepared to adjust your living expenses to afford a low-income choice?
- Know the difference between hard facts, myths, and assumptions. Challenge information that you receive and verify that it is reliable. Often it is not necessary to go back and reassess basic personal values, vision, dreams, and passions. Boomers don’t change much in terms of fundamentals, but merely return to them and bring them into sharper focus. There is an old saying that “As you grow older, you become even more like yourself.”
- Practice your elevator speech. A concise, positive answer to the question, “What do you do?,” represents your current life without boring or confusing other people. One author suggested that boomers may be involved in so many activities that it would take a half hour to explain. Don’t go there. Keep your story brief, interesting, and to the point. When others ask, “How are you?,” they are not asking for a full health report.
Chart Your Own Future
Be aggressive in pursuing the opportunities you desire. Try out these techniques:
- Make clear commitments to action. It is easier to talk about making changes than it is to behave differently. Set specific action plans, goals, and timing. Be businesslike.
- Have courageous conversations with others who have the power to open doors for you—even talking with those who may put up barriers or close doors (for example, because of age bias).
- Take risks to get out of your comfort zone and move to a new place, whether or not you or your world is ready.
- Decide what you will leave behind—the activities you will stop doing—in order to free up your mind, your assets, and your time to do new, future-oriented activities.
- Feel empowered to do what you really want to do and what you need in order to ensure a secure and satisfying future.
- Customize your choices and press your employer and others to accommodate them.
- Consider alternatives and afford yourself the luxury of experimenting with different options.
- Be prepared to suffer adversities and then bounce back. Athletes talk about recovering from losses and personal setbacks; you must do the same. For example, an empty-nest couple sold their home and moved into a small condominium in La Jolla village; however, six months later they decided they could not live in such cramped quarters. They sold and bought a larger home, demonstrating their resiliency.
If you feel stuck, step back and analyze why. What caused your crisis or impasse? What issues need to be resolved? What are the assumptions and your own patterns that keep you from taking positive action? Several books are available to help you move forward.
Life’s Twists and Turns
Your choices are affected by your experiences in life, your joys and pains, and the concerns you feel. These are often attributed to phases or stages of your adult life:
- As a youth, you established your own identity and self-worth, separated from your parents, and gained independence.
- As a young adult, you completed your education, explored options, and ambitiously pursued a career; you became a self-reliant, contributing person.
- As an adult, you strived for significance at work and in your career; you built deep relationships with family and friends.
- As a middle-aged adult, you realize that some ambitions will not be met and you work through who you truly want to become, what is most meaningful to you, and what you want to achieve.
- As an older adult, you are more selective in your activities, aiming to enjoy life, sharing what you have learned and mastered; giving back to the community, and leaving a legacy for the next generation.
- As an elderly adult, you will value integrity and wisdom, seek social interaction to avoid loneliness, embrace healthy aging, and cope with issues. Ultimately, you may become dependent on others for your care.
Stages of life such as these may help you reflect on your experiences and think about your future psychological development. Similar questions have been put forth by philosophers, authors, and psychologists for centuries and are popular because they have common appeal across generations. Because people tend to have similar experiences at roughly the same times of their lives, you may find comfort in knowing that what concerns you is similar to concerns of others. By taking life stages into account, you can roughly assess the challenges you will most likely face and benefit from learning how others overcame them. During transitions from stage to stage, you may experience discomfort, questioning, reassessment, and rediscovery, followed by consolidation and stability until the next transition.
Greek philosophers, most notably Hippocrates and Plato, defined eight stages of life, which were aligned with the forms of the soul, eight seasons of the year, and the celestial spheres (moon and planets). More recently, psychologists Erik Erikson, Daniel Levinson, George Valliant, and author Gail Sheehy, among others, have contributed insights from their research to the thinking about life stages or phases and life planning. Gail Sheehy’s books have provided the most popular interpretation as she is a cultural observer of people’s lives and development.
While age periods are traditionally associated with life stages or phases, they are defined by authors; individuals’ experiences can vary widely. Growth and development from infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood are typically more sequential than adult phases. Recent research studies have shown that people simply do not live in predictable life stages. Transitions are triggered by life experiences and personal development; they are not necessarily tied to certain ages. Thus, you may want to reconsider your identity, your aspirations, and what is most meaningful to you at any age. For example, considerable attention has been given to the mid-life transition at age 40–45, the so-called mid-life crisis, and a particularly difficult transition for many adults. However, this introspection and redirection may occur at any time in life, occur more than once, or never occur.
Accordingly, it makes more sense for you to consider the concerns you face when you experience them without regard to your age. Consider the influence of your past choices and the influences of experiences or turning points in your life. You need not make choices based on your age or sequential phase, but instead you need to consider why you want to do what you want to do. Maddy Dychtwald argues in her book, Cycles, that we should follow a more flexible, open-door approach to life’s options
In an era when you can join AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) at age 50, it is not very clear when old age sets in. AARP is no longer merely about retirement or seniors, but rather is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people over 50. The organization promises “the power to make it better.” “It” is broadly defined as the perceived interests of the members.
Boomers will typically have more years to spend after their children grow up and leave home than they spent raising them. As a result, as the role of parent fades, it will be overtaken by other roles and activities. As the saying goes, “Life begins when the dog dies and the kids leave home.”
For boomers, the expectation is that most will be able to extend their careers or pursue other work and interests through their sixties and well into their seventies. Many persons remain engaged well into their eighties. However, for most persons, it will be difficult for reasons of health, energy, motivation, or age discrimination to continue this level of activity into their late seventies and eighties. At some point, boomers know they will have to cope with limitations on activities.
Where does retirement fit in? It is a choice to withdraw from the workforce—entirely or partially. However, retirement has many different meanings primarily shaped by marketing influences from financial institutions, retirement communities, marketers of leisure goods, and services companies. As such, retirement is essentially a self-declared state—an abandonment of work (at least full-time career work) and commitment to alternative activities—leisure and community involvement.
Determine How Much Change You Want
The following sections discuss the alternative choice you can make, ranging from a little change to a lot of change.
Stay the Course
Keep doing what you are doing until you can’t stand it or are thrown off course. Stay with your current employer and hang on to your job as long as you are able or you can tolerate it. In employers that permit it, such as government organizations, many employees are working well beyond 65 because they enjoy the work and their retirement benefits are continuing to grow. If you are a successful entrepreneur and you are enjoying it and sustaining your income, why stop? University faculty often continue in their positions long after age 65, many into their seventies, because of the stimulation their work provides.
At age 60, Sylvester Stallone decided to make a sixth movie about Rocky Balboa, after a 16-year hiatus. Sly observed, “People were saying the parade had gone by, and who was I to try and bring it back again? I just felt that I’ve had a lot of regrets in the past 15 years, and I had to go back and rid myself of this regret.” The film, written by, directed by, and starring Stallone, is about a washed-up champion who insists on a last, doomed chance at a younger man’s game. This might be considered a metaphor for Stallone’s declining career fortunes. Stallone saw it not as a comeback, however, but an opportunity to avoid obsolescence. “An artist dies twice, and the second death is the easiest one. The artistic death, the fact that you are no longer pertinent—or that you’re deemed someone whose message or talent has run its course—is a very, very tough piece of information to swallow,” said Stallone in a New York Times interview. “Every generation runs its course, and they are expected to step aside for the next generation,” Mr. Stallone said. “My peers are going through it right now, and they feel they have much to contribute, but the opportunity is no longer there. They’re considered obsolete, and it’s just not true. This film is about how we still have something more to say.”
Renew Your Work Passion
Build on your strengths. You may not need or want to “reinvent” yourself. Rather, find ways to reawaken your love of your work, what you enjoy, or what you do well. Push yourself to go to the next level—reach to a higher standard, or reinterpret what you are doing. Change your context (different company, different orchestra, different geography) if it will further your renewal. For example, Audrey, an administrator in a community college, sought to qualify for a job with greater management responsibilities, and she recognized the need to obtain advanced education credentials. She’s taking the necessary coursework while continuing to work and build relationships at the school.
As another example, an actor, a concert pianist, and an art collector in the French movie, Avenue Montaigne, rediscover and deepen their love of their respective arts. They have devoted their lives to art, but question what kinds of lives they have gained and have lost their passion. They cross their paths at a café and are influenced by a young waitress who came to Paris to look for her own fame and fortune. The waitress, Jessica, prompts reflection and redirection in their lives through her conversations with them. Renewal lies within us and welcomes a chance to emerge.
Sometimes individuals go back to earlier callings. Hope, a professor for many years, splits her time between a home in the U.S. and a small house in Mexico. Now instead of receiving a paycheck, she tutors townspeople who want to learn English in exchange for assisting her with construction, gardening, and cooking. As an added bonus, those she teaches are helping Hope perfect her Spanish. She finds this newfound bartering system the perfect way to continue teaching others and to make a difference while also benefiting from others’ expertise.
For example, after graduating with a degree in education, Bob taught elementary school in a Florida city. Many of the children were from poor families, suffering from health, family, and other difficulties. The pay was low, and the school circumstances were frustrating. When he noticed an advertisement for jobs at a parcel delivery company, he moved. He built a career there, progressing through the ranks. His current role as an operations training manager draws upon his 32 years experience and affords a degree of flexibility in work hours. Training activities are conducted 24/7. Bob is now turning 55, and is eligible for retirement. He can continue in his role for another eight years, earning his salary and also accruing an annual 2% increase in his pension benefit. On the other hand, he is thinking about returning to his preferred vocation, teaching. With his degree, he merely needs to take two courses and pass a certifying examination to become eligible to teach again. “If I’m going to do this, this is the time to do it—not eight years from now,” he said. With a son in college and two sons recently graduated from college, he and his wife are “empty nesters.”
Create a To-Do List
Do those things you have always wanted to do. Keep a list and set priorities. Add things as you think about them and as they become important to you. Move actions up if you wish you could do them sooner. Some folks want to play more golf (or learn golf), learn guitar, travel through the Canadian Maritimes, or become involved in a community or charitable initiative. Learn Italian and travel to use it. For example, Jim always was “on the road” as a management consultant. Slowing down the consulting pace allowed him to join the local Rotary Club. Sherry wanted to join her condo association board “when she got time.” When she changed jobs that had flexible scheduling, she put her name on the ballot and is now leading the association’s landscaping committee.
As another example, Jerry got married and joined the FBI after earning a business degree in marketing and a law degree. He served three years as a special agent in Norfolk and Detroit. He returned to his Illinois home and went into private law practice after a few years in the prosecutor’s office. Ten years later he was appointed circuit judge. At age 60, he retired. “No, I did not go back into private practice. I retired! I enjoy playing a lot of golf in the summer and hunting in the fall. We travel in the winter and we visit our grandchildren. Our ‘things to do’ list is still long but getting shorter.”
Go for One Big Thing
Get serious about your life’s passion—the one ambitious thing you’ve always dreamed of doing and worry that you’ll never do it. Make painting your serious work, instead of a pastime. Climb Mt. McKinley or Mt. Everest. Sail west and don’t stop. Write the novel for which you’ve been collecting ideas since you left college. Stan and Bev visited North Carolina many times and decided finally to build a new home and life there. Jeri and Bill had worked for others in restaurant and catering businesses, and set out to open their own pizza/Italian “heaven.” From day one, it has been the most popular spot in town.
Sandy suffered through TWA’s reduction in pay, elimination of pension benefits, loss of stock value, and ultimately, acquisition by American. At her career peak, she was flying entirely international flights. With the downsizing and mergers, she accepted flight assignments within the U.S. and gradually reduced her workload. When Sandy officially retired from American after 35 years of service, she received a coveted lifetime travel pass. While still flying part time, she earned a nursing degree. She is now working at a local hospital, where she receives health care benefits for herself and her husband, Rick. She and Rick feel they are well situated for continuing to work in the future for another five to ten years.
Get on with becoming who you really want to be. If you missed a mid-life crisis back in your thirties or forties, this is the time to make a dramatic shift in your life’s direction. Re-examine your interests, your abilities, your dreams, and aspirations. Define your real purpose in life and your vision of where or who you want to be. An airline pilot retired early (as they often do) and became a certified financial advisor—not an easy thing to do. A bus driver, who used to work as a technician in a factory that closed some years ago, was determined to become an Episcopal priest. Many folks have chosen to become realtors, although the recent market downturn has made such a successful transition more difficult.
Diane has taken on new and varied roles since retiring early from an insurance company where she was a senior executive. At age 57, she was not eager to move into a full-time job in another company. After retiring, she served as an executive-in-residence at Boston College. Soon she was asked by a local historic preservation society to serve as the interim director (without pay). “It was a huge adjustment, but I loved it,” she said. She found that the small staff had a passion, drive, and tenacity that called for team building and problem solving with few resources. The staff appreciated her experience and leadership. That projected completed, she turned to pursue personal passions: taking piano lessons, studying dance and yoga, helping a conservation organization fight beach erosion, and spending time with her husband. Within several months, after considering her preferred focus for the years ahead, she enrolled in a program to earn a master’s degree in elder care and is looking forward to making a contribution in this field.
Factors to Consider in Making Choices
For most people, finding meaningful work is not so much an inner self trying to get out (revealing your psyche or soul), but simply making the most of circumstances and opportunities as they change. There are often serious constraints on your freedom and capacity to make choices. Circumstances change, in positive, fortuitous ways and also in potentially adverse, impeding ways. You may not be aware of the facts that will affect your future and therefore you need to adopt fresh thinking about your opportunities and constraints. The following are some factors that can affect your decision-making process.
It is often said that money doesn’t matter as long as you have enough of it. Continuing to earn money is important for people seeking to cover living expenses and accumulate savings for retirement. However, the necessity of working for income can crowd out the time you may want to spend in other non-pay activities.
For many, continuing to earn money is meaningful in itself. In American society, being an income producer has long been a mark of productivity—a reflection of accomplishment, self worth, and identity. Income and wealth are also markers in social networks, often determining the social circles and activities in which you participate (that is, whether you can afford to go on a cruise). In this instance, money does matter.
However, for most boomer professionals, whether or not work is compensated is a secondary consideration. Income is not their critical need or objective. Professionals over age 50 are more likely to embrace work that is not for pay—whether community or charitable work or “meaningful” leisure activities. Of course, you can earn income for work in non-profit organizations, but the motive of service is typically as important as or more important than the income.
Sufficient income or wealth permits you to spend their time as you want. You can give your time and donate assets freely for charitable purposes—supporting the motives of legacy and moral or spiritual purpose.
Unfortunately, many persons have physical conditions that constrain the options for work and other activities. As discussed in Chapter 4, “Stay Healthy and Active,” some people have limitations on their capabilities due to injury, illness, disease, or aging. According to a Boomer Project Healthcare Survey, 30% of boomers say they’ve survived a major illness and 3% have changed their diet due to a medical condition. Some boomers are finding that they need to adapt their choices of leisure and fitness activities because of knee or other joint issues. Others find that the stress of extensive travel or full-time work is too much to bear. Are there factors that might limit your choice of activities?
Serious illness or injuries are often a wake-up call for some individuals. Disability and disease remind you how precious life really is. Charlotte, a young boomer, had a burst appendix and was hospitalized for a month as she recovered. Back in action, she saw her priorities differently. Former activities did not seem as meaningful or important as they once were, and she set new priorities, focusing on family and community. A similar reaction occurs among persons with chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, or diabetes. You have to decide how you can make the most of your years ahead. Rachel Naomi Remen, a physician, professor of medicine, and therapist, in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, offers thought-provoking anecdotes of people’s battles with chronic diseases, reminding us that the challenge isn’t about dealing with illness but rather life!
Many boomers are discovering the merits of fitness and greater personal attention to diet and health care. For them, health is an opportunity and a meaningful area of activity. At 55, Harriet remains steadfast in going to the fitness club for a 90–120 minute workout every morning. It is a “top of the day” priority that she has maintained. The statement that there isn’t time to exercise becomes no more than an excuse when you decide that maintaining your physical well being is at the top of your “to do” list.
If you are living alone, you may make your own choices regarding work. However, if you are married or live with a partner, you will surely want to take into consideration the interests of this significant other in your life. Work schedule, work location, and the demands of work may need to be tailored to provide time and flexibility for travel, to be with grandchildren, and to engage in other activities. More importantly, you and your life partner may have been focusing on different interests and activities or going in different paths and directions over the years. Although working after retiring from or leaving an employer may offer more flexibility, it may also provide you with new or different opportunities to work or play with family members and significant others. Your relationships may also change as you give and take to do different things together.
You may be caring for aging parents, or even grandparents. You may still have children at home, or as often occurs, supporting children who seem to rebound frequently and come home when transitioning to a new phase in their lives. You may have dependent children with dependent children. Many boomers are the sole caregivers for their young grandchildren. Overall, half of all grandparents alive today are members of the boomer generation, and this number will increase as boomers’ kids become parents. Approximately 40% of boomers are grandparents.
The Boomer Project National Study asked boomers for self-descriptions of their status. The responses were as follows:
Caregiving responsibilities can be a barrier to pursuing meaningful work or leisure activities. If this situation arises for you, you may want to aggressively explore alternative care providers—assisted living, support for dependents in their own homes, or assistance that is explicitly transitional (only for a short time). One couple found that selling their large suburban home and moving to a small condominium simply precluded the options of children or others residing with them. On the other hand, some extended families find great joy and satisfaction in caring for their members, referring to it as a calling or vocation.
Access to Desired Opportunities
You may find it difficult to locate the kind of work or activity that appeals most to you. While you may have some ideal jobs or roles in mind, they may be hard to find. As discussed in this book, employers are often reluctant to hire older workers as employees and are particularly reluctant to provide the flexible schedules or work arrangements that you may desire.
You also may also find yourself competing with others for work, even for volunteer roles. To gain a senior role in a nonprofit, you may need to “earn your stripes” and work your way in gradually. For example, beginning as a docent in a museum, helping out with fund raising, or serving on a project committee may be an entry role, not exactly what you want to do, but a first step.
Another constraint is the availability of the opportunities you desire. Year-round golf is not available in the colder climates. Opera and many of the arts are not usually available in smaller communities far from urban centers. If you have passions for certain work or other activities, you may have to consider relocating. Numerous books are available that ask you to identify criteria that are important to you and then correlate your responses to “the best places to retire” in America or the world.
Your Independence and Flexibility
Are you comfortable working on your own, as a free agent, or do you prefer working in an organization with other people and a management structure?
Upon retirement or leaving an employer, some boomer professionals take a gap year, similar to the year some high school students take off before going to college. They shift into neutral and catch their breath. They play golf, they travel, and they relax. After a year or two, however, most get restless and realize they need to be doing something productive—for mental stimulation, for social interaction, or to earn some money. That’s when they search in earnest for meaningful activities.
Most, however, have not given a great deal of thought as to what might interest them sufficiently to draw them back into work activities. Few have a sense of passion for a new direction. Rather, they test different alternatives—trying out different kinds of activities through projects of six months or a year. It is a slow transition toward being in charge of your own portfolio of activities, much like being in charge of a portfolio of investments. In the same vein of trying out alternatives, some people rent rather than buy a house to check out a community in which they may want to retire. Short-term commitments enable you to retain your flexibility and make different choices if initial decisions don’t turn out as anticipated.
Managers are typically accustomed to a well-defined work pattern—a specific job, an office or place to go to and work, set hours, and a daily routine. Withdrawal from work is a difficult transition. Those who decide to return to the workplace rarely find opportunities with large companies that resemble the ones they once knew. Rather, individuals must adapt to the new patterns of working in a smaller company, in a nonprofit organization, or as a free agent (contractor, consultant, part-time). More often than not, people move into activities that are not like those in their career, although the work may tap their key skills and abilities.
A study by MetLife showed that nearly one-third of persons over age 55 already are self-employed or owners of their own businesses. The current sectors and employers of older persons who work were as follows:
As boomers leave or retire from large companies, they are more likely to have the flexibility to adopt a portfolio approach for their activities. As a boomer, you are more likely to pursue work as free agents than to pursue full-time jobs with employers. Companies are expected to be more open to part-time roles or gradual retirement, as discussed in the Introduction of this book. Free agency gives you greater flexibility in implementing a portfolio life. You have the independence to make choices, assert your will, and not be confined by decisions of others.