Category Archives: Thoughts on Retirement

Being Downsized

Last week, a young friend got the ax. She was one of 8,000 people downsized by a large investment bank with reported losses of $10 billion in the first quarter. If that figure boggles the mind, it’s only because few of us can conceive of it in any real terms. How many tall skinny lattes would $10B buy? How much human misery does downsizing cause?

It didn’t matter that she had been at this firm for 10 years and had been assured when the last round of layoffs occurred that she ‘had nothing to worry about.’ She is single and turns 40 next March, so time is certainly on her side. Also, she has credentials in another , completely different field that could soften the loss of income. But that will take time to develop, just as it will take time to recover from the blow.

At first, she was more upset about the way it happened than that it happened. If you’ve been downsized, you recognize the circumstances. You are called in, given the news, and never return to your desk. Your things are mailed to you. If you are lucky, you will get assigned to an outplacement firm which helps you sort out COBRA, severance (if any) and so on. Sometimes, you get some career counseling. But it’s all pretty cut and dried. For the pain of separation, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

In some ways, the abrupt nature of downsizing is like retirement, even when it is voluntary. Endings are wrenching, especially if you’ve been with an organization for any length of time. You grow accustomed to health care coverage, colleagues and familiar faces, work you know how to do, perhaps even enjoyed, a sense that you are needed. Suddenly, THEY don’t want you any more. How do you not take it personally?

These days, people change jobs frequently and downsizing is so much a fact of corporate life, that your resume will not be blighted by this event. And, as we all know, retirement is not irrevocable. But even the most self-confident among us needs some time to process the separation, to let the shock subside, and even to grieve, if that feels right. If there’s no financial pressure to find another position, it could be an ideal time for a sabbatical.

Unless you are in academia, chances are an opportunity to take a break won’t come around again. Why not take advantage of the breathing room, the time to think and reflect? Perhaps you will find yourself asking Big Questions, like: What am I here for? What can I do to improve my community, society, the world? What kind of impact am I making in the larger sense? And if money were no object, what kind of work would I be doing? Such a shift in perspective could be just what you needed, and never had time for.

They Flunked Retirement, and the World Will Be Better for It

What do John Kanzius and Dr. Jose Antonio Abreau have in common, beside being featured in two back-to-back good news segments on a recent 60 Minutes (April 13)? Although motivated by very different causes, both 60-somethings came out of retirement to make contributions to humanity that will be felt for generations, perhaps forever. Here are the summaries of their stories.

Unable to sleep one night during a recent bout of chemotherapy for leukemia, John Kanzius, a retired businessman and radio technician, had a brainstorm: was it possible that radio waves could kill cancer? Months of tinkering in his own garage and thousands of dollars of his own money later, he produced the Kanzius Machine which, combined with nano technology, zaps cancer cells in experimental animals, leaving healthy tissue intact.  Kanzius’ invention has been deemed promising enough to attract research funding.

El Sistema, founded by retired economist Dr. Jose Antonio Abreau in 1975, is rescuing hundreds of thousands of young Venezuelans from lives of poverty and neglect, by teaching them to play a musical instrument and introducing them into youth orchestras. The Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra, the flower of eL Sistema, now plays to packed concert halls around the world. Says Raphel Elster, one of the leaders, “We work hard. And they love it!”

On Abolishing Retirement

Thanks to Retire Smart columnist, Mark Miller, for letting us speak our minds on the subject of retirement, in particular, why it is an idea whose time has gone, baby, gone. Mark is the former editor of Satisfaction magazine where we picked each other up on the radar. His new baby, is the companion website of Retire Smart, that appears in more than 30 newspapers each week. “For millions of Baby Boomers,” he notes about his own generation, “retirement is an opportunity for reinvention, rather than taking it easy.” Mark is helping write the playbook for the new career and personal pursuits of a generation. Check out the video.

While you’re at it, listen to John Nelson, co-author of What Color is Your Parachute in Retirement, speak about ‘retirement hogwash,’ that is commerce aimed at mature consumers that is ‘misaligned with their values.’

The Leisure Economy?

Now’s here a new wrinkle (you should pardon the expression). According Canadian economist, Linda Nazareth, leisure is the new, new thing that will shape the way we live (and work!) Here are eight trends — some self-evident, some whimsical — outlined in her new book: The Leisure Economy: How Changing Demographics, Economics, and Generational Attitudes Will Reshape Our Lives and Our Industries (Wiley 2007):

1. In the Workplace, It Will be Time to Welcome Back Fido

With more people looking for leisure or retiring early, companies are going to have to put up with more special requests from employees – like maybe to bring the odd dog, or cat or budgie into the office. Think the days of the boom.

2. Saying “I Was Here All Weekend” May Make You Seem Like a Loser Rather than a Hero

It’s very ‘baby-boomerish” to brag about working flat out all the time. Gen Y is into having a life; they’ll work, but they want their leisure too. (By the way, they know how to use technology so they know they don’t have to be in on the weekend anyway).

3. If You Don’t Know How to Knit, It Will be Time to Learn

Boomers have been too busy working to take up hobbies. When they retire, they are going to make leisure pastimes huge – even if they have to learn how to knit or rughook or how to play with model trains first (caveat: education will be the biggest growth industry, but it may not be traditional education).

4. Chopping Up Your Own Carrots May Seem Like a Reasonable Thing to Do

In the leisure economy, some people will be coping with lower incomes, so they will not want to pay for the convenience of pre-chopped vegetables or the like. And they’ll have more time to do the chopping. Keep an eye on the restaurant industry – it could be forced to adjust as more people cook.

5. People Will be Hitting the Road – and Not Just on the Long Weekends

More “leisurites” means more travel – but a different kind. The new leisure class will have lots of time, so can think in terms of seeing lots of different things, maybe over the course of a few months.

6. There’ll be Lots of Volunteers – But They Won’t Want to be Candy Stripers, Thanks Very Much

Boomers may be open to the idea of volunteering, but many will want to use the skills they developed when they were working in professional fields. Problem? The volunteer sector isn’t well set up to receive their talents, so they may lose them altogether. And keep an eye on Gen Y volunteers. They’ve spent years volunteering in school, and could be convinced to keep at it if organizations manage them well.

7. If You’re Looking for a Business to Start, Try a Moving Company

Boomers will be tapping into the value of their homes in the GTA and looking for cheaper places to live. They’ll pull up stakes at a quicker pace than their parents or grandparents. Gen X and Y may move too: they’ll want to try out telecommuting and they don’t have to be in big city-centres to do that.

8. Loitering Will be Encouraged

Or at least it will be by smart companies. If people don’t need to rush back to work, they’ll stay in stores longer, and smart ones will offer them comfortable spaces to hang out (Starbucks gets this), or things to do (talk to a nutritionist in a drug store or take a craft class at a craft store).

Interestingly, Nazareth’s book foreshadows the latest Metlife Mature Market Institute survey of leading edge boomers, which we found full of surprises. Boomers Ready to Launch finds that “Contrary to what most of us have believed about the baby boomers who came of age in the turbulent 1960s, the group is very much like the ‘Silent Generation’ that preceded them,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

“Despite the social and political turbulence of their youth, these leading edge boomers have established very traditional lifestyle characteristics. They were married once, had two children and feel they’ve done a decent job of caring for their family, their community and themselves. They really are more like Ward and June Cleaver than we may have thought and they might be classified as ‘conventional.’ Just 2% say they attended the Woodstock Festival of 1969.”

“They’re comfortable being identified as a baby boomer, and contrary to claims that they’re not ready to retire, only 18% dislike the term ‘retirement’ to describe their next transition.”

Bottom Line: there isn’t one. Trend-spotting makes for interesting books and surveys. But as you know, and Peter Drucker famously said: The best way to predict the future is to create it.

The New Senior Moment

You know the comedy routine: a ‘senior citizen’ tears the house apart looking for his reading glasses only to find them, perched on top of his head. It’s been called a ‘senior moment,’ but it’s only funny if you find stereotypes about the aging brain humorous. Well, Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., the first Director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University, has news for us on the other side of 50: it ain’t necessarily so. The brain is far more malleable than has been supposed.

In his back-to-back addresses to the Life Planning Network pre-conference and the First Annual Positive Aging Conference, held December 5-8 at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, Dr. Cohen mixed cutting edge evidence about brain regeneration (there’s more to the line, use it or lose it than you might think) with flashes of wit. Creativity and practical intelligence actually increase with age, Cohen told some 200 professionals including life planners, life coaches, career counselors, social workers and psychotherapists — most of them 50 or better and eager to serve clients in the age cohort.

As an example of a new kind of ‘senior moment,’ he told a story about his own parents. Visiting Cohen and his wife one winter, the elder Cohens found themselves marooned in an unfamiliar part of the city by a snow storm, with nary a taxi in sight. The solution: they ordered a pizza ‘to go,’ and had themselves delivered to their son’s address with it.

“It’s not at all about denying the very real problems associated with aging,” Cohen said. “It’s all about not denying th very real potential associated with aging. Any program that doesn’t consider both [the problem and the potential], is not state of the art.”

The fact is, the brain — once thought to have all the neurons it could — can continue to regenerate and experience can actually have an impact on brain structure. We have, Cohen said, “a built-in inner push [which is] an evolutionary component of aging. Furthermore, it never leaves us.” Midlife can and should be more than a ‘crisis.’ For many it is a flowering of creativity coupled with a feisty sense of self that manifests in ‘second acts,’ ‘encore careers,’ and a strong desire to make a positive impact on society.

For more on the conference, visit Positive Aging Conference

Here’s a report that rebuts the notion that aging and disability go hand in hand.

Here’s how to keep your brain sharp so you can give ‘senior moment’ a whole new meaning.

The Purpose Prize

What if you offered a $100,000 prize for social entrepreneurs over the age of 60? Civic Ventures, a think tank and incubator based in San Francisco, was convinced that such a prize would draw out candidates by the thousands, proving its point that life after 60 is the time for an ‘encore‘ career aimed at societal good. It convinced two foundations to fund the prize and in 2005 began to seek nominations. The nonprofit organization was immediately innundated with nominations from which it selected 60 Fellows, 15 finalists and five winners of the first Purpose Prize. In 2005, Howard and I nominated Rick Koca, founder and leading light of StandUp for Kids which rescues homeless and street children, and he was chosen a Purpose Prize Fellow for 2006. In 2007, we were also chosen Fellows for co-founding 2young2retire, and a week ago, we attended the Purpose Prize summit in Palo Alto, CA. It is the kind of company that leaves you wondering: what am I doing here? Here are a few memories and people that standout for us in a memorable experience.

  • At the airport in San Francisco, we shared a van with Rick Koca of StandUp for Kids and Robert Chambers, 2006 Purpose Prize Winner and president of Bonnie CLAC, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help individuals purchase fuel efficient new cars at very low interest rates. The conversation spontaneously turned to succession issues, that is, whom we could envision carrying our work forward — a founder’s mixed blessing.

  • Life and death issues. Purpose Prize winner, Donald Berwick, MD., a pediatrician whose political-style 100,000 Lives Campaign seeks to improve hospital safety and save lives. Dr. Berwick’s goal is to help hospitals reduce unnecessary deaths by encouraging them to implement six specific, scientifically proven improvements in care, including those aimed at reducing medication errors and infections. In December 2006, his Institute for Healthcare Improvement expanded its goals to avoid five million incidents of medical harm. Nurses for Newborns Foundation, the brain-child of neo-natal nurse, Sharon Rohrbach, has proven to be a low-cost, high-impact way of reducing infant mortality, particularly in populations at high risk. In 2006, the program reached 5,300 children in 40 counties in Missouri and Tennessee. Frank and Peg Brady, who are 2006 Purpose Prize Winners, also direct their efforts toward sick children. Their Medical Missions for Children uses interactive video technology to allow pediatric specialists to remotely diagnose patients and recommend treatment.

  • We had breakfast and talked one morning with Richard Cherry, 2006 Purpose Prize Fellow and 2007 Winner, and creator of the Community Environmental Center, the first New York City nonprofit to focus exclusively on environmental issues of housing and development. Over the last decade, the former Wall Street attorney’s organization has saved low-income New Yorkers $20 million in energy costs, and reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by 83,000 tons.

  • On another day, 2007 Winner Gary Maxworthy told us how he translated his three decades in the food distribution business and one year as a VISTA volunteer at the San Francisco Food Bank into a new service that brings non-market standard fresh produce to the poor. An expanded initiative called Farm to Family distributed 22 million pounds of produce to 40 California food banks. This year, their target is 34 million.

  • “How Might We?” It’s a deceptively simple question, but one that IDEO, an organization that applies design thinking to products, services, spaces and processes, to help its clients experience innovation directly, come up with new, better answers, and sometimes even change their culture. At our day-long session with IDEO, Howard worked on a team to help Jessica Holt of The Bauen Camp, Parkman, Wyoming, on strategies to scale up her project. They produced a template for a start-up kit. Marika’s team helped 2007 Winner, Adele Douglas, founder/executive director of Human Farm Animal Care, to devise a prototype of a brochure that supermarkets could hand out to customers. Work should always be that stimulating and fun!

  • Tolerance was a big subject among Fellows. Emira Habiby Browne combined her experiences as a Palenstinian immigrant and social service professional into the Center for Integration and Advancement of New Americans. The organization provides support and educational services for immigrants and refugees upon entry into the U.S. to help them gain economic independence and engage in civic life. Shakeela Hassan, a University of Chicago Professor Emeritus, is producing “The Sounds of Faith” a three-part series exploring the connections between the music of Judaism, Christianity and Islam for a national PBS broadcast. 2007 Winner, Phil Borges, is in his second encore career: using photography (his first encore, after leaving his orthodontic practice) to expand children’s worldview and cultural knowledge. Bridges to Understanding has involved 4,000 students in 30 countries. Nearly ten years ago, Richard and Shelli Steckel became photographers dedicated to chronicling the humanity shared by all people, with a special focus on children. Their Milestones Project has reached over 118 million people through exhibits mounted in airports, museums, restaurants, colleges, schools, at the United Nations and on the web.

  • Senior Civic Ventures Fellow and founder of Uplift Academy, Tom Munnecke inspired us with this question: What is the simplest thing I can do to create maximum benefit for humanity?

  • During a break, Marika took a walk toward the Stanford University chapel (our hotel was conveniently located right across the street from the campus), and stumbled on the Rodin sculpture garden and a work entitled, Stone River, by environmental artist, Andy Goldsworthy. If you don’t know his work, prepare to be stunned.

  • One week later, we met with fellow Fellow, Dennis Littky, a veteran, much-recognized educator with some ideas we would like to see implemented throughout the educational system. In 1996, he co-founded the Met Center High School in Providence, Rhode Island, a school designed to meet the personal educational needs of underserved urban students. All you have to do is talk with students — as we did — to know it is working. With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Littky’s model has been embraced by 54 schools, all public schools with fewer than 150 students. A college matching up Prime Time mentors with students is in the works, which is something that got our attention. For more, see his Big Picture Company.Nominations for the Purpose Prize are open. Deadline is March 1. Join the Encore revolution!

Not Ready for Prime Time

It’s not exactly news that too many American companies have been dragging their feet when it comes to addressing the potential brain drain when (we’d say if) there is a boomer exodus. According to a poll of HR managers conducted by Monster Worldwide, less than 12 percent said their organizations are doing enough to hold on to the institutional knowledge of their older workers, not to mention familiarity with clients and vendors, and a hands-on feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Perhaps these companies are in denial. Possibly they are focusing on the surveys that indicate that the majority of this age cohort plan to keep working, and ignoring the caveat that remaining on the job will be on a new set of terms yet to be negotiated. We’re talking about incentives that include part time, flex time, telecommuting, and other variations that facilitate boomer elder care responsibilities, to name one growing concern, or the simple desire to live a more balanced life.

If you are a boomer (and even if you’re not), this is a listen up moment.

1. If millions of you jump ship, it will hurt the economy; it will damage service organizations, the nonprofit sector and government. Yours is the last generation of workers with decades-long experience at the same company or organization. So it’s not only the valuable know how we stand to lose if you go, it’s the invaluable know why. That beats out objectives, mission statements or vision, hands down. It’s Purpose with a capital P.

2.Here’s another good reason you need to stick around. You have the best shot at transforming the workplace from within. After all, you know better than most the high cost, both personal and professional, of living to work. “Midlife overwork in America has reached pathological proportions,” says Marc Freedman, co-founder of Civic Ventures, a think tank and incubator for ideas and programs to capture the experience dividend.

Boomer Nation: It doesn’t have to be so. You’ve got the numbers and the power to demand change. Your kids will thank you.

More Reading:

The ‘Eldercare Generation’ Cares About Continuing to Work: Are Companies Interested in Keeping Them? Knowledge @Wharton

Social Security: A Surmountable Challenge

You’ve heard of artificial deadlines? Hmmm…retirement at 65 (or whenever) comes to mind. Well, how about an artificial milestone created for sensational headlines, contrived to bring attention to a non-existent crisis? Case in point: this week, retired school teacher, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, became the first boomer to apply for Social Security benefits. It was a field day for the school of chicken little reporting as phrases like looming bankruptcy, financial implosion, fiscal meltdown, Boomsday is Nigh (SF Chronicle), and even the suggestion that Ms. Kirschling was Public Enemy No. 1, made their way into print and broadcast. The Times (London) weighed in with its own: From boom to bust: the silver generation that could leave Uncle Sam broke. Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who orchestrated the media event, set the tone with his term for the ‘crisis’: America’s Silver Tsunami.

Kudos to the Kansas City Star for its focus on the fix, of which there are quite a few, not to mention that we have 34 years (that’s four 8-year presidential terms) to implement them. Everyone is in agreement that we have a problem, although it pales in comparison to Medicare funding and rising health care costs. The version we prefer comes from the Social Security Board of Trustees Report itself: “The financial difficulties facing Social Security and Medicare pose enormous, but not insurmountable, challenges.”

Fixes that have both supporters and detractors include:

  • Raising the cap for FICA, now set at $97,500.
  • Raising taxes from the current 7.5% (both FiCA and Medicare)
  • Increasing the age of eligibility for full benefits (it is already at 67 for some)
  • Encouraging savings (now that’s a novel one!)
  • and so on…

Oddly enough, the possibility that the majority of boomers will remain in the workforce, as they have been declaring in surveys over the last several years, doesn’t enter into the crisis equation. If they do — and we think health insurance concerns will contribute to the decision to keep working — the projection of a smaller worker to retiree ratio, from 3 to 1 currently to 2 to 1 (less income, more pay outs), is just plain wrong. As of now, if you are 65 or older, you can be collecting Social Security benefits and earning an income (on which you pay FICA taxes, of course). It seems to us that we need to factor in productivity gains and the impact of immigration on the workforce. If there is anything to fear, it is that the high cost of medical care will gut Medicare. But Social Security is, in our opinion, a surmountable challenge. What’s needed is imagination and political will on the part of the elected and the electorate…now rather than later.

“An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.” — Winston Churchill

More reading:

Social Security needs fixing — and fast. Kansas City Star
Social Security: Scare tactics or true crisis? Lita Epstein, author, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Social Security
Generation Ageless J. Walter Smith
Is Social Security in Trouble? Depends on Whom You Ask Knowledge@Wharton
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Live Long and Well

Have good work to do, and a brisk walk to it.
– Delfinio Lujan, merchant, herbalist
This simple recipe for a long and good life comes from a centenarian, one of the Living Treasures of Santa Fe, NM. It pretty much sums up our philosophy at 2young2retire. Work you enjoy is a health maintenance strategy and life extender. If what you are doing is also something that contributes to the good of society, so much the better. As it turns out, socially significant work is where the opportunities are — in teaching and health care, to name two. And many people 50 and older are feeling the call to make a positive difference.
But even you wouldn’t characterize your work as a form of giving back, if you keep working past the age when you are ’supposed’ to retire, you are giving back. Here’s why. You are likely to stay in good health for much longer. Everyone has a story about a relative or friend who retired and began to decline. The other side of the coin is that people who work — whatever their reason for doing so — have far fewer visits to the doctor. Maybe feeling relevant and necessary is good for us in ways that can’t be measured by medical science today. But given the high cost of medical care, every year you avoid needing it, is a blessing to you personally, and a gift to society and future generations.
Get Physical
The second part of the quote underlines a key ingredient for health maintenance after age 50: vigorous physical activity every day for the rest of your life. If you are lucky enough to live a mile or two from your place of work, you’ve got a head start. You can’t help but notice how urban dwellers tend to be much trimmer and fitter than those of us who are dependent on a vehicle for every errand.
If you work at home, you have to be that much more disciplined about exercise, making sure whatever you choose is fun, so you’ll want to keep doing it, yet challenging enough to make a difference to your cardiovascular system. Most people need about 28 days to get into a new habit of biking, swimming, weight work, yoga, tai chi or Pilates — three ideal practices for the mature body — every day.
Commuters, start campaigning for a fitness break at work. Most of the best employers have added gyms and instructors. It’s a rare executive these days who doesn’t understand the relationship between exercise and better morale and productivity. Take a page from a centenarian’s playbook, and plan to make good use of your own century on Earth.

Encore Careers

Marc Freedman is one of our heroes. In the midst of sound and fury about the boomers, his is a steady, reassuring voice of hope and reason. In his new book, Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life, Freedman wastes no time in painting two starkly contrasting visions of the future. In one, boomers — ‘greedy geezers’ — on an endless, subsidized vacation, have sabotaged the economy, tipping the nation into decline. In the other, ‘boomer labor power’ fueled by Encore Careers — what he calls ‘purpose-driven jobs’ — makes life more meaningful, fulfilling and financially sustainable, not only for boomers themselves, but for generations to come.

Freedman, 49, founder and ceo of Civic Ventures, a think tank and incubator dedicated to “generating ideas and inventing programs to achieve the greatest return on experience,” shies away from the emphasis on voluntarism that characterized his earlier book, Prime Time: How the Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America. He believes that, given the right policy decisions and bold new initiatives to address the ‘experience dividend,’ millions of boomers will make a virtue of the necessity to generate an income later in life, and enter into a new phase of work that may be shorter in duration, but ‘weight more’ in impact.

What is needed, he writes, is a new social contract with older people that directs them not toward the outdated ‘freedom from work’ of an earlier generation and time, but ‘freedom to work.’ To illustrate, five ‘Encore Pioneers’ tell their stories and show what is possible when you don’t accept the status quo. Former car salesman, Robert Chambers, now provides low-interest loans and fuel-efficient cars to the rural pool in New Hampshire. After thirty years as a truant officer, Jacqueline Kahn began to train in her early fifties for her new career as a critical care nurse (see her featured in Time Magazine).

“In choosing work that is aimed at making a better world, these leading-edge baby boomers are challenging the definition of success for all Americans,” writes Marc Freedman. In the future he envisions, these examples of Encore Careers will be commonplace and the dire forecasts of those who saw inevitable social collapse caused by an aging society, will seem as absurd as Y2K.

Read this book and light your own fire. The Appendix, Your Encore, is packed with resources to help you find your way and keep the flame burning.  And there is an Encore website.  “The future is calling,” Freedman concludes. “What are we waiting for?”