Category Archives: Thoughts on Retirement

Leaving Life to Chance? Don’t!

In her New York Times article, Training to be Old, Claudia Deutsch interviews experts on the subject of how well, or badly, many of us are preparing for a span of years roughly equivalent to those spent building family and career. Here’s a comment that is worth your attention: “With the first wave of baby boomers already in their 60s, gerontologists are bracing for a tsunami of disgruntled postretirees who have left the psychic and physical aspects of aging to chance.”

If this describes you, don’t panic. Help with transition is available, although given the numbers — 78 million baby boomers alone — we have a long way to go to meet the need. Programs are beginning to turn up at local JCCs, YM/Ws and other social services groups. Look for a Next Chapter group or Transition Network (for women 50+) in your area. A lot of authors are jumping on the later life advice bandwagon. That’s not a bad place to start your inquiry.

You can expect financial planners to continue to focus on what they are trained to do — help you to manage your tangible assets so they will last as long as you do. But many have begun to adopt and train for a more comprehensive approach, perhaps because clients are demanding it. In our neck of the woods, 2young2retire has already certified one financial planner to facilitate the 2young2retire course and another is currently enrolled in the training. Facilitator Training is open only to people who have professional credentials, e.g. life/career/transition coaches, career counselors, social workers.

The 2young2retire course itself is a good model for what is possible. It asks a six (or eight) week commitment from participants to inquire into the important issues we’ll all face in a longer life span: staying healthy, smarter money management, ‘encore’ careers, entrepreneurial opportunities, community service, and intelligent travel. You reflect, you explore, you plan, you write down your plans. Good things happen.

Hungry for a ‘purpose-driven job’ in the second half of life? The MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Community College Encore Career Grants of $25,000 are designed to encourage community colleges to develop programs that help boomers transition into encore careers in healthcare, education and the social services where the jobs are many and qualified people few. Do good. Do well.

RETIRED, retired

Have you seen this new usage, doubling the word ‘retired’ meaning you really have quit working altogether? It just goes to show you how much things have changed on this subject. Nine years ago, when we launched, retired still meant exactly what it meant in 1935 when retirement became official: you were finished, done. Your working life was over. And most people were pretty happy about that.

Today, to be “retired, retired” (see CNN/MoneyThe Non-Retirement Retirement) is something of an anomaly. Credit (or blame) goes to the baby boomers, the generation that will finally put an end to the idea that people have an expiration date, like packaged food.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other word would smell as sweet.”

Retire, retirement, retiree. We seem to be stuck with these words, despite the qualifiers, at least until we come up with a better way to describe how we are really living (and working, and giving) in our later years, and who we have become: wiser, more thoughtful, patient, kinder, more generous. Someone once suggested to us that perhaps we grow not older, but deeper. We like that. Words are powerful, so choose wisely. It’s your call.

Leap! She Says

“If you wish to persuade me, you might think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.” — Attributed to Cicero

To a degree, good books do this, which is why they generate an instant buzz and word of mouth, why they tend to be remembered, the way people tend to remember Sara Davidson’s Loose Change, her landmark book of coming of age in the 70s.

Davidson’s new book, Leap! What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives?, will also find an audience and have legs, we predict. The excerpt, published earlier in Newsweek, gives you an indication why we think so. She writes not as a keen observer and journalist, although she is both, but from inside 50+ angst, “the narrows, the rough passage to the next part of life.” Work dries up. Suddenly, despite awards and recognition for her hit shows, she “can’t get arrested.” Her nest empties and her lover leaves.

The narrows will no doubt ring a bell for many within the baby boom generation and for those of us who came before, although we may not have been quite so open about our vulnerabilities. Davidson’s candor is bracing. We, who have made a project of telling the good news about aging, admit that a lot of it is confusing, difficult and painful, and we don’t have very good guides about how to do it well.

Leap! What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives? will help. Although its focus is on the more aware, accomplished, successful segment of the boomer cohort who have the luxury of choice about their ‘next life,’ there are plenty of ah ha! moments for anyone willing to take some risks about the future. And a lot that will touch you and make you smile and nod in recognition. Davidson’s interviews with Carly Simon on her comeback; self-help guru, Joan Boryshenko on her fourth marriage; with Tom Hayden, about ‘putting [one’s] career drives down,’ and his former wife, Jane Fonda; with Bernard Lietaer (creator of the Euro); and with Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, stand out for this reader. Holzman’s advice mirrors the 2young2retire credo:

“You don’t have to figure it all out. Pick something and do it. Take a look at what’s out there and see what you’d like to stand next to. Or if you don’t see anything . . . Wait till lightning strikes…Because it always does.” Amen.

Stayin’ Alive

A number of years ago, a study published in the British Medical Journal showed a 20 percent spike in heart attacks at the beginning of the work week, and that men were particularly susceptible. The Monday morning heart attack syndrome suggested it was a return to work after a weekend of leisure that could be a killer. The composition of that leisure, of course, could make an important difference. Vigorous exercise or a six-pack in front of the tube? Nonetheless, according to Harvard Men’s Health Watch, “Stress is the likely explanation for the Monday peak in cardiac risk. Retirees may retain the responses they learned in their working years, and they are certainly susceptible to the hustle and bustle of a Monday morning.”

It’s enough to make you hit the snooze button and pull the covers over your head. Or perhaps take that early retirement package and hit the beach.

But wait. An equally compelling argument has been surfacing that correlates work — that is, work you enjoy, at a pace that you set yourself — with staying healthy. We’ve all heard anecdotes about hard-charging people who retire then become ill and die within a short time. In an earlier post, we mentioned the Shell Oil study of 3,500 employees which showed that people who retired at 55 died earlier than those who stayed on the job until 65. The question that always comes up is, was ill-health a factor in the choice of early retirement?

A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that “complete retirement leads to a 23-29 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activity, an eight-percent increase in illness conditions, and an 11-percent decline in mental health.” Could help explain the well-documented fact that white males over 65 also have the highest suicide rate.

No doubt more research that will clear up causal links between retirement and premature mortality is needed. But we’re persuaded that among all the other benefits it provides — identity, meaning, community, structure, a sense of self-worth, an income — good work is one way to stay alive.  TGIM — Thank God, It’s Monday.

The Sabbatical: Not So Academic

The sabbatical is one of those traditions of college teaching that grants a period of time away, usually with full salary, to an individual with the expectation that he or she will spend it doing research, possibly in a different but related field, and thus return refreshed and renewed to the classroom. At the very least, it permits the grantee a way of avoiding burnout. That the sabbatical has never made any serious inroad into the business world is self-evident. Midlife overwork and burnout are two crippling problems that dare not speak their name. Some 70 percent of workers long for time-out that is longer that the usual two-week vacation.

If you are among those who have been downsized or encouraged to take early retirement, or whatever euphemism you’d care to apply to an untimely exit, you might reframe this often traumatic life event in terms of being granted a sabbatical, time-out that you’ve earned.

While you let that sink in, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How much time do I want for myself?

  • What has stood in the way of my taking it, beyond the obvious answer that I’ve been working x hours?

  • How much time can I afford to take without an income?

  • What have I not done that I’ve always wanted to do?

  • If I were to die tomorrow, what would I have missed?

  • What would improve my life or the lives of others that I could take on?

  • Who is doing work that I am attracted to?

  • What issues in my town (country, state, country, the world) could benefit from my involvement?

  • What do I envision for myself at the end of a sabbatical?

Six Months Off: How to Plan, Negotiate, and Take the Break You Want Without Going Broke or Burning Bridges, by Hope Dlugozima, James Scott and David Sharp, offers some other good ideas.

Rightsizing Your Life

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” said Sir Winston Churchill. That is a good preface for a review of Ciji Ware’s new book, Rightsizing Your Life: Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most (Springboard Books 2007). This is a well-organized, lively manual on creating an environment that supports our choices in the second half of life. It includes relocation – whether to, where, when, and how – which, after money and health, is a major concern for many of us as we grow older. This is due, in part, to the size of the continent we inhabit, and our propensity for moving for work or family. Sometimes those moves take us far from our homes of origin, for better or worse, and sometimes on the periphery of what we value most.

The other factor the book tackles head on is our possessions. To stretch the Churchill quote just a little, we have become possessed by our possessions. How to maintain, preserve, protect and store our stuff have become industries in their own right. So Rightsizing Your Life is, among other things, an exhortation to simplify in the second half of life, to pare down to what we consider the essentials (a revealing exercise if there ever was one!), and thus create space for self-discovery, creativity, an exhilarating new freedom, to name a few benefits.

Following an excellent Foreword by Gail Sheehy, Part I covers just that. Part II is where the rubber meets the road: a seven-step how-to that makes rightsizing sound, if not easier, than doable and necessary. I was particularly taken with Chapter 6, “Identify Your Favorite Things,” a discussion that goes far beyond the thing itself. You will no doubt recognize yourself somewhere in the list “Ten Reasons We’re Prisoners of Our Possessions.”

If you feel yourself more than ready to rightsize and simplify but feel overwhelmed by the task, go directly to “Call in the Professionals” – yes, there is a small army of people who can help you declutter, sort, organize, move, retrofit, remodel. Great resources throughout, including websites and other readings.

Not So-New ‘Retirement’

A study from the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research released recently is further evidence that retirement is more marketing concept than reality. “Worried You Don’t Have Enough for Retirement?” (from AARP The Magazine) is pretty typical of the advertising for financial advice and portfolio management that targets our age group.

The Vanguard survey of 2,474 individuals age 40 to 69 indicates that “The conventional view of retirement — working full-time until a set date then shifting to full-time leisure –- does not match the experience of many older Americans.” Ergo, the so-called “New Retirement” of baby boomers that blends work with leisure is not so new. Some other nuggets of interest from the study:

  • According to the Social Security Administration, 45% of people 65 to 69 are earning income from work, as are 25% of people 70-74.

  • Downshifting, as in changing one’s relationship to work, is more typical than an abrupt end to work.

  • 6 in 10 people define the word “retirement” as some combination of work and leisure.

  • Self-employment is the second most popular option among the “Never Retire” group.

  • Implications for financial advisers: more complex and customized help needed.
  • Implications for employers who want to hang on to their experienced talent: phased retirement in demand.

Our choice and recommendation is for a balanced portfolio of work, service and leisure in later life. For more on this, contact a 2young2retire Certified Facilitator in your area and ask about the 2young2retire course. For listing by state, scroll down on right.

Saving Too Much?

Huh? When was the last time you heard that in this country? It is certainly an attention-grabber, which explains why A Contrarian View: Save Less, Retire With Enough is the number one emailed article in today’s New York Times. Naturally, the surprisingly consistent conclusion of a ‘loose confederation of well-regarded economists’ is getting a frosty reception from the folks who profit the most from managing large retirement portfolios. And critics of the research have a point in arguing that it could be a disincentive to save, which is a tough sell as it is.

We are squarely in the contrarian camp ourselves on this subject, if for a different reason. In fact, one book we recommend to people 50+ and older is Retire on Less Than You Think written by Fred Brock, former Seniority columnist for the Times, now ‘retired’ as a professor of journalism and author. Brock’s case is not for saving less, but for cutting expenses, and he offers specific and compelling examples of how to do that, including his own.

What isn’t at all new in the report is the persistence of the idea that people are retiring, as in ceasing to work, and therefore in need of adequate funds to keep them out of soup kitchens. This flies in the face of every survey conducted recently, and disputes the abundant evidence of people working past age 65, even if they can afford not to. Why older people in the workforce or starting businesses remains newsworthy, is a puzzlement.

Prisoner in Paradise

A coach and certified 2young2retire facilitator tells us of an affluent, retired client who is struggling to find something meaningful for the next part of his life. He describes himself as a ‘prisoner in paradise.’ Sounds like a nice problem to have. You’ve heard the saying,we know that money won’t buy us happiness, but we want to find out for ourselves? The irony here is that the wealth many of us aspire to, that we imagine will bring us freedom and unlimited choices — not to mention material goodies — can have just the opposite effect.

There are any number of reasons we need to be challenged throughout life. Strength or resistance training comes to mind. When we contract muscles to lift progressively heavier weights, we are deliberately causing minute ‘injuries’ in the muscle fibers. The body’s healing response actually makes the muscles stronger. In humanistic psychology, resilience is the “human capacity and ability to face, overcome, be strengthened by, and even be transformed by experiences of adversity.”

“You gotta have heat in everything you do,” says Wynton Marsalis. Advised Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” To live richly, whatever your financial status, make these your mantra.

Trailer Park and Cat Food Blues? No Way!

Don’t know about you, but we get pretty steamed by these patronizing articles about Boomers and their money, see It’s Crunch Time for Retiring Boomers. And technically, we’re not even in the Boomer cohort! OK, maybe you guys have had a run of living too well too long, to borrow from the Paul Simon song. But there are two reasons, at least, why we believe that singing the trailer park and cat food blues is wrong-headed and should be rejected.

First, the assumption that you are too addicted to the so-called live-for-today lifestyle to adapt. We’re not buying it. Let us tell you that it is possible to go from 0 in the reserves to a chunk of change that gets the attention of financial advisers. We did it, starting in our 50s, and we’re no smarter about money than any one of you. Here are two things that worked for us:

1. We started paying ourselves first. In our case, it was stashing the maximum amount then allowed in a 401K, and fully funding a KEOGH account we created for our small business. We did this every year, and didn’t even miss the money after a while. Know what? It adds up.

2. We began to pay cash for just about everything. This is a recommendation you hear often, but here’s how it affected our bottom line and could impact yours. When you use cash, it puts the brakes on impulse spending. We didn’t like walking around with cash-fat wallets, so it forced us to think twice, put it off. Procrastination, whether about starting an exercise program, a diet, or making a purchase, is very effective. Just keep passing those ATMs!

Second point: the assumption that retirement — the dated model of full-time leisure — is inevitable. Take this away, and the whole picture changes. Find work you enjoy or create it, and plan to do it in some form for the rest of your life. After the technology bubble popped, one Boomer who thought he was headed to the golf links forever, revised his plan to become a golf equipment rep.

You need to build up a financial reserve. If you haven’t, beating up on yourself is pointless. Just start now. Working longer is an option well within your grasp. And don’t give up too easily or settle for the first thing. If you’re like a lot of folks (like us!), you did that the first time around. What could you happily do for the next 20 years or so? Where can you make a meaningful contribution? Those are the questions to ask yourself now. More about career change from Career Journal.