Reimagining Retirement: Encore Careers At Any Age

Amara Rose May 9, 2017 2

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For many people, the seventh and eighth decades of life are a work renaissance, as a recent New York Times piece makes clear. And while older adults, particularly women, do need the money, many members of this seasoned, savvy cohort are having “way too much fun” to retire.

Consider Laura, 71, who’s on the verge of her fourth career. She was a technology pioneer in the 1960s, and after thirty years in the field made a 180-degree pivot to run a retreat center. At 62, she took the Waldorf teacher training and became certified as a Waldorf teacher; she tutors students out of her home. She’s thinking her final career reinvention will be as an editor. But given how young, healthy and unpasteurized she is, who knows?

Look at Erni Stollberg, who became a model and Instagram sensation at 95. That redefines “aging with style” — just like model Lauren Hutton, a Calvin Klein underwear model at 73.

Then there’s Ed, 70, who has been running his high-end wood finishing business for 45 years. He’s tired of the high stress, of customers with 28-room houses bleating, “This shade of stain isn’t quite right…” He’s remodeling his own house and plans to rent it out and live in the granny unit, which will provide an income stream (and there’s always the reverse mortgage option for later on). How will he spend his newfound time and freedom?

“I’m going to sell tamales, either from a food truck or a stand,” he enthuses. It seems like a radical shift, but to Ed, the main ingredient is a lack of stress. “People love tamales, and that’s all I’m going to sell. They’ll come to me because they love what I’m selling. It’s a win-win.” And a retirement plan quite distinct from what a 70-year-old might have done just a generation ago.

reverse mortgage newsThe Not-So-Quiet Revolution 

Several years ago, when encore careers exponent Marc Freedman wrote about how mature adults are navigating the new stage beyond midlife, the idea of pressing the reset button and jumping into a whole new chapter was fairly unusual.

Now the avant-garde has hit the mainstream. Dorian Mintzer, a leading-edge Boomer at 71, created Revolutionizing Retirement when she realized her retirement was very different from that of her parents: a journey, as Laura, Erni, Ed and many others exemplify, and not a destination. Retirement reinvention isn’t static — and it needn’t be serial.

Mintzer has a “portfolio career” as a retirement/money/relationship coach, consultant, speaker, writer and teacher who works with individuals and couples to navigate pre-retirement and retirement transition issues. Too many women are frustrated by a spouse’s loose ends once he or she retires and is under foot all day. Mintzer’s maxim appeals to her cohorts: “I married you for better or for worse, but not for lunch.”

She also founded the first virtual positive aging community, Boomers and Beyond (which has been meeting since 2007), and in 2012, the Revolutionize your Retirement Interview with Experts Series to help older adults create a fulfilling second half. Interest was so strong the calls are recorded for repeat listening.

“Sixty is not the new forty; we are who we are, and we do not want to be called seniors!” Mintzer says with verve. “Grandma” doesn’t sit well with many youthful Boomer women, either. In response, some senior centers are changing their names, to, for example, “Boomers and Beyond”.

Not Who You Were, Who You’re Becoming

“We need to harvest the wisdom of life, not the information,” observes Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi. “The planet is glutted with information today. What we need is the wisdom to know how to use that information.”

Even chronic illness doesn’t have to define us. Aware adults can change their dreams and adapt. Multiplatinum singer–songwriter Linda Ronstadt, 70, can no longer sing due to Parkinson’s. Now she speaks and writes to inspire others, and shares what she’s learned during seven fulfilling decades.

By the end of this decade, 20 percent of women over 65 will be in the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If a senior is suddenly single (whether due to death, divorce, or some other circumstance), work is a very important social outlet; it’s critical for well-being.

Work is not a four-letter word; think of it as part of your life plan,” says career transition and personal finance/retirement consultant Kerry Hannon.

The author of Getting the Job You Want After 50 For Dummies and nine other books, Hannon says, “People have a palpable fear of outliving their money. This is the exact opposite of aging in place home retrofits: spend time transitioning!” She outlines a trio of crucial steps:

  1. Financial fitness: downsize, pay down credit card debt. “Debt is the biggest dream killer.” This may be the ideal time to consider/apply for a reverse mortgage.
  2. Physical fitness: You want to “give off a positive vibe” to potential employers — “She’s up for the job!”
  3. Spiritual fitness: Consider a meditation practice or other means to become centered and calm, organized and prepared.

While career reinvention can work really well, as explored above, Hannon advises, “Redeploy, don’t reinvent”. Take skills you already have and see how you can shift them to a new area: a former Naval captain became a manager with the circus, something he loved as a child and relishes in retirement. He merged what he loved with existing skills to transition into a whole new field.

Encore employment isn’t a linear process; more like a patchwork quilt. It’s important that older adults not get stuck in a moment; nothing is forever, and pivoting is not only possible but can be highly rewarding.

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