Reimagining Retirement: Encore Careers At Any Age

PRC Title settlement reverse mortgages

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.

Never Too Late for That Dream Job:

How to Switch Careers Later in Life

When my friend Susan moved back to California with her family in the summer of 2014, she began job-hunting for the first time in fourteen years. At 56, this might have seemed a daunting endeavor — a generation ago. As it was, Susan sent out resumes somewhat casually for a few months, and by late autumn she had two solid job offers within easy commuting distance. Now, at 58, she’s considering spreading her work wings in a grander direction, and has already had one interview.

reverse mortgage newsClearly, this is not your mother’s career trajectory.

Whereas once upon a briefcase few employers would have given a second glance to the resume of someone less than a decade from retirement, today, with longevity creating an entire additional generation of life for many active adults, the 50s are prime time for companies to harvest talent at its peak.

Consider Alice Longworth, who says getting laid off at 62 was “the best thing that ever happened to her.” She decided to leave non-profit fundraising and start fresh in graphic design, something she’d always enjoyed. After taking courses at both the School of Visual Arts in New York and NYU’s School of Continuing Education, Longworth interned at age 66 (which makes the movie, The Intern, starring Robert DeNiro as a 70-year-old intern, seem not at all far-fetched), later landing two part-time positions that utilize her new skills.

Driven to Help

And as we explored in this post, Longworth is on the youthful side of the career reinvention spectrum.

With the advent of just-in-time services to rival traditional businesses, mature adults are also expanding the definition of what elder employment can look like. For instance, while two years ago we explored elder driving and when your reverse mortgage clients and prospects ought to consider relinquishing the keys, today older adults aren’t just requesting rides from services such as Uber and Lyft — they’re providing them!

Carol Sue Johnson, 73, is an Uber driver, one of a growing number of seniors who are augmenting their retirement income by getting behind the wheel on a part-time basis. Drivers are in such demand, in fact, that in 2015 Uber and Life Reimagined (a subsidiary of AARP) formed a partnership to recruit more 50+ drivers. Older drivers are prized because as a group they are careful, insured drivers who keep their vehicles in good repair, and tend to have fewer accidents than their younger cohorts.

And older drivers appreciate the freedom and flexibility, as well as the cash. Since they’re not depending on these ride services for full-time income, they can fit driving into their schedules, leaving them plenty of time to enjoy other activities while supplementing their Social Security or other sources of income (such as a reverse mortgage).

So however your still-spry reverse mortgage clients choose to spend their days, a part-time job that meets their needs may be the perfect way to reimagine work that’s a lot like play.