We've heard it time and time again through the media and a range of other venues: Retirement today means something different than it did to our parents. People are much more active in their later years compared to previous generations, and many don't fully retire at age 65 anymore. Will you?
Thanks to modern medicine, we are living longer and better than just a generation ago. In 1935, when age 65 was established as the retirement age for full social security benefits, the average life expectancy was 61.7 years. The current life expectancy is 84.8 years for men and 86.8 for women. We're talking about a lot more active years than ever before.
In addition, research indicates that "retirement" increasingly includes some type of work. One survey done by Thrivent Financial (as reported in the August 31, 2007, USA Today) found that 43 percent of 45- to 64-year-olds plan to work either full-time or part-time in retirement. Nearly one-third of those who plan to continue working want to do so to stay engaged. So while work may look different from what you've been doing for the past 30 or more years, doing some kind of work can be an important factor in having a satisfying life at this stage.
For those of you who want to continue working after you retire from your current jobs—or to engage in what the press has dubbed "active retirement"—the following may help you begin the process of designing this next stage of your life.
What Role Will Work Play for You? Four Exercises
In creating a vision of how you would like to spend your time in the next stage of life, you should begin by considering what is most important to you. Here are exercises to set your thoughts in motion.
Step one. Consider each of the six areas below. Think about how you want to spend time in each area and how much time you would like to give to each area.
Self: Pursuing hobbies, taking care of your health through physical activities and the like
Couple: Managing the relationship with a significant other
Family: Connecting with children, parents and extended family members
Friends: Connecting with close friends and other acquaintances
Community: Engaging in civic and charitable activities
Work: Engaging in a job or career
For some, envisioning the future can be difficult, so it may help to think in the context of the present. In other words, you can look at how you are currently spending time in these six areas and ask yourself if you are satisfied with the way things are right now. As you design your future, consider how you could increase your satisfaction level in any areas where fulfillment now seems lacking.
Step two. Next think carefully about the skills or abilities you possess and which ones you enjoy using. Which ones do you want to use in your future work? List at least five.
Step three. Now it's time to home in on what you want from work in your next stage. Rank the following in order:
___ Salary and/or benefits
___ Staying engaged/busy
___ Status and recognition
___ Outlet for skills and knowledge
___ Colleagues and friends
___ Sense of purpose
___ Daily structure
___ Own business
___ Other (please identify)
Step four. Are there specific work ideas you're already considering for the next chapter of your life? Write them down in a list. Now, how do those ideas fit with your responses to the earlier exercises—that is, the way you want to spend your time and use your skills, and what you are seeking from work in the future?
Researching the Options
As you look over the information you've collected about yourself, you should see some threads running through it that give clues to how to design your life and work in the next chapter. If you're still wondering about possible options, a couple of resources can be particularly helpful. Deborah Arron's book
What Can You Do With a Law Degree? (Niche Press, 2003) has exercises to help create a vision of what type of work you might find satisfying. It also lists a number of options that can be useful in considering what's next. For those considering non-law-related options, the Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles the
Occupational Outlook Handbook—available at www.bls.gov/oco—describing many occupations, along with the skills and knowledge needed and the employment outlook for each.
Other helpful resources include
What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement: Planning Now for the Life You Want by Richard Nelson Bolles and John E. Nelson (Ten Speed, 2007);
The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life by Jan Cullinane and Cathy Fitzgerald (St. Martin's, 2004); and
Don't Retire: REWIRE by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners (Alpha Books, 2003).
Putting Your Plan Afoot
Once you've decided what part work will play for you and what kind of work you're interested in pursuing, it's not too soon to start planning for the transition. If you would like to start your own business, you could attend courses and begin to create a business plan. You might also do some market research, as well as talk to a financial planner about how you will want to set up the business. Or, if you're considering work in a public interest organization, you can get involved with that sector now, so the people in it will already know you when it's time to make the transition and may be able to create a position for you. If you're thinking about transitioning to something completely different, talking with people in that field can be very helpful in planning what steps you'll need to take.
The most important lesson in all of this is that thinking ahead can lead to a very active, satisfying work life in your retirement years—giving you a new season that allows you to be fully engaged and, at the same time, spend your time in a way that meets what you value most. The work doesn't need to be all encompassing—instead, it can fit in nicely with a chapter that has great meaning and enjoyment.