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Retired doesn’t have to mean unemployed

The end of one career can be a great time to begin another, write Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners in “Don’t Retire, REWIRE!”
/ Source: TODAY

Retirement doesn't have to mean aimless walks and hours on end in a rocking chair. The end of one career can be the beginning of another fulfilling career. Times have changed, and many people find having nothing to do can get depressing. As Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners write in "Don't Retire, Rewire," finding your second wind only takes a little planning. Read an excerpt.

Flunking Retirement
I hate the word retirement. My dad retired; I won’t retire.-Nick, 50, CPA

Traditional retirement isn’t for everyone. Take, for example, Dan and Arlene, a couple we’ve known for years and bumped into recently. Dan had had a very successful career as an attorney in New York City and Arlene had been an accountant. They had retired a year before. They had moved to the south of France, to a beautiful spot they had visited on four prior dream vacations. In France, they planned to live out their perfect vision of retirement: museum hopping to do some sketching and painting, friends visiting, cooking with the freshest herbs and ingredients.

“What are you doing here?” I said. “We heard you retired to France.”

“It was horrible,” Arlene said.

“Not us,” Dan agreed.

“We flunked retirement,” they said together, laughing.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Arlene thought for a moment, searching for the right words.

Then her eyes widened. “We missed our lives!”

We flunked retirement
“We flunked retirement” made us stop and think. How could two smart people with all the means in the world have “flunked” retirement? Where had they gone wrong? We were puzzled about this and asked Dan and Arlene to talk with us further.

When we met with them, they explained that their life had turned into an endless vacation — a lifestyle they had thought would be right for them but wasn’t. They admitted that during the 20 months they had spent in the south of France they had learned a lot about themselves and what makes them tick.

Before retirement, Dan and Arlene had both been active in community and philanthropic activities. They had family nearby whom they saw frequently. They had regular routines. Dan played racquetball twice a week with an old friend. Arlene regularly took her grandchildren on special outings, like going to see “The Nutcracker” at Christmas.

Of course, they had realized before they retired that they would no longer be able to do these things in France, but it had never occurred to them that they would miss them so much.

Dan and Arlene realized that they had given up too much of what they loved.

Finally, it dawned on Dan and Arlene that they hadn’t needed to go to the south of France to find retirement satisfaction. It was in their own backyard. All they had to do to find it was know themselves better.

Real quotes
Lee Iacocca also said that he flunked retirement. In a famous Fortune magazine article (June 24, 1996), the retired Chrysler executive warned, “You plan everything in life, and then the roof caves in on you because you haven’t done enough thinking about who you are and what you should do with the rest of your life.”

Traditional retirement is outmoded
Traditional retirement, in the old sense of leisure only, isn’t for everyone. Because of the ways the world has changed, and for reasons we’ll talk more about later in this chapter, traditional retirement isn’t something you should accept without careful thought. Retirement has traditionally meant a going from. The traditional meaning of retirement is a single event — “withdrawal” from the workforce into leisure, relaxation, a slide into the end of life. Webster’s dictionary defines retirement as “removal or withdrawal from an office or active service; to seek privacy or seclusion.” The word retire comes from the French word retirer, meaning “to withdraw,” which comes from the French verb, tirer, meaning “drawing out or enduring,” the same root “martyr” comes from. Not exactly inspiring!

Even the words associated with retirement are inadequate.

“Semi-retirement” doesn’t suffice (although we use the term because there’s no other alternative yet). The term “middle-aged workplace issues” totally misses the point. “Second-career itch” sounds like change for the sake of change. “Early retirement” is a euphemism for executives who are laid off. “Un-retire” sounds too much like the un-cola! In fact, the subject of this book — working in retirement — would have been considered an oxymoron until just a few years ago. An article on retirement in American Demographics magazine had this to say about the word: “The dictionary often has trouble keeping up with society’s changing definitions of traditional nomenclature, but perhaps the term ‘retirement’ needs to be retired altogether.” Society has changed. Retirement was invented by Bismarck, first chancellor of the German Empire, in the late nineteenth century, when most people didn’t live long enough to worry about what they were going to do when they stopped working. Even when Social Security was instituted in the United States in 1935, benefits began at 65 but the average life expectancy was only 61!

Real quotesJimmy Carter calls his 1980 presidential defeat his involuntary retirement. When he went home to Plains, Georgia, he was 56. “I realized that according to the life expectancy tables, I had 25 years to go. What was I going to do with 25 more years? I was in a little town with 600 people and no job opportunities.”

Don’t retire, REWIRE!When work usually meant hard physical labor, both men and women were worn out by the time they reached their 50s and 60s, so most didn’t make it to retirement. But in today’s digital age, more people use computers and phones and sit at desks in air-conditioned offices. Sophisticated machines do the heavy lifting. The idea of needing to rest at the end of your career because your body is physically worn out from long days of backbreaking work just isn’t true for most people the way it was in the past.

Along with the idea of retirement came the assumption that you “worked” until you “retired” from your full-time “occupation,” “career,” or “job.” But today, the distinctions between working and retiring are blurring. The mandatory retirement age has been all but eliminated, and Congress has repealed the Social Security “earnings test” for people 65 or older. Government data show that the percentage of people over 65 who are in the workforce has been rising since the mid-1990s, after decades of declines. In 2001, it was 12.8 percent, higher than any time since 1979. This increase translates into a million more people over 65 in the labor force in 2001 than in 1985. Two contradictory trends are going on here. On the one hand, there is an outmoded societal attitude that people of a “certain age” should retire and, on the other hand, the facts show that these same people are staying active longer and longer in the workforce. Obviously, someone’s hiring them!

Retirement is associated with other old-fashioned ideas about the people who retire. That retired people can’t be useful. That they need to rest. That they want to relax. And that they can’t learn new skills. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

StressThe transition to retirement is stressful. This stress is made worse by not having a plan. The old adage, if you fail to plan, then plan to fail is as true for retirement as for anything else. People who retire, leave stimulation behind, and don’t replace it create stress for themselves. Leaving full-time work is a time of change, ambiguity, and lack of structure. It’s easier to know where you’re going if you begin to develop a road map ahead of time. That way, you can avoid the feeling of being out of control, which only leads to more stress.

Management gurus Peter Drucker and Peter Senge are familiar with the difficulties people face when they retire. Drucker argues that many executives are simply “unprepared” for retirement. Other retirement experts agree. “We plan our careers, but we don’t plan our retirement,” says Dr. Phyllis Moen, director of the Cornell Employment and Family Careers Institute at Cornell University, who has studied couples’ retirement transitions. Dr. Moen’s study substantiates a turbulent transition after quitting work. She found that for many couples, the first two years after leaving a job were a period of marital strife.

Excerpted from “Don't Retire, Rewire” by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners. Copyright © 2005 by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners. Published by Doubleday Books, a division of Alpha Books. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publishers.