To Work or Not to Work

To work or not to work, that is the question – stealing a bit from Shakespeare.  But it became a big tension-question as I created my future Life Vision.  It took me a while to understand my answer to the question “Do I really need to work?”
There was a HUGE assumption, from one camp, that compensated-work would be a given (a “should”) in this next stage of my life. There is a lot of reporting on the Baby Boomer retirement bubble and its potential socio-economic impact. There is the expected pull out of Social Security and pension programs with less going in, leaving both the government and private companies under a huge financial drain. In the healthy longevity conversation, there are many studies about why keeping both physically and mentally active is important as we age. There is an underlying assumption in many books and articles that because of this increase in longevity, combined with the reduction of pensions and the lack of personal savings,  all Baby Boomers will need to have supplemental income in their next stage of life!

Then, there was the HUGE assumption, from another camp, that if you are still working, you’re not really retired.  Retirement was, simply, not working – a life of leisure and play and volunteering/giving back.  Why would you continue working in retirement?  You’re retired!
When it comes down to the individual (i.e. me), the question of to work or not to work has both financial and emotional considerations.  Yes, there is the “do you need supplemental income?” in retirement, a critical financial reason. And a good look at finances and expenses is definitely in order to answer that!  [Make sure you have this critical question answered, with the help of a financial planner if needed.]
But the emotional side can be just as important. When you consider what work provided in the past, it is often more than just monetary compensation. What if work was/is the only outlet for fulfilling your values-based needs? What if your work-style means work takes over life and does not allow for healthy activity? What if future work is “just a job” and not fulfilling?    I needed to understand my own relationship to work to answer not just the financial side, but the emotional side as well.  What did work emotionally provide? Do I still need that based on understanding my values?  In the future, was work the only outlet for those needs to be met?
— Did work help provide Sense of Identity? Did I introduce myself by saying what work I did? Did I look to work (including perks of the job) or co-workers to build my ego, give me confidence or provide me status?
— Did work help provide Social Affiliation & Friendship? Are most of my friends through work or work related activities? Did most of my non-work activities evolve around work-related friends?  Did work provide me with the feeling of being “needed”?

— Did work help provide Structure & Routine? Was work my primary life structure? Did I need structure going forward?
— Did work help provide Challenge & Risk? Did work provide my (only/primary) mentally stimulating situations/conversations?

Only once I answered BOTH the financial and emotional parts of the question could I begin to explore what type of “work” I should be looking at in this next life stage.   Now, if you do decide to work in retirement (an oxymoronic statement for sure), there are so many terms flying around. A Second/Encore Career? (i.e. another 15-20 year career in a totally different field) A Bridge Job? (i.e. a job at Home Depot because you love to build, or at Dick’s for the interaction with athletes and the toy discount!) Should I be a Purposeful Volunteer? (i.e. give back working, for pay or not, at the local hospital/food pantry/school) Build on a passionate hobby, with possible compensation?
To understand what’s right for me, I looked at a few of these possibilities in more detail:
Career Continuer: This is where you loved what your work was! In general, you might not have been 100% ready to retire, can’t imagine not working in your current profession, and have more to achieve in or contribute to your profession. You feel that you are at the peak of productivity with strong skills and want to remain there.
As a Career Continuer, you want to capitalize on your work experience and consider getting a new full-time, but less stressful job or part-time job in same field of expertise. Consider establishing a consulting practice in your field of expertise, becoming a coach/instructor, teaching as an adjunct professor, leading a professional association, becoming editor of a journal in your field of expertise, writing & publishing books, creating & selling digital downloads/training, or becoming a speaker/corporate trainer.
Encore Career: This is where you regret not trying a different work/career opportunity at some point in your life. The “if only I had” hindsight. Or maybe you want to use your talents/skills in a new career passion area, or finally start your own business to be your own boss.
If this feels like the right space, consider buying into franchise/licensee program, returning to college for new degree in something you always wanted, retraining or licensing/certification for new trade. Consider your areas of interest for a new careers: do you love performance (musician, actor, comedian), working with others (mediator, teacher, realtor, minister), or the medical field (health care worker/practitioner, massage therapy).
Bridge Job: This is where you need some supplemental income but are not interested in a full time job/career. Or you are considering turning a lifelong passion/hobby/interest into part-time income generation, where you work only as much as you want.
There are so many areas that might satisfy this space, especially small business creation for day-to-day needs/services like dog walker, driver, personal shopper, tax prep, personal concierge/organizer, personal chef, business support services, home stager, proof reader, website developer, or home companion. Or a part time job in your area of interest/hobby area – seasonal work (summer camps, national parks, garden store at peak times), retail in passion area (fashion, home improvement, cooking, home decor), or becoming a fitness instructor (yoga, zumba).
New Adventurers: This is where you don’t really need supplemental retirement income. You want to experience new adventures, explore new avenues, learn new things/skills. You have latent talents/skills/passions you want to expand or new talents/skills you always wanted to develop.  Or a strong desire to give back.
Here, to identify what’s right, consider exploring leagues or local chapters in areas of interest, looking for demanding volunteer opportunities, getting advanced education for sake of learning (ex. OLLI, RoadScholar), mastering a craft, or exploring exotic places (and study about them beforehand!). Some of these idea spaces might even provide some small income-generating opportunities. Some out-there ideas – join the Peace Corp, become a tour director/adventure tour guide, be a professional e-Bay buyer/seller, sell your crafts at shows.
And me? I am still in the exploration of what work is right for me.  I decided that yes, I do need to work, more for the emotional components of identity and mental stimulation than the financial ones. I am exploring part-time freelance options as a Career Continuer.  And because my needs are more emotional than financial, I am also looking into New Adventures to see if some of the emotional needs can be met through these types of non-income producing pursuits.

My New Job? Curator of Retirement Books!

When I retired, a good friend gave me a shopping bag full of books about retirement. She knows I am a researcher at heart and did not have a life plan in place on the day I retired.  As she is also a few years behind me in the journey, she joked that I should curate the books for her.

But it was a known fact at work that I very often summarized business-related books into Cliff Note-like summaries.  Teammates wanted my summaries instead of reading the books. Was this my friend’s hidden agenda as well – a summary instead of a set of books?   This time, with reading so many retirement books in my research, my Cliff-Note synthesis has become a multipage book-that-will-never-be-published.

Why never to be published? In my corporate career I always encouraged a “search and reapply” philosophy. Not to reinvent the wheel but to understand what had been done before and either build on it, or just use it. I never understood the need to re-invent just to say it was your work if someone else had already shown it was a good idea or tool. For me, work success was about getting to the best results and if someone has a great tool already that worked, I wanted to use it.  Unfortunately, I believe in the world of writing and publishing, this search & reapply philosophy is called plagiarism.

The original bag of books I received led to others recommended within them. Reading various retirement blogs and doing basic research into retirement transition identified even more books.  So all my researching into retirement transition has resulted in reading 27 books so far. (That is not a typo, I am an avid reader as well as a researcher.) There are even 3 books still on my reading list.  And I am sure this post will generate a few more you-must-read recommendations!

So, my top 10 curated reads that I will give back to my friend the day she retires?    This list has my quick reviews, in case you are interested in why they made my top 10.   And yes, I will probably give her my never-to-be-published book as well, so I can claim one reader!

The Joy of Retirement by David C. Borchard. 5-star. Lots of how-to for defining who you want to be in retirement and the lifestyle that will help you be that person. Big sections on roles, talents, and values in defining your vision statement. 
Don’t Retire, Rewire by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners. 5-star. It’s a “how-to” on defining your satisfaction drivers (motivational needs), skills and strengths, and “accomplishments”, plus a clear guide for working through what in your work life was satisfied by your drivers and how to brainstorm possibilities for future. Assumes you WILL work in retirement.
How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free by Ernie J Zelinski Another 5-star. A great “get a life tree” concept and real people case studies (as opposed to all professional, CEO types). This book has a real focus on “Leisure” (not Work) aspect of retirement.
65 Things to do When you Retire is in fact 65 essays about retirement, many of which were very inspiring. Edited by Mark Evans Chimsky, a 4-star.
Your Retirement Quest by Alan Spector and Keith Lawrence. 4-star, a good foundational book covers all the bases, but is targeted more for the 5 years preceding retirement.
What Color is your Parachute – for Retirement – Some stuff on finances, but lots on health and happiness. Really liked the values thinking. 4-star
Now What? Know Who you are , Get What you Want by Laura Berman Fortgang. 4-star. Very easy style to read and it’s another how-to-process! The focus is on second career identification but the process can be reapplied easily to retirement (or even divorce).
Second Act Careers by Nancy Collamer. 4-star. A broad range of part-time income stream possibilities with lots of resource connections (to get more information). Second half of the books is on self-reflection, making choices and activating a plan.
Creating your Best Life by Caroline Adams Miller and Dr Michael Frisch. 4-star, I found it helpful in creating a “life list” that was different than a bucket list.
The Couples Retirement Puzzle by Roberta K. Taylor and Dorian Mintzer. I only give it 3-star, but it is unique in that it talks about transitioning as a duo in life and does cover all the bases you need to think about.

Happiness By Design

In my exploration on Retirement Transition, I found myself delving into positive psychology.  Positive psychology is the science behind happiness. I have always lived under the premise of something will happen by design or by default. You can either plan for it and design it, or it will just happen. Either way, you will live with it. So if I wanted happiness to be part of my future life, I needed to think about designing in happiness to my life plan.

It was very exciting to me to see that happiness was linked to aspects of self-reflection that were encouraged in retirement transitioning. Almost every retirement book encourages you to understand your values and strengths.

Happiness theory indicates that when activities we engage in are connected to our interests, they provide a Level 1 kind of happiness – a feeling of pleasure, fun and enjoyment. These fun activities are secure and comfortable, help us simply enjoy life and spend time with others in pleasurable ways.

When activities we engage in are also connected to our strengths, skills or talents then they provide a higher degree of happiness, a Level 2 intensity of happiness. Using our strengths in a personally rewarding way creates feelings of engagement, involvement, challenge and accomplishment and raises the happiness level.

Level 3 happiness is when activities we engage in are also linked to our core values and help us feel part of something bigger. This higher intensity of happiness is often called life meaning, purpose or fulfillment.

This happiness by design approach is helping me to chose the activities and pursuits to fill my calendar. There are so many things I could do. I am choosing to try things that not only link to my interests, but also utilize my strengths and reflect my values.

Learning to “Let it be”

As I began moving from full-time, compensated employment to something else I realized I needed to refresh myself on managing through change. Retirement is a major life transition, probably one of the biggest in my life. As I read through the retirement books & blogs, many discussed how the ending of a career can cause a shock to the system or even be the start of major depression. Kinda scary.

So I went back into my Corporate training looking for information to help myself manage through the change to a better place than depression.  Change management training reminded me: transitions have 3 key phases and transition takes time.

I am also learning a new meaning of time! I have discovered:
–  It takes time to establish a new life rhythm.  I never realized how much time work took – not only physically getting there and being there, but the mental space that it took as I mulled over issues and problems seemingly 24/7.  That is a lot of time to fill.  I am adjusting to more time in the house, more together time with my husband, and more alone time.
– It takes time to sort thru and define what could be a passion area. But my nature is a planner, so I need to plan and do, not just think and understand. So it has been a struggle to not just get busy for the sake of being busy.  I am learning to balance my to-do list nature with allowing time for reflection, spontaneity and serendipity.

So, the 3 phases of transition:

Phase 1 is “let it go”.   (Yes, even without kids, I’ve listened to the Frozen anthem many a time.)  This first stage of transition is time to say good-bye to the past and acknowledge it has ended. Thinking about work/career and identify, what needs were being met that might not be met in the future. What losses will need to be replaced?  Think through affiliation, routine, identity and accomplishment.  For me, the loss of daily connections to people was a big need that needed to be replaced, and quickly. Identity was also something I would need to think about. How was I going to answer the infamous question “what do you do?” without saying “I’m retired”, which says nothing really. Letting it go can also include acknowledging feelings of anger, betrayal or fear, especially if this transition was not as you planned. My husband was dealing with some of these. (Did I mention he retired on same timing as me? More on that in a future blog!)

Phase 2 is “let it be”.   Transitions experts agree, transitions have a period of low energy, a feeling of limbo.  This is the time to mull over the change occurring…time to just “let it be.”  It helped me to think of this time as an incubation period, a fertile time to think and be creative, or the cocoon that allows the butterfly to emerge. This phase has felt long for me as I am taking the time to contemplate what comes next and am exploring some options to discover what might work for me. Being in this phase has often felt like treading water versus moving forward, especially as I’ve been working through the confusion as to what to label myself and the frustration in not knowing what’s next. But, I listened to others who have transitioned into retirement and strongly advised me to not rush through this phase just for the sake of doing something! I am still taking little steps and not quite ready to run into new beginnings.

Phase 3 is “let it begin”.  This is new beginnings.  This is the phase I am looking forward to – a state of high energy to take acton, be in new situations, take on new endeavors, make commitments to new ways of living, and fully adopting new habits and activities. Yes, I know for me it might take me another year to fully reach this stage.  And that is OK!

It is OK to take the time and learn to live in the “let it be”.