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.

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8 thoughts on “To Work or Not to Work

  1. For me, the basic equation is “Money/Status vs. Time/Independence”. Which side of the equation is worth more to us? Both sides have obvious benefits. Fortunately, we’ve been good/lucky with money, and can replace status with board roles (corporate & non-profit). That makes it (relatively) easy to pick the “Time/Independence” side.

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    1. I like your phrasing of the dichotomy. And you are right some of us are lucky to not have the need for money and can replace some of the other “work” elements like status or affiliation or connections with other non-compensation-based activities. I have personally struggled with “giving away” my skills without getting the compensation. Not sure why – any idea based on your journey?

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  2. As your final paragraph notes, you can be doing multiple “jobs” in “retirement”. That is the advantage of being able to do part-time jobs in retirement.
    Secondly, a different perspective on Career Continued. I have chosen Career Continuer but not because I loved my job. I loved the work but hated the bureaucracy and demands of a large corporation. I am thankful that I have been able to contract my experience while no longer having to participate in what I didn’t like of my previous career.

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    1. Maureen, I am also learning with my Career Continuer as a consultant that I can only take on the projects that have the elements I love to work on. Luckily I can be choicefull! Thanks for joining in the conversation…. where are you in your transition?

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  3. yes, yes, yes, and yes. I believe there are different phases to this retirement transition. I am in the phase of finding a well balanced first year, putting feelers out there to see if something presents itself organically in the things that interest me, and setting goals for first year (you will see them by 9/1).

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