Retirement is an Obsolete Construct

Our grandparents looked forward to retirement. That’s because they had more that Social Security. They had pensions. Remember that three legged stool that would fund retirement experts always mentioned? The retirement stool supported by Social Security, personal savings and that magic word- pensions. Well, for most people in private industry pensions are gone and so is traditional retirement. Or retirement for many people. Retirement is a luxury. When you don’t have a pension, and life expectancy is much higher than before, it may just not make sense.

That’s why the new trend is unretirement. Basically, what society did before pensions offered a way to stop working.

Prior to the late 19th century, you just worked until you died. Until after WWII, you just kept working. Retirement was invented. It’s a new construct.

So if you feel badly because you know there’s no way in hell you are going to be able to retire, don’t be so hard on yourself. Most Americans cannot retire either and maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe that no man’s land for careers between 50-72 can be redefined in a way that brings more joy and sense of accomplishment.

Employers are desperate for talent. The talent shortage is getting worse at all levels and across all talent demographics. From nursing to the skilled trades, across all jobs and industries, employers cannot fill their jobs with the 18-29 cohort because it is decreasing and their labor force participation is delayed.  For this reason, workers 50+ are in a unique position to be able to reengage with potential employers.

If you still don’t believe me, google retirement jobs. There’s actually a website called Let me say this again – unretirement is so prevalent that people actually are getting retirement jobs.

The Opportunity Zone of Unretirement

Let’s be honest. You can barely make it through the holidays without losing your mind. Do you really see yourself at home full time never going to work ever again just because someone told you that’s what you were supposed to do at 65? Or 70? And making money feels good. Going to an abusive job with a 30 year old first time manager doesn’t feel good. So that’s why it’s critical to focus on fulfulling, feel good jobs, careers and work arrangements. Stay away from psycho, hostile work environments that harm your psyche and health.

My grandmother worked in a factory until she was 70. Many of us grew up with grandparents who bragged about working way into their 70s and that’s coming back in a big way. But a lot of us are going to unretire and that doesn’t mean we are going to stay at our current company or in our current career.

Make a list of all of the professional activities you wish you could have done if you only had the time during the peak years of your career:

Corporate Social Responsibility

Imagine if you could do those types of activities and work 20 hours a week making good money. The largest group of people reentering the workforce are older workers. They retire, get a call and then they are working again.

As I said before, know you want the fun of the office camaraderie with healthy work life balance and not the insecure manager with a Napoleon complex. You want to be able to really go on vacation and leave for 3 weeks without a crisis. Imagine that.

Who said working and having that time of time to unwind can’t coexist? If you are in your 60s or have reached Social Security eligibility and still have great skills, you have options.

Third Act

Time to develop your Third Act lifegoals. A wishlist that is important to you because you will be implementing your legacy. That’s what the Third Act is all about. Your legacy, giving back and also getting the satisfaction you just don’t get when your manager is giving you a performance review. Let’s be real here. Performance reviews suck and they are weird and creepy and one way and not as useful as companies would like to think to drive true performance. We tolerate them so we can get our money. Imagine getting your money without having to go through the indignity of it all.

Your Third Act could last for 30 years. That’s a long time. That’s way longer than the launch stage of your career which is around 10 years and your middle mid career professional stage which is a solid 20-25 years. What people haven’t accounted for is that last stage. They thought it was the same as the middle for another 20 years or retirement. I don’t know about you but the Third Act better be a lot more enjoyable than the mid career stage filled with reorgs, downsizing, RIFs, mergers, acquisitions and sales. I’ve been through 10 of these. Anyone else?

What is your transferable toolkit? What is going to power your Third Act? What are people going to pay for? What are Boards going to seek out for your expertise? How do you package your skills for these new potential clients? What could you teach in a program or college? Could you be a professor? Mentor? Run for office? Sit on the City Council. Run for Mayor?

Anything but sit home. There’s only so many cruises you can go on.

A Variety of Work Arrangements

I love long term high level contracting.  I’m not talking about temping at a below market rate. I’m talking about the dynamic world of interim engagements that can last for a month to much longer for businesses that need a resource immediately to cover a leave of absence, work on a long term project that is going to end or fill a vital job that cannot be left unfilled. Conversions to full time employment are very common when you are contracting.

In the old days, there was a lot of 1099 work. That’s much less common now that employers do not want to be liable for employment misclassification and deal with the IRS. Most of the time you will be a W2 contractor and many firms offer benefits and PTO accrual.

If you have worked at the VP or C level, there are potential opportunities in the interim Executive space, particularly in healthcare, finance, accounting and IT. These arrangements allow you to work and also take time off in extended periods.

Launch a Whole New Career

Some people love working in the same field in a more flexible arrangement. Others launch their Third Act doing something entirely new that they’ve always dreamt of doing, especially if they are eligible for Medicare and are seeking income, not medical benefits.

The market is hot for skilled labor. Talent with toolkits. People with hustle and emotional intelligence. Team players who aren’t seeking to climb any corporate ladder but to contribute, feel a sense of belonging and accomplishment, and enjoy workplace camaraderie. And make money.