5 Ways to ‘Unretire’ Successfully

Unretirement is not failed retirement, says our columnist. Her encore career, she adds, “is the most fulfilling part of my life.”

By Marianne Oehser

Editor’s note: Marianne Oehser is a columnist for Rethinking65. Read her other articles here.

Marianne Oehser
Marianne Oehser

I first remember seeing the term “unretirement” when Chris Farrell’s book, “Unretirement: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life,” came out in 2014. Farrell identified a burgeoning trend that has since gained widespread attention: retirees returning to the workforce.

What is unretirement? The scene goes something like this: Retirement Day arrives with excitement and anticipation of endless days on the golf course or fishing. Life’s great until hedonic adaptation sets in and the once-enjoyable activities become mundane. With it comes frustration with the seemingly endless empty hours. Now, going back to work looks like a great solution.

Many Americans are jumping onto the unretirement bandwagon. According to T. Rowe Price’s recent Retirement and Spending Study, 20% of retirees are working either part-time or full-time, and another 7% of retirees are looking for employment. Other studies suggest the number is higher and growing.

Retirees return to work for a variety of reasons. The T. Rowe Price research says that 48% of unretirees are working for financial reasons and 45% are choosing to work for social and emotional reasons. This includes mental stimulation, a sense of purpose and fulfillment, social interaction, and having something to do.

Six Retirement Paths

The primary requirements for unretirement jobs are flexibility and fulfillment. Encore workers want a balance with other retirement activities such as travel, golf, social engagement and volunteering. They also want to do something they consider to be worthwhile.

And there are many possible paths to fulfilling work in retirement. Nancy Schlossberg, EdD, is an expert in adult transitions. When she retired, Nancy was confident it would be easy for her. After all, she knew a lot about transitions. She was shocked when she struggled to adjust to her new life so she studied what people have done to adjust to retirement.

Dr. Schlossberg found that people take one of six paths in retirement. The first three often involve encore work. Here is some information from her book “Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose”:

Continuers: More of the Same But Different

“Continuers still identify with their previous professional or volunteer work. They continue to use existing skills, interests and activities but modify them to fit retirement,” says Schlossberg.

My friend Don is a Continuer. He was a well-known TV journalist. When he decided to unretire, he started writing a weekly column for the local newspaper and became a regular contributor to a popular digital publication. It filled his need to be involved with what was happening in the world without a full-time commitment.

Adventurers: Something New

“Adventurers move in new directions. They see retirement as an opportunity to make daring changes in their lives. They may retire from one career, return to school, and start another career,” Schlossberg explains.

There are lots of ways to be an Adventurer. It can be starting a new business or career, or becoming involved in your community in a significant way.

I am an Adventurer. After a long and rewarding corporate career, I was very ready to leave but knew that traditional retirement would not work for me. I had to do something that I believed would make a difference so I studied relationship coaching to help others have the kind of relationship my husband and I share. It took a year to complete the training and earn my certification.

I opened an office in an extra room in my husband’s business where I met with clients. To meet new potential clients, I gave seminars and workshops and wrote articles for local publications. As a result, I forged friendships with people I would never have met, joined organizations I hadn’t known about, and got involved in the community in ways I never imagined.

Working with couples, I learned about the huge impact retirement can have on relationships. That led me to earn two designations as a retirement coach and to the work I’m doing now.

Thanks to my adventure, this is the most fulfilling part of my life.

Searchers: Looking for Your Niche

“Searchers have separated from the main activities of their past but have not yet found the ‘right’ path. Often a Searcher has already tried being a Continuer, Adventurer, or Easy Glider but has felt the need to shift gears,” Schlossberg explains in her book.

Some people who decide to include encore work in “retirement” need to experiment a bit before finding the niche that works best for them. You don’t have to get it right the first time!

Three Unpaid Options

Dr Schlossberg’s other three paths usually don’t involve paid work.They include:

Easy Gliders: Content to go with the flow. Enjoy unscheduled, spontaneous activities.

Involved Spectators: Stay engaged with their previous professions in less active ways, like writing newsletters.

Retreaters: Withdraw from active participation, finding it too exhausting.

The Five Necessary Steps

If your clients choose to unretire, here are a few things you can suggest they think about:

1. Be clear about what you want

Do you want to work full-time, part-time, flex-time? Do you want the security of working for someone else or are you willing to go it on your own? What are your requirements for even considering taking a job?

If you have not clearly articulated the answers to these kinds of questions to yourself and those you are close to, you really don’t know what you are looking for. And you will not be happy with the work you decide to do if does not meet your needs. So, take some time to be very clear about what you need and want now from working.

2. Articulate your value

This is always important in seeking new work; it was in the past and is even more important now. If it has been a while since you applied for a job, you may be a bit rusty doing this. Make a list of your strengths and skills. Describe what you can contribute to an organization. You should tweak this based on your research into the challenges each organization you plan to talk to is facing.

3. Retool if you are venturing on a new path

Unless your skills and knowledge will transfer directly into your new career, you must plan on developing new skills and acquiring new knowledge. That can certainly be part of the fun of reinventing yourself. However, you have to budget time and money to retool.

4. Manage your own expectations

Will you make the same amount of money or have the corner office? It’s not very likely. It may be hard to accept that you will earn less and not have the same status you previously had, but that is the reality. Your focus should be on why you want to work and what you expect to get from doing it. You definitely should focus on doing something you truly enjoy.

5. Be patient

If you aren’t sure what you want to do, give yourself permission to take the time you need to figure it out. Just jumping at the first opportunity that comes along is a recipe for disappointment and possibly failure. Once you clarify the work circumstances you want and have a good idea of what you’d like to do, it still may take some time to find the right fit for you. Patience is a virtue!

If you or your clients are approaching retirement and already thinking about an encore career, consider taking a sabbatical first. After a full-on career, a break allows for relaxation and recharging. We don’t realize the toll all the stress has taken on us. That break is one of the good parts of unretirement.

The real problem with “unretirement” is that it sounds like you somehow failed at retirement. But the notion that, if you work you aren’t retired, is also passé. Encore work — whether we consider it retirement or unretirement — can be a fulfilling part of retirement, providing a sense of purpose and engagement. It’s a valuable addition to the smorgasbord of activities we can choose from to fill this chapter of life.

Marianne Oehser is the author of “Your Happiness Portfolio® for Retirement: It’s Not About the Money,” and co-founder of Next Chapter Lifestyle Advisors. Marianne and her partner, Susan Latremoille, empower financial advisors to help their clients thrive in their post-career by having a clear lifestyle plan to complement their financial plan. To learn more, contact Marianne at  [email protected] or visit NextChapterLifestyleAdvisors.com.

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