Boomers plan for post-retirement careers

Stubbornly different from their parents at almost every stage of their lives, baby boomers are at it again as they ponder retirement.

Sybil Pressprich

Although retirement once meant a slower lifestyle, the baby boom generation increasingly seeks some involvement in the working world.

“Traditionally when people retired, they saw it as a one-way ticket to a life of leisure,” says John E. Nelson, the Madison-based author of “What Color Is Your Parachute?”

“Boomers are exploring more flexible arrangements, like phasing out more slowly, working part-time, taking on limited-term projects or starting a whole new career.”

Among people over 50, 72 percent say they want to keep working after they retire, according to a Merrill Lynch study called “Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations.”

“If the old golden-years dream was the freedom from work, the dream of this new wave is the freedom to work,” explains Encore.org, a website dedicated to helping retirees with new careers.

In the post-recession years, part of this trend is financial. There is also a demographic component as life expectancies have risen. Older workers can face challenges in making the transition. In some working environments, it’s a struggle to compete with people in their mid-30s. But other employers value the judgment, skills and steadiness that an older worker brings to the job.

Along with being financially rewarding, a post-retirement career promises fulfillment.

“Some people lose their strongest social network when they retire and, without coworkers, become socially isolated,” Nelson said. “So a career provides social interaction. Others want to continue using the skills they’ve developed in their career and have a sense of accomplishment. Almost everyone needs to have meaning and purpose, and some find that in their work.”

If you’re boomer who falls into that bucket, there are things you can do to succeed in a post-retirement career:Reflect on your values and interests: Are you looking to work in a field similar to or different from your longtime career? How much flexibility – in pay, hours or working conditions – do you want?

Plan your next chapter. Approach a post-retirement career methodically, and start early. One key to success is building professional networks and sizing up opportunities prior to retirement. It’s likely that your professional networks have never been stronger because of a career spent gaining knowledge and meeting contacts who could be helpful after retirement.

Get training, advice and education. This depends on what direction you’re taking. Starting a business or moving to a different field would require a new set of skills. If you see yourself in a nonprofit, you may want to start as a volunteer while you’re still working and edge into a paid position after learning the ropes.

Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself: As a retiree, you now have some freedom to try new things.

If you don’t like your direction, change course and do something different. You are, after all, a baby boomer.


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This column appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on Nov. 2, 2014.

Sybil Pressprich is a senior career counselor in UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. She may be reached at spressprich@dcs.wisc.edu. For more information, see continuingstudies.wisc.edu/advising or call 608-263-6960.