Most “boomers” (those between the ages of 53 and 71 in 2017) today are choosing to work up to or even past the traditional age of retirement. Where “early retirement” was once a much sought after goal, it seems that the prospect of 25 years in a rocking chair –or on a sandy beach somewhere – has little appeal for a generation that expects to live a full 20 years longer than their parents.
While many boomers opt to stay in their positions for as long as possible, a growing number are choosing to leave their organizations to pursue a very different path in later life. For many, the decision is thrust upon them by difficulties re-entering the market after job loss. For others, it represents a conscious decision to leave secure, well-paying employment and forge an entirely new career built around their priorities and goals and not the organization’s.
While later-life careers are as varied as the individuals who launch them, there are some general themes:
- People are more likely to look for work options that are personally meaningful and fulfilling. Typically there are fewer financial and personal pressures at this stage, so more flexibility to experiment, pursue longstanding dreams. For some, personal fulfillment comes from making a difference, in careers that contribute to the greater good of their communities and the world. For others, fulfillment comes from the opportunity to coach or to teach and pass on the lessons of a lifetime to the next generation. For others fulfillment comes from building a business around a hobby, or establishing a successful freelance career.
- In later life, the career transition is most often to self-employment. There’s an obvious reason for this. It’s difficult to get a job in a new field at the best of times, but especially so in later life. But there are other reasons as well. Self- employment offers more control over one’s time, and more creative control to craft the work life that’s right for you. It offers more flexibility to pursue personal priorities as well – to keep fit, spend time with the kids and grandkids, to travel.
- What constitutes a “career” at this stage takes many forms. It may involve full-time work, part-time work or contract. There may be one primary area of pursuit or several. The career may involve paid work, volunteer work or somewhere in between. There are as many variations as there are people who create them.
With such enticing benefits and so much creative control, why wouldn’t everyone be rushing to exit their organizations and move on to the next phase? It turns out that this transition – like any other major life change – is not without its challenges. Research suggests that at least a third have difficulty adjusting when they “retire” from their former careers- and the more senior the person the more difficult the adjustment. In a nutshell our identity becomes very tied up in our work– as well as powerful human needs for connection, the recognition of others and the security of knowing our place in the world.
But it’s not just letting go of what was that makes transition difficult. It’s also dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next. The prospect of standing at the drawing board of your life is intimidating at best, and for most, a very new experience for which they are unprepared.
How to tame the fears, manage stress, find your way….
So, how do you tame the fears, minimize the stress of transition and maximize likelihood of finding your most fulfilling next step in later life? Here are some ideas:
- Begin planning well in advance, and when the time comes, make your exit as gracefully as possible, whatever the circumstances that led to it. Take time to say good bye and ensure a smooth transition for those who will be taking over. This will set your mind at ease, and allow you to obtain closure.
- After your departure, take time to relax and regroup. An extended vacation or, taking time to sort through belongings, are successful strategies used by many to integrate the significance of this life passage and set the stage for the next.
- For most people, the real challenge is to figure out what they want instead. Self-reflection is key and the most common mistake you can make is to short circuit the process and latch onto the first thing that comes along. As a career coach I take clients through a variety of exercises and assessments to stimulate their thinking and creativity as they reflect on who they are now, their priorities and passions and their vision of the future they want to create.
- As your criteria become clearer the next step is to research. There’s a world of information out there through online resources, but there’s no substitute for talking to people – connecting with your existing networks, building new ones as you explore and refine your thinking – looking always for the intersection of what you want and what the world needs.
The whole process takes time and patience to move through what William Bridges describes as a “confusing in-between time” before the way becomes clear. But the rewards are great. Ask anyone who is “having the time of their life” in a career that’s tailored to their personal goals and priorities and the legacy they choose to leave.