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A New Look at Retirement

Has there been a shift in your career perspective lately?  Not more than a year or two ago, you might have been contemplating an early retirement.  Like so many satisfied investors, you had been counting the days to financial independence.  Just a few more years on the job and could escape the grind.  But now all that has changed. 

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Financial analysts predict that the post 9/11 stock market decline will require the average investor to work seven more years to comfortably retire.  With diminished savings, your career, or to be more specific, your earned income, becomes a key asset in your financial portfolio.  As long as the economy continues to be sluggish, your career must pay the bills and fund your retirement.

The shift back to a focus on career, or to generating some form of income, can be wrenching.  No doubt, the taste of financial freedom is sweet.  But, there are several demographic trends on the horizon that may enhance your future career opportunities.  This information can be essential to effective retirement planning and provides some glimmers of hope in gloomy economic times.

The first emerging opportunity for all workers is an extended life span.  Statistics from the National Institute of Health indicate that you will likely live (and perhaps work) well into your 80’s or 90’s.  Unlike your parents, you are not likely to be physically exhausted by manual labor after 30 plus years of work or to fall prey to disease.  With increases in the cost of living and a longer life span, you are likely to keep working well beyond your traditional concept of retirement. 

From a career planning perspective, the extension of life span is a substantial opportunity.  The extra years allow you to pursue career interests that have been on the back burner.  Now you can capitalize on your accumulated knowledge and financial resources to make a long held career goals a reality. Perhaps you will return to school, start a business or take a part-time job that is truly rewarding.  You don’t have to worry that you are running out of time (a common fear amongst mid-career changers) and it is not too late to start all over.

As you revel in the gift of time, consider the second demographic trend that is likely to enhance your career opportunities.  For the first time in recorded history we are facing a declining global birth rate in developed countries. In the United States the younger population is growing much more slowly than the prior generation.  According to Peter Drucker in Management Challenges for the Twenty-First Century, between now and the year 2015 or so, the number of young people will still be growing but then will go down rapidly.  There is no precedent for this (i.e. a population structure in which old people past the traditional retirement age outnumber young people).

Traditionally, US employers have relied on a steadily growing population producing a stream of younger workers to replace older workers.  Soon this predictable resource will be shrinking (unless we are hit with a massive immigration).  As a result, Drucker predicts that the strategy of all savvy institutions will be focused on recruiting and retaining older workers. 

Many employers are already facing a tidal wave of boomer retirements.  Add a shrinking pool of younger workers and you have a formula for serious talent shortages.  It is logical to anticipate a new attitude towards mature workers.  Today, we live with age discrimination, golden handshakes and outdated notions about the capabilities of older workers.  But this will change, when employers cannot recruit the talent they need.  Employers will pay a hefty price if they do not provide an “older worker friendly” environment.  Mature workers will vote with their feet.  Talent will stream out the doors with little to replace them.

The exodus will diminish the reservoir of institutional knowledge and weaken the leadership teams within organizations.  Once the pain gets significant, it is likely that employers will start implementing more flexible work hours, returned retiree programs and creative part-time work opportunities.  This evolution is likely to open many doors to mature workers who want to deepen their career satisfaction.

The cumulative effective of longer life spans, talent shortages and enlightened older workers is potentially revolutionary.  “Retirement” is going to be re-invented and employers are going to be motivated to create appealing options for you.  You will not have to stop working as you enter the second half of your life if you don’t want to. The notion of forcing people out at 65 will go the way of rotary phones.  Let’s face it, you probably look forward to retirement and you are not particularly thrilled when you think about working longer.  But, it may not be as bad as you think. The world of work is going to change and it’s going to be in your favor!

Imagine your retirement years.  It can be assumed that your priorities will be markedly different from earlier days.  You will likely want more flexibility and you will demand a higher degree of satisfaction.  You will finally have the opportunity to create the necessary balance of personal life and professional obligations.  You will exercise on a regular basis.  You will write that book, train a puppy and take up marathon running.  You will start a consulting practice or go maybe you will go back to your former employer on a part-time basis and do the work you always dreamed about.  Living and working longer can be a gift of significant proportion under the right circumstances.

The key is to plan your future, rather than waiting for whatever life delivers.  The dominant feature in a successful career, at any age, is a clear connection between your passionate interests, your strongest skills and your career choices.  Understanding what you are good at, how you learn, how you lead and what you can contribute is a good starting place.  Don’t wait, take action now to enrich your career and make the most of your potential.

Tips for the Years Before You Retire:

Check your attitude 
If you think of your job as a necessary evil or are you just going through the motions each day, you are inviting a form of career depression that could bring on illness or cause you to be first on the layoff list.  As difficult as it may be, you must keep striving towards ways to make your work rewarding.  You may need to be open to a career change or a heart-to-heart talk with your boss.  Staying in a job that makes you miserable (or even just bored) is both unnecessary and unwise.

Get a firm understanding of your marketability 
Take stock of your talent profile and do it now.  Identify both your natural strengths (the ones you were born with) and your accumulated knowledge and experience.  Complete a self-assessment and analyze the results.  Visit to access a top notch, comprehensive career assessment called Elevations®.   I developed Elevations® to meet the needs of a worker (or retiree)  in transition—at any age.  Also, you may want to seriously consider developing a relationship with a qualified career coach to gain perspective and to establish a new career strategy. 

Be “job search” ready
Understanding how to secure employment is a smart move.  Connect with your professional network and update your resume.  Be sure you understand how to shine in an interview and negotiate for a competitive compensation package.  Learn about the role of recruiters (better known as “headhunters”) and the relative value of on-line job search.  If you don’t know how to avoid common job search mistakes, you are destined to make them, and lose income as a result.

Don’t hide under a rock
The labor market is volatile and is like to become more so.  Your best bet is to become the master of your career.  If you are burnt out, be willing to move to a new position, or even a new career.  Be technically and functionally current in your field.  Take courses to build your skills base.  If you are resistant to making changes, you reduce your marketability.  Employers need resilience and flexibility from everyone on the team. 

Integrate fun into your career
Yes, you got it; you are going to be working longer than you thought!  Thinking that the fun will start when you retire is a flawed notion.  You need to learn how to enjoy your life while you work.  The successful twenty-first century professional works reasonable hours, takes vacations and stays healthy.  Remember, your career pays for everything else, so take care of yourself so you can continue to generate an income.

Help your employer build a return retiree program
In a survey conducted in 2001 at the County of Sacramento, more that 70% of the responding employees said they would return to part-time work after retirement if given the opportunity.  Both public and private employers have benefited tremendously by providing part-time and project focused work to their retired employees.  This keeps the institutional knowledge intact and provides a supplemental income stream for older workers.  Talk to your Director of Human Resources and see what options exist for your last ten or twenty years of work, post traditional retirement age.

Final Note

Career Development specialists are there to help you achieve lifelong learning and lifelong work opportunities.  Take that first step to see what your future may hold!

© Helen Scully. All Rights Reserved. For more information visit

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