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How to Avoid Becoming a ‘Bored Boomer’ in Retirement

The Make Aging Work blogger has three suggestions


(Editor’s note: This article previously appeared on Make Aging Work.)

A Certified Financial Planner friend of mine shared a story over breakfast recently. One of his long-standing clients — let’s call him Jack —  who had fully retired six months earlier, called out of the blue with a plea for help. Having entered his retirement in great financial shape, his call went something like this: “John, you’ve got to help me.  I’ve got to go back to work doing something.  I’m going crazy not having something important to do.”

A ‘Bored Boomer’ Retiree

Jack appears to be another captive of an irrelevant retirement model — a casualty of an off-the-cliff leap from labor-to-leisure, vocation-to-vacation. An emerging rebel against the archaic, politically-inspired artificial finish line called traditional retirement.

Seventy-eight million strong and hitting this artificial finish line of 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day, boomers everywhere are beginning to discover that retirement, as we’ve known it for decades, needs redefining.

A 2016 Federal Reserve Study revealed that a full one-third of retirees eventually reconsider retirement and return to work on either a full or part-time basis. Another study published in 2017 by the Rand Corporation revealed that 39 percent of workers 65 or older who were currently employed had retired for a period but decided to return to the workplace.

A share of this trend can be attributed to the fact that two out of three retirees enter retirement having given little or no thought to the non-financial components of retirement life, only to discover that those “soft side” elements play a much larger role in retirement than the “hard-side” financial elements where the major planning effort is typically focused leading up to retirement.

Unfortunately, this discovery often comes later than it should.

Much of early, prime-time retirement is wasted as a result of this lack of non-financial planning. New retirees typically experience a one- to five-year retirement honeymoon period, during which the mental, social, physical and spiritual challenges emerge that were never discussed or planned for in the offices of their financial planner.

Issues such as:

  • Overcoming a loss of identity
  • Divergent post-retirement interests between spouses
  • Boredom due to lack of challenge and social engagement
  • Depression and physical deterioration because of reduced activity and social interaction and lack of a sense of purpose

So here are three suggestions to help you avoid becoming a “bored boomer” in retirement:

No. 1: Unmuzzzle Your ‘Essential Self’

What was your 6-, 8-, or 10-year-old-self good at, passionate about, naturally drawn to and undeterred in pursuing before parents, peers and professors tamped it all down and out? There are clues to your essential self in all of that.

In her seminal book “Finding Your Own North Star, Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live”, Martha Beck reminds us that most people are “responsible citizens who have muzzled their essential selves in order to do what they believe is the ‘right thing.”

For most of us that “right thing” has been 30 to 40 years of cubicle nation, building someone else’s dream and believing that a fuzzily-defined, nirvanic, rewarding escape waiting at the end will be worth it.

For some, the “right thing” is in step with the “essential self.” For most, not so much. Why else would we covet getting away from it and give up or withdraw?  Which, by the way, is the definition of “retire.”

When the “right thing” goes away or morphs into that “rewarding escape,” we can find ourselves face-to-face with that uncomfortable question: Who am I and why am I here?

There it is — the perfect mental launching pad for resurrecting what really lit you up before social expectations locked you down.

I’m slower than most. I chased the “right thing” across four industries for over three decades and traveled deep into my sixties before finally unmuzzling my essential self and honoring my bent toward writing and teaching/coaching.

A couple of retired friends of mine are integrating their essential selves, passions and natural and acquired skills, leveraging them back into the marketplace where they will continue to do good.

One retired hospital CEO in Missouri is choosing to broaden and deepen his passion for civic and community involvement through board-level positions to pay forward his executive administrative experience as well as satisfy a passion to serve. To satisfy another passion, he builds and refurbishes black-powder, muzzle-loader rifles.

A retired nurse executive friend is taking her doctorate in nursing and decades of top-level nurse management experience back into the marketplace to help nurses cope with the pressures of today’s broken health care system and be more caring patient advocates. She’s doing it through a childhood passion for writing and teaching, using the internet, social media and book publishing.

No. 2: Reintegrate Yourself

I was tempted to suggest reinvent instead of reintegrate. The idea of reinvention is omnipresent these days, especially in the self-help world and particularly when it comes to those of us in the second half of life. Retirement itself has become a deserving target of reinvention.

But I was persuaded to reject reinvention in favor or reintegration after considering the views of Marc Freedman, CEO and President of Encore.org and one of the nation’s leading experts on the longevity revolution. In his Harvard Business Review article, “The Dangerous Myth of Reinvention,” Freedman made the point that reinvention is too daunting and not practical because it infers discarding accumulated life experience and starting over from scratch.

He wrote: “Isn’t there something to be said for racking up decades of know-how and lessons, from failures as well as triumphs? Shouldn’t we aspire to build on that wisdom and understanding? After years studying social innovators in the second half of life — individuals who have done their greatest work after 50 —I’m convinced the most powerful pattern that emerges from their stories can be described as reintegration, not reinvention. These successful late-blooming entrepreneurs weave together accumulated knowledge with creativity, while balancing continuity with change, in crafting a new idea that’s almost always deeply rooted in earlier chapters and activities.”

Reintegration dovetails nicely with point No.1. Combining accumulated skills and life experiences with a forgotten or long-suppressed passion won’t give boredom a foothold. And it lifts away the intimidating idea of a reinvention.

More and more boomers are finding this to be a path to an energizing, inspirational second career in which income, new meaning and contribution and service intersect.

No. 3: Start a Lifestyle Business

Can you imagine a greater boredom antidote than taking No, 1 and No. 2 and putting them together into a lifestyle business?

A lifestyle business has three components:

  • A level of income that you desire in your life
  • Time freedom; work when you want, as much as you want
  • Location independence

But, you may be thinking, isn’t starting a business at this age too risky? Actually, new entrepreneurs age 55 to 64 comprised 25 percent of new businesses started in 2016, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the self-employment rate among workers 65 and older (who don’t incorporate) is the highest of any age group in America: 15.5 percent. In sharp contrast, it’s 4.1 percent for ages 25 to 34.

Consider this: Boomers with experience have an entrepreneurial edge in today’s knowledge-based economy. And start-up costs and risk levels have been mitigated like never before by digital technology.

Still skeptical? Miles Beckler,  an internet marketing and entrepreneurship guru (and apparent Gen X’er) has 10 ideas for lifestyle businesses to prime your thinking pump:

  1. Information products
  2. Become an author
  3. Affiliate marketing
  4. Print on demand (like t-shirts, fine art, coffee mugs, a virtual store with no inventory or photography/online gallery); pairs well with Facebook marketing
  5. Selling services, like WordPress training, hosting, web design, graphics services and copywriting
  6. Drop shipping; selling other people’s products without owning inventory
  7. Fulfillment by Amazon — you find products, send them to Amazon and Amazon does the fulfillment
  8. Coaching and consulting
  9. Selling advertising
  10. Software as a Service (or SAAS)

This list barely scratches the surface of the types of businesses being started by enterprising — and formerly bored — boomers.

Gary Foster
By Gary Foster
Gary Allen Foster is an executive recruiter, retirement and career transition coach, writer, and speaker dedicated to helping folks in the over-50 crowd adopt a new perspective on how to live longer, live better and with more purpose in the second half. He coaches, speaks and writes publicly on the issues of mid-life career transitions, planning for purposeful retirement and achieving better health and greater longevity. Find his thought-provoking articles at www.makeagingwork.com

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