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When Retirement Makes You Unhappy

They retired, but grew antsy — 3 stories of 'un-retirees'

By Deborah Quilter

Some people find that after trying retirement, it just doesn’t agree with them. Here are three such stories of “un-retirees” — people who crave returning to work after retiring or went back to work part-time, and not only for the money.

Credit: Adobe Stock

Carolyn Bushong: ‘This is a Beautiful Prison’

On the surface, Carolyn Bushong has the perfect situation: The semi-retired 69-year-old psychotherapist closed her office in Colorado in 2012 and moved to Tucson when her boyfriend, a financial adviser, persuaded her to join him and retire in a warmer clime. “I have a fabulous life, a beautiful house, friends, a great garden,” Bushong recounted. “My girlfriends all are working full-time and taking care of their families. They would kill for my life.”

Yet she is deeply unhappy.

“This is our fifth year and I am bored to tears,” Bushong confessed. “This is a beautiful prison.”

Volunteering doesn’t appeal to her. Bushong misses getting dressed up, wearing high heels and networking with colleagues. Gardening isn’t giving her as much pleasure as she anticipated, either.

“The ones who count on their grandchildren for joy are the ones who are happy in retirement,” she said. “It doesn’t cut it for someone who’s always had a goal, motivation and a busy life. What gives me joy is talking to clients.”

Bushong’s partner is willing and able to foot all her bills, so why is it important for her to still get paid? “I’ve always supported myself,” she said. “I don’t want to ask my boyfriend for money.”

Retirement, Bushong said, makes her feel like she has no purpose in life. “It depresses me and makes me get less done,” she said. “I never wanted to retire. I expected to be someone who worked until you drop dead.”

Gazing into the future causes Bushong trepidation because, she said bluntly, she doesn’t want to turn into her mother. “My mom is 90. Her life is so awful and boring. She is on antidepressants. What if I live to 90?” she mused. “I don’t want to spend 20 more years with no purpose in life.”

Bushong has found it hard to start marketing herself again, however. For a while, she tried Twitter to gain clients, but the only people who followed her were other therapists.

“I do have some ideas. I’ve made a list of steps,” Bushong said. She plans to contact the Chamber of Commerce, among other things, to rev up her business.

Dave Paul: 'I Had Lost Part of My Identity'

Dave Paul worked in management and sales for IBM in Denver until his division dissolved and he was offered a package to retire in 2002 at age 62. Retirement, Paul discovered immediately, didn’t suit him.

“I did not want to wake up in the mornings without something to do; my job is part of who I am,” he said. “I could play golf every day, but I know if I did that, I’d stop enjoying golf at some point.”

After retiring, Paul noted, “I had lost part of my identity.”

Paul now volunteers at the Denver Ronald McDonald House as a board member. But that hasn't been enough for him. So he decided to try to go back to work full-time.

Finding a job wasn’t easy, though. Paul looked and looked and, he said, encountered age discrimination. A few jobs he did take either weren’t fulfilling or weren’t a good fit. “I sold cars for a year. I was on the Colorado parole board for a year; I visited inmates. It was interesting, but I was out of my element.”

Paul’s next move, however, was ideal and might provide a blueprint for others considering a new career in their 60s.

After doing some consulting for a mattress manufacturer that also made cushions, “I became so impressed with their technology that I came back and asked if I could represent the line.” Paul then started showing the cushions to nursing homes. “They loved them, but said 'You have to make the cushions smaller to fit a wheelchair.'” In 2011, Paul ultimately convinced the mattress business owners to let him become their first seat-cushion distributor; he now works about 20 to 30 hours a week doing this.


The seat cushions are now sold at Bed Bath & Beyond and consumers buy them for their trucks and cars or for airplane rides.

Paul loves his retirement work, saying, “It’s fun.” He and his wife, also a retired IBMer, like to make time for traveling. But, Paul said, “I take my laptop and cell phone and can work from wherever I am.”

Nancy K. Schlossberg: Making the Retirement Transition – Twice

Author Nancy K. Schlossberg knows something about life transitions and retirement. For decades, this was her area of professional expertise; she has written numerous books about it. But when Schlossberg first retired from teaching counseling psychology at the University of Maryland in College Park in 1998 at 69, she had a very hard time.

“I thought it would be a piece of cake. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t adjusting,” recalled Schlossberg, who’ll be turning 88 soon. The problem: “I was so used to being a professor.”

So instead of fully retiring, Schlossberg continued writing books. Her most recent one catalogued typical paths retirees take and was featured on Next Avenue. “There’s not one way to be retired,” she said.

If you’ve tried the fully retired route and it’s not working for you, Schlossberg said, don’t try “adjusting” to retirement. “Go back to work!” she urged.

Schlossberg is a proponent of mid-life and late-life internships. But, she added, you have to be proactive to snag one.

“Internships are not there waiting for you,” she explained. “You need to figure out a setting, organization or person with whom you want to work and learn. Then, approach the person with a plan. In other words, make it happen.”

If you want to switch to a new field in retirement, Schlossberg suggested, suggest a three- or six-month internship to an employer. Hopefully, she added, this will turn into a paying job. You might not earn what you’ve been used to, but you might wind up getting a lot of respect, as Robert de Niro’s character did in The Intern.)

Schlossberg has her own transition coming up. “In six months, for the first time, I’m going to be retired,” she said. With 10 books under her belt, she doesn’t plan to write another one because, Schlossberg noted, she has said all she wants to say.

So what will retirement look like for her this time?

“You’ll have to call me back in six months,” she replied. “I don’t know. I’m going to search and figure out something for me to do,” she said. “I’ll try to do a better job the second time. I know I need a purpose.”

Perhaps, she added, she might start a business to help retired people create internships for themselves. “I would love that,” she replied.

Deborah Quilter is an ergonomics expert, a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, a yoga therapist and the founder of the Balance Project at the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She is also the author of Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User's Guide and The Repetitive Strain Injury Recovery Book. Read More
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