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The Key to Finding Satisfying Work in Retirement

Which of these 20 factors motivates you at this stage of life?

By Nancy Collamer

Why do you want to work part-time in retirement?

I realize that might strike you as a strange question. After all, the obvious answer is: to supplement my retirement income. But beyond the paycheck, what do you hope to get out of working?

It’s an important question to ponder. Because when you really understand what’s most important to you about working — both the financial rewards and intrinsic motivators like finding joy from helping others — it becomes far easier to zero in on satisfying options.

Planning the Right Semi-Retirement Career

While this is true for career changers of all ages, it’s an especially important consideration when planning a semi-retirement career. This may be the first time in your working life you get a chance to consider what you want to do as opposed to what you can or should do.

A recent FlexJobs survey of nearly 1,000 people 50 and older found that 21 percent work because they need to, but 65 percent work because they both want and need to; another 13 percent work simply because they want to.

While 72 percent said they work to pay for basic necessities, other financial drivers included paying for: luxury items (42 percent); health-related issues (36 percent); retirement savings (35 percent); travel (26 percent); kids' private school or college (19 percent); continuing education (18 percent) and other child-related costs (10 percent).

Whatever your financial goals, I encourage you to write them down for future reference. Understanding how much income you need, as well as how much you want, will make it easier to evaluate the viability of work opportunities going forward.

But now I want to get back to my earlier question. Beyond the financial rewards, what do you hope to gain by working in retirement?

Work provides us with a wide range of social, emotional and personal benefits including intellectual stimulation, social connection and the opportunity to make a difference in the world. And the recognition, praise and accolades we get at work make us feel valued and needed as well.

Which of These Motivators Matter to You?

So here’s an exercise to help you begin to identify your unique set of motivators. Below is a list of 20 factors you might want to consider when evaluating potential semi-retirement careers. It’s based on conversations I've had with clients and people I interviewed for my book, Second-Act Careers, about what drove them to pursue second-act careers.

Take a look and make note of the motivators that most resonate with you.

I want to continue to work in order to …

Socialize with people who share my interests

Have a regular routine and a structure to my day

Feel more a part of my local community

Work outside in nature or in a beautiful setting

Remain active and healthy

Keep intellectually challenged

Remain a contributor in my field of expertise

Teach, coach, mentor, and inspires others

Continually learn new skills

Feel productive and needed


Give back to a cause that inspires me

Leave a legacy

Serve as a leader

Be a role model of living a retirement that matters

Earn income to help provide special experiences for my family

Monetize a hobby

Pursue a childhood dream

Start my own business

Develop my creative and/or artistic skills

Have fun

An Ex-CEO's Current Motivator

This list is by no means definitive, but hopefully it will help spark your thinking. As you ponder your choices, you’ll likely discover that what’s important to you at this stage in life is quite different from what drove you earlier in your career.

For example, the other day I was coaching a client who recently retired from a highly successful career as CEO of a small manufacturing company. He thoroughly enjoyed his leadership role there and the opportunity to build a company from the ground up. But he’s now at a point in life when he is more motivated by giving back than by generating profits. As a result, he’s considering a part-time opportunity working as an adviser to engineering students at a university-based innovation lab.

Notably, even though he doesn’t need the money, income is still important to him. “If somebody is paying me, I’ll feel obligated to get the job done. I want to have that sense of responsibility, so I won’t be tempted to slack off,” he told me.

Of course, what now motivates my ex-CEO client about work might not be what would charge you up.

So give it some thought. By figuring out what truly motivates you about work at this stage in your life, you’ll be better equipped to find work that will feed both your soul and your bank account.

Photograph of Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter). Read More
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