Perhaps it's time
for the work you've always wanted to do

Retirement as the ultimate goal of a working career is firmly etched into our psyches from a very young age. The blueprint is clear: work very hard for thirty or forty years, while prudently managing our money to provide for the remaining non-productive years. Retirement is seen as an abrupt break between our active lives and a time of increasing passivity. Although some accept this with equanimity, for many it is a very challenging transition which delivers very little of the promise of ‘the golden years.’

Certainly, there are attractive aspects to the retirement concept. The challenges of running a business or professional practice often leave little time or energy left over to nurture personal and family relationships, contribute to the community, and develop personal interests and skills unrelated to work. Successful people usually have the financial wherewithal during retirement to travel, study and experience the world in a broader way. It is appealing to be freed from constrictive schedules and pressing demands on one’s time. However, this freedom is best appreciated within the context of a busy, productive life. Freedom which stretches out to twenty or thirty years can no longer be characterized as a vacation. The challenge then becomes how to fill all these years when you are healthy in mind and body with pursuits that give meaning and structure to your life.

Without productive work, an individual can start to feel isolated and removed from the mainstream of life. For many people, work-related relationships account for most of their social interactions, certainly in terms of time spent. The work environment provides a hierarchical structure where successful people are accorded power, respect and deference. It offers the coherence of common interests, goals and expectations. It assigns financial value to your work and rewards your contributions to team efforts.  A retired individual can find it very difficult to replace all these tangible and intangible attributes of a working life.

Although the realities underpinning conventional expectations of retirement have been changing over the past couple of decades, it takes a long time for established mindsets to adapt. Medical and technological advances have paved the way for longer, healthier lives and many people are simply not willing to be put out to pasture at age 60 or 65. In fact, the massive wave of baby boomers—who have redefined every stage of life as they passed through—are now reshaping the years after 55. Demographers have characterized this boomer generation as being more educated and entrepreneurial than previous generations, and therefore more confident in their abilities. Their attitudes are reflected in books like Marc Freedman’s The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, which reimagines the decades after age 60 as our ‘encore’ stage, a time when we are able to make our best contributions to society.

An article published by Bloomberg News in January gives some startling statistics which effectively refute the accepted retirement model. 23.4% of American companies started in 2012 were by people aged from 55 to 64, according to the Kauffman Foundation. This is up nearly 10% from the 14.3% of new entrepreneurs in this age group in 1996.  In Florida, where people traditionally go to retire, an entrepreneurship program recently attracted 500 applicants, with the average age of 51. The reasons given are various, but basically, many people want to keep working in some capacity well into traditional retirement years and, finding career options limited after age 55, are creating their own opportunities.

How well is the older brain equipped to function in demanding work environments?  The Science Editor of the New York Times Barbara Strauch gives some surprising answers in her book, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.  She chronicles a new and growing body of evidence showing that the brains of high achievers continue to get better in many ways well into the sixth decade. Until now, experience has been undervalued in assessing work performance and the focus has been on the slower processing power of older brains. Current research shows that healthy brains more than compensate by being able to quickly and effortlessly see the big picture and make new connections with incoming information.

Freedom in retirement may well include the freedom to continue to engage with the working world. How will you construct your life in your 60s, 70s and 80s? Perhaps you will be one of the trailblazers who are finding ways to continue their productive lives by reconfiguring their talents, expertise and experience to build something new.

This article by Daryn Form was first published in the March 2014 issue of Sask Business.

Daryn Form is a Senior Financial Advisor with Assante Capital Management Ltd. providing wealth management services to principals of family-owned and privately held companies. Assante Capital Management Ltd. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and is registered with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.  The information mentioned in this article is for general information only. Please contact him to discuss your particular circumstances prior to acting on the information above.  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Assante Capital Management Ltd.  Rates are not guaranteed and are subject to change at any time without notice.