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Perceptions of Retirement

Enda Goodwin

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Field Agent

Field Agent

In 1900, life expectancy in the United States was 43 years. Today, we see people around us living well into their 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond. With life spans increasing, the traditional linear life paradigm in which people moved first through education, then work and then leisure/retirement is increasingly becoming obsolete.

New paradigm of education, work and leisure interspersed throughout life

While many continue to take conventional retirement at 65, an increasing number cannot afford to, or are not interested. A new paradigm is evolving in which education, work and leisure are interspersed repeatedly throughout a life span. It is not unusual for 50-year-olds to go back to school, for 60-year-olds to fall in love and for 70- and 80-year-olds to continue working or even reinvent their careers.

Each stage of life has a focus

It is helpful to think of a different focus for each stage in your life and career. When you were younger, your focus was probably to establish yourself in your career and become recognized in your field. Sydney Rice, in her book, Choice Points: Navigate Your Career Using the Unique PaperRoom Process says: "Life up to fifty is exactly the right homework for what we are really going to do when we grow up." Rice further observes that ". . . and as to the whole notion of 'growing up,' you must recognize that there is no 'up' to get to - we just continue to evolve and grow."

People in 40s-60s looking for something different

Our Lee Hecht Harrison clients in this stage of life tell us that they are not exactly looking to become something so much as they are looking to explore deeper needs or parts of themselves not expressed in their work. Many say they are looking for more challenges and the freedom to express their creativity. Other clients say they are looking forward to taking the opportunity to reevaluate their careers from a different perspective.

Over the past 40 years, Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., has emerged as the nation's foremost visionary and original thinker regarding the lifestyle, marketing and workforce implications of the baby boomer "age wave." He is a psychologist, gerontologist and author of sixteen books on issues related to aging, including From Baby Boom to Age Wave and Age Power: How the 21st Century will be Ruled by the New Old. Dr. Dychtwald suggests we encourage lifelong learning and multiple career reinventions and smash what he calls the "silver ceiling" of age discrimination.

Personal perceptions of retirement

Many of us get our personal perceptions of retirement from people we know or have known - our real life role models. Looking at the experience of others can produce examples - positive and negative - for our own lives.

Think about a person you have observed living through the 65-plus age bracket. Consider how that person may have influenced your own perceptions of retirement and what you have learned from their experience as you ponder these questions:

  • Did the person take a conventional retirement at 65? If not, at what age did that person retire?
  • How would you describe that person's life?
  • Did the person do paid or unpaid work? If so, what kind and for how long?
  • What bold moves did that person make that you most admire?
  • Did that person have a passion that carried over into later life?
  • What have you learned from that person's experience?
  • How would you like your life to be similar (or different) when you are in that age bracket?
  • How has that person influenced your own personal perceptions of retirement?

Retirement facts about baby boomers  

  • Boomers represent one-quarter of the U.S. population - 76 million were born between 1946-1964.
  • 85% of all boomers hold jobs - the highest percentage of any generation of Americans so far, and 47% of this workforce is female, as contrasted with only 20% in 1950.
  • In 2011, the first of the baby boomers turns 65.
  • One in three is expected to reach age 85.
  • Very few will have enough savings to retire at 65 and maintain their lifestyle for 20 to 30 years without working.
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