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The “Foolishness” of Not Preparing for Retirement

The “Foolishness” of Not Preparing for Retirement

All those boomers who can’t afford to retire may not be the losers the “experts” make them out to be.  Another big study just came out reporting that millions of people on the brink of retirement don’t have the money saved to pull it off.   That may not be a bad thing.

Perhaps it’s the people making the predictions who need to stand back and take a better look at what’s going on. If it was all that important to those people to be able to retire, they would have prepared for it. But even before the financial meltdown of the last few years, baby boomers were not seeing the retirement years as the extended vacation it’s being painted as by financial planners and real estate developers.

In a study of over 3000 boomers in 2005, the Met Life Foundation found only 17% wanted to never work for pay again once they retired. Six percent wanted to go to work full time at something else. Seventeen percent want to work part time, 16% want to own their own businesses, and 6% want to do “other” things like join the Peace Corps.

For those of you who’ve been keeping track of the arithmetic on this, that leaves 42% still unexplained. What do they want to do? Cycle in and out of work. What better way to be sure you do that than to not have the money to “stay” retired? Many who do have the money do that same thing when they retire simply because it’s more enjoyable.

As a nation, we would be wise to look at how to use this immense temporary talent pool effectively instead of lamenting the “unretireability” of the masses. If we actually put some effort into using the potential of this segment of the population instead of shaming them for not trying to be what they never wanted to be in the first place, we would all win.

Economic boon
People who are actively earning are more willing to spend money than those living on passive income–even if there’s plenty of passive income involved. Even wealthy retirees adopt frugal behaviors, partly because it’s a way to demonstrate competence. If we gave these people the chance to work even a quarter of the time, the  loosened purse strings would have a startling positive effect on the economy.

Government cost containment
People who are engaged get sick less. They don’t dwell on their health problems because they have more interesting things to do. That means fewer trips to the doctor, the hospital, and to the medical lab for Medicare to cover. Let these people work some of the time, and they will take better care of themselves simply so they can keep on doing that.  “First you retire and then you get sick” is true way too often.

Social hat trick
Work is one of the best sources of self-worth on the planet. When people get paid, they know they are good at something and that translates into a more positive attitude overall. A postivie attitude has been linked to better health, plus they are more effective contributors to the common good because they believe they can still make a difference.

In addition, getting retired workers involved on a part time basis can cut down on the workload of those in their prime work years who are stressed into illness and poor performance because of there is simply too much that they are expected to do in how we are going about it now.

Third, putting retired talent in the same place as the newest generation of workers will help develop work habits that are currently lacking in younger hires. The “old hands” can also pass down the knowledge needed to solve problems without creating new ones–knowledge there is no “app” for.

Boomers have not saved for retirement because it’s retirement itself that needs to retire. The old cultural set-up simply won’t work with such a disproportionate number in the “retiring” generation and so few in the one that follows. (There are 77 million boomers and only 40 million in Generation X.) Instead of lamenting what individuals aren’t doing, we need to be building bridges to a whole new version of this time of life.

Once you are “old enough to retire,” the desire is for flexibility, not pure leisure. If we can harness the talent available in that pool and use it to make our for profit and not-for-profit efforts more effective, we all win–again and again and again.

This notion that boomers are stupid for not “getting ready to retire” is itself stupid. What the experts are urging them to get ready for is not, and was never, what they want to do. Let’s run with reality and shape some of the work that needs to be done so it replaces retirement.

 

If You’re 50+ and Want Your Own Business…

If You’re 50+ and Want Your Own Business…

Sometimes, a book is an incredible resource. If you want to be your own boss and are over 50, Ed Rogoff and David Carroll wrote one  just for you.  The Second Chance Revolution:  Becoming Your Own Boss After 50 covers everything from concept to cash flow as well as touchier subjects like getting the family involved.

Dr. Rogoff is Chairman of the Management Department in the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, City University of New York.  He’s been studying entrepreneurship for decades and has great advice for older entrepreneurs.   Mr. Carroll has written 33 other books, mostly about business and self-help.  Together, they offer a thoroughly readable  guidebook for going it on your own.

The book also has good news.  Those who start their own businesses after 50 are more likely to succeed.    Older entrepreneurs know more about business in general, are typically better capitalized, and have more well established networks.  These things make a big difference when you’re trying to get a business off the ground.

The book looks at the pros and cons of buying a franchise.  (Read this if you are salivating for the chance to buy in on the newest coolest franchise thing!)  It looks at the benefits and difficulties of work-at-home options and offers key pieces of advice for that approach.  It goes into financing options, tax considerations, and much much more, whether you’re looking at buying an existing  business or starting from scratch.  It balances real life stories with practical advice to provide a solid sense of what going into business for yourself entails.

If you’ve never run your own business, read The Second Chance Revolution before you start spending money.  It could save you a lot of grief.  Besides, the stories of others 50+ who struck out on their own will inspire you and help you see the right path for your own commercial adventure.

 

Questions to Ask if You’re Thinking about Working after You Retire

Questions to Ask if You’re Thinking about Working after You Retire

Is it looking like you might have to work for your entire life?  That may be better than you can imagine. The trick is to stop thinking that the current rat race is your only option.

If you do it right, including some amount of paid work as part of your retirement lifestyle is likely to result in a more satisfying retired life overall.  The key is figuring out how you can do what you love for money.  And how you can do it for as much of the time as you choose instead of letting your work life blot out the rest of your life as it often does in prime career years.

As you consider how this might look for you, there are six important questions to ask:

  1. What do I love to do?  Quite often we end up in our life’s work by default.  Some of us come to love it and some of us just keep doing it because it’s easier than starting in a new direction.  If what you are doing now (assuming you aren’t yet retired), doesn’t make you smile anymore, it’s wise to start figuring out what will before you retire.  Maybe it’s a hobby you are already pursuing.  Maybe it’s something entirely new.  The only way you are going to find out is to start thinking about it.
  2. How can I make money doing what I love?  There are ways, regardless of what it is.  If you love golf, work at a course…or a golf megastore…or write freelance articles about golf.  If you love to shop, find a slot in retail that’s fun or offer your services as a personal shopper.  If you love making sausage in the middle of the night, there’s probably a way to parlay that into an income. An essential piece of getting this to work is to stop thinking that everything has to be done between 8 and 5 on weekdays.  You may want to keep that time for other things and work nights and weekends to keep the checkbook fat.
  3. Is there only one thing that I love to do?  If you’ve done a lot of different things while you were working full time, expect to do so for retirement income as well.  A retired elementary school teacher I know makes great money as a Santa in November and December but is also a tour guide for a travel company in the summer.
  4. How much do I want to work?  Half time?  A third of the year on specific projects?  Only with customers X, Y, and Z?  A piece of that answer is going to be about how much money you need to continue to make, but an even bigger piece is what else you want to have time for.  (Hint:  Don’t worry about lying on some tropical beach with a cold drink in your hand.  That’s called vacation, and it doesn’t work as a longterm lifestyle in retirement.)
  5. What shape do I want my work to take?  When you love what you do, you find ways to get to do it.  The most traditional would be regularly scheduled work—full- or part-time–but there’s a long list of other options.  You can work on a contract basis for a limited period.  You can work piece rate.  You can work project by project.  You can work in a “performance only” company where you can do your work whenever you want as long as it’s done on time.
  6. How can I get to do what I love the way I’d like to do it? It takes time to get to where you can pull this off.  No one is going to see that as a wise move unless you are already really good at what you want to do and the world knows it.  You need to build your reputation.  A guy I met recently drives a high-performance dune buggy for tourists as a retirement job.  He worked for the utility company for decades, but he’s been driving dune buggies since he was nine.  His driving skills were so well known that a total stranger approached him in line at the grocery store about working for him as a sand rail driver.

His story is the magic we’d all like to rely on–where what we need just comes to us.  He wasn’t even thinking about working, but the offer was too much fun to pass up.  On the surface, it looks like it “just happened.”  But that isn’t the case.  He had a longstanding reputation for doing that work well.

Figure out what you want to do.  Get involved with others who are doing it.  Achieve a reputation for doing it well.  The more of that you can do before you retire, the easier it will be to walk into your dream retirement job when you get that far.

The Power of “Letting People Know”

The Power of “Letting People Know”

When you let people know–what you need, what you have, what you would like to do–you increase your chances of getting what you are trying to accomplish done exponentially.

I’m writing this just after doing some volunteer work at the local library–where I didn’t work much because no one knew about what I was there to do.  Not promoting my availability to do one-on-one job search counseling was a conscious decision.  They were worried too many people would want help and that many wouldn’t get it because I was only there for two hours.  But not telling anyone before the period when I was actually there meant I had a lot of time to read magazines I don’t ordinarily get to see.

It also made me stop and think about how many ways there are to benefit from “letting people know.”

The obvious one is if you are job hunting.  Letting every person who knows your name know what you are looking for is essential.  There really are only a few steps between you and what you need–just as the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon party game suggests.  (Microsoft actually tested the premise–that any two people  in the world are connected by way of no more than six intermediate people–and found it to be very close to that.)  So “let people know” if you are looking for work, projects, internship opportunities, whatever.

Last week, my brother called asking if I needed a new dishwasher.  He had just purchased one he could not return, and it didn’t work in his kitchen.  I did (need a new dishwasher).  Desperately.  One friend described mine as sounding like I was washing bowling balls.  But I had just purchased one as part of a major kitchen remodel and was within days of getting it installed.  I did, however, know of someone else who needed a new dishwasher.  So I called him…and now his family has a nice new dishwasher.

I have a wonderful hiking group that I go out with on Wednesday mornings.  I would still be yearning for the chance to get up in the mountains if I hadn’t “let someone know” that I was looking for a way to hike.

Three very different examples of the same principle:  Good things happen when you “let people know.”  This isn’t a case of “expecting” people to give you what you need.  It’s more like getting your name on the list for the Universe to work with.

Let people know…if you’d like to meet some new members of the opposite sex…if you need a handyman….if you want to wallpaper your dining room with tinfoil and are wondering just how to do that.

The power of community is one of the sweetest things about being human.  You tap into it by “letting people know.”

 

 

How Much Work Is Enough?

How Much Work Is Enough?

Well, how much work is “enough”?

And how much is too much?

And how much is too little?

Work is both bigger and more important than “what the boss tells me to do.”  Even after you retire, some work, some of the times will need to be part of the picture.  How much of it you need in your life is not going to be the same as what your spouse, mom, kids, or best friend needs.  Work is a uniquely personal thing, yet we don’t often look at it that way.

What’s the most important thing about work for you?  The chance to excel?  The confirmation of competence that comes from getting paid?  Money to pay the bills?  The opportunity to make a difference? To solve a complex problem?  Knowing what’s the most important thing about work for you gives you a much better shot at being satisfied when you work.

It also will give you good clues about “how much is enough?”  If you are in it for the extrinsic motivators–a paycheck, a title, or recognition within a community, enough to get that will be all you need.  If you are in it for the intrinsic motivators–the chance to solve a problem, make a difference or be part of a highly productive team, the limiits are higher.  And the challenge of keeping your work  in balance with the rest of the things you want in your life is greater.

But how much is enough?  That, too, is personally defined.  The crazy thing is that we are all married to this “fulltime” mindset without any real evaluation of what would work best for us as individuals.

Have you ever had to work fewer hours–for less pay–because of a downturn?  Did you like having that extra time for other things?  Could you live on that number of work hours on an on-going basis?

Others of us are working ourselves to a frazzle because we’re among the few left on board after deep and repeated staffing cuts.  Does the job do enough for you overall that you want to continue that unbalanced crazy race?

Some of us were forced into retirement–or took  it willingly.    Is not working at all working for you? Are you doing working you aren’t calling work?

We all need work.  What kind and how much is a far more personal decision than we usually make it.

 

Why We Need to Recalibrate Our Sense of “Old”

Why We Need to Recalibrate Our Sense of “Old”

On his 80th birthday, Hugh Hefner said “80 is the new 40.”   In an article last summer, Sunset magazine proclaimed “100 is the new 70.”   Author and CEO Bill Byham titled a 2007 business book  70: The New 50. The numbers are fun, but so far, it seems in terms of the way we see it as a culture, 50 is still “old.”  We need to revisit that.  We are shooting ourselves in the collective foot big time.

The dictionary lists nine different definitions of the word “old.”  When we talk about “old” people, are we talking about “worn” or “experienced?”   Our continued success as a society hinges on which we choose.  Because 50 is not “worn” so much as polished.   We are throwing away really good stuff–and then paying to keep it somewhere else.

Seventy percent of the physical problems we blame on aging are actually the result of lifestyle choices.  It’s not your age that’s keeping you from doing that bike ride.  It’s that you haven’t walked farther than from the couch to the refrigerator in the last five years.  Excusing our bad habits with our birthdays is a downpayment on a long gloomy death spiral.   Most of us are going to live to 80.  Thirty years of assuming we can’t do what we want because we’re “old” is pretty tragic.

Businesses who assume 50 is “old” are squandering some of their best talent, too.  Instead of helping  the experienced workforce get comfortable with new technology, they look for ways to usher them out the door.  Instead of building multi-generational teams that capitalize on the full range of talents and skills available, they shove the experience in some corner where the younger workers can’t learn from it.  They literally watch needed expertise walk out the door into retirement without ever asking, “Any way we can get you to work for us on a more flexible basis?”

A recent issue of Wired magazine included an article about taking your job on the road–in your RV.  It wasn’t written for “old” people.    But it sure looks like a good marriage of “retirement” and staunching the experience drain.  The irony of the current business mindset is that while companies continue to assume that experienced workers want traditional retirement, they are creating flexible work arrangements to attract Millenials as their replacements.  The “new kids” want  to work when they want wherever they want, responsible only for the end result rather than showing up every day.  It’s called ROWE–results only work environment.    To offer such options to new, inexperienced workers–who probably won’t reach the level of productivity the older workers have for ten years or maybe much longer–and NOT offer it as an alternative to retirement is painfully short-sighted.

As a business, there may also be room to retain the experience you already paid to develop in creative ways that take less than a full time salary to accomplish.   How can you marry new technology with old savvy to get the best bang for your labor buck?

And then there is the little matter of government entitlements.  When someone retires, they go on everybody else’s payroll, via FICA taxes.  Social Security comes out of our collective wallets, not “the government’s.”   So when we expect people to be “old” and to retire around 62,  we buy in on taking care of them, in terms of Social Security checks, for an average of about 18 years.

Most  people retire in good health.  They are still capable of doing great work on something in which they believe, particularly if it’s a customized arrangement.  Instead, the invisible wall of ageism goes up around them.  The culture assumes they are washed up, worn out, and useless.   We pay them to “get out of the way” when they weren’t in the way in the first place.  And once they’ve retired, we make re-entry into the labor market, even if highly qualified, damn near impossible.  It’s like we are afraid “old” is contagious.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Once people start being “old,” they buy in on the stereotype.  They need more medical attention.  Much of it wouldn’t be necessary if these capable people could remain engaged.  But when the only person who’ll talk to you is your doctor, you talk to your doctor.  Once Medicare is part of that person’s setup, we are all pay the bill.

We need to revisit when “old” starts.  I’m voting for somewhere around 95 or maybe 98.  Many of us can keep going all the way to the day we die if we just have the opportunity.  People over 50 have a lot left to offer and a lot left to do. As a culture, we need to give them the chance.

5 Big Reasons NOT to Retire

5 Big Reasons NOT to Retire

 

I’m not going to bother you with how you working longer benefits the nation and brings you more money.  I’m not going to remind you that staying employed usually means  better health care coverage.  Here are five other reasons why staying in the workforce may be better.

Not retiring is better for your physical health. People who continue to work stay healthier than people who retire to a life of leisure.  Working gives you a sense of purpose.  And purpose is good for you.

In a study of 900 aging religious, those with a strong sense of purpose lived life to the end with no sign of Alzheimer’s disease even though posthumous brain studies found the lesions characteristic of it.  A study of 12,460 middle-aged Hungarians found those who believed their lives had meaning had lower rates of both cancer and heart disease.  A retirement of drifting from thing to thing at leisure isn’t an automatic ticket to good health.

Not retiring maintains  your emotional health. Work is one of the best sources of self-esteem available.  If you are good enough at something to get paid to do it, that’s strong evidence of your worth.  Most of us don’t realize that’s important until after we let go of it.  Then we struggle to figure out why we are feeling “empty.”  We need to work.  If not for pay, then in some other context.

Not retiring gives you less incentive to hang onto a job you hate. If you are going to work for a long time and don’t plan to rely on your current company’s benefits for retirement, it makes perfect sense to find a better job, no matter how old you are.  But it’s tempting to tolerate a bad job fit or a boss that is literally making you sick in the name of “making it to retirement.”

If your job sucks and you’re going to have to work for as long as you live, for heaven’s sake go out and find one you like.  It might take some time to pull it off, but you still won’t be in your current unhappy place as long as if you hung on until you could retire.

Not retiring gives you more room to find your dream job. Let’s face it.  When it comes to work, it takes most of us some time to figure out what we like.  I know at lot more now than I did when I was forty.  As you learn what lights your fire, you can move toward that kind of work if you aren’t telling yourself that you’ll be “done” soon and that it’s too late to even thing about that.

There are people in their eighties who attribute their good health to the fact that they have to work.  A local lawyer is 99 and still goes to the office–but on a reduced workday.  That’s a piece of the dream job, too.  Maybe yours can be done from home or in alternate weeks, or using a WiFi connection from Maui.   If you know you’re going to have to work forever, finding something you love is essential.  Also more exciting.

Not retiring reduces your vulnerability Not working can leave you vulnerable a lot of ways.  You’re vulnerable to becoming isolated.  You’re vulnerable to having your income streams dry up.  You’re vulnerable to having way too much time on your hands if you lose a spouse or companion prematurely.

It’s easier to get a few more hours–or take on a second job for a while–if you’re already employed.   People need people, and the work setting is full of them.

The biggest lie of the traditional approach is that retirees are privileged to not be able to work.  That’s not how it started and not why it continues.  It’s a quiet, effective application of ageism.  “Here’s some money.  Now get out of the way.”  Nobody cares what you do or if you do it after you retire.  You’ve rendered yourself irrelevant.  Arghh!

Instead, find a way to work that’s fun.  Work at something you believe in.  And find a workstyle and employer that make you feel you have a life not just a job.   Retirement isn’t the only alternative.  If you find what you love can can thrive while employed.

Loving What You Do

Loving What You Do

Quite a few of us are rethinking whether we are going to retire soon–or ever.   Before you opt for being a permanent member of the workforce, there’s one thing I beg of you.  Love what you do.  If the thought of doing what you are doing now until the day you die feels like drinking a large glass of vinegar, please make plans to do something else.

Once we’ve been at a kind of work for a while, it’s comfortable to just keep doing it, even if it never was fun.  But you lose in five different ways if you use that strategy.  It makes heaps more sense to love what you do.

Job Satisfaction The first reason is, of course,  that it makes your life more satisfying.  People who love their jobs are happy to go to work and come home in a good mood.  That translates into better health, too.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  No job is going to go well all day everyday forever.  But if most days have you humming while you grade the papers,  write the report, adjust the machine, or flip the burgers, you’re onto something.

If, on the other hand, just showing up at the old grind makes you want to throw up, you have a little remodeling project to take on.  You need to make your work match yourself or you are in for a steady dose of negative energy.

This sounds simple, but quite often it isn’t.  For some of us, it’s a matter of getting to the flashpoint and then saying, “That’s it.  I’m outta here.”  That works, but being “outta here” without knowing what you are going to do next can be pretty stressful, especially with the current economy.

There are some great books on how to help yourself figure out what you really want.  (Mine for example– Supercharged Retirement.)  But if you’re tired of reading what I have to say, try something by Martha Beck or Barbara Sher.  Use them all, one after another.  Use a life coach.  Do  a Vision Quest.  Contemplate you left thumb for fifteen minutes everyday until the light starts to dawn.

It doesn’t have to be what everyone else does to be the right thing, but it has to give you a calm sense of confidence when you start to explore it.  Be sincere about looking for the real answers.  And be open to what comes.  (Thinking you knew before you really did got you to the job you’re hating.)

Talent Match When you do what you love,  the probability that you are truly suited for it goes up exponentially.  I have a long time friend I met in college who was a good geologist.  But when he started to use his natural sales skills along with what he knew about rocks, his prospects skyrocketed.  He sold mining and construction equipment, and it was a great fit.  He could sell salt water in the Mariana Trench.

Perceived Value The fact that you love what you do does not go unnoticed either.  People like to work with those who are happy with what they are doing.  And if you are doing what you love, you are probably doing it really well.  So customers want to work with you. The plum placements on the dream team also go to those who are really into it.

This is not a case of faking it for the sake of advancement.  There’s an intuitve piece to this that you just can’t counterfeit.  If you like what you do, people like working with you to get that done.  So find what you like.  Find what you LOVE.

Job Security Right, loving what you do will not guarantee you never get laid off.   Not even working for yourself guarantees that anymore.  But when you love what you do, you find other ways to use what you know to be able to keep doing it.

If you are told they don’t need you as the team lead manufacturing elephant harnesses and you love leather, there are other ways to work with it.  If you love to work in a kitchen and just got let go as a short order cook, you may hire on with a caterer, or start cooking nightly meals for clients who can then look forward to your delicious deliveries after a long day of their own work (also at something they love, I hope).

Longevity You can try to make yourself like what you are doing, but that’s a short term fix.  The real answer is to find something you love doing whether you get paid for it or not.  That  solution gives you one last plus–something you will be happy continuing to do–in some form–for as long as you live.

Including for money if you need to.  There are lawyers still lawyering at the age of 99,  and my favorite centenarian story is of the woman who was still a proofreader for the St. Louis Dispatch at 100.  Do what you love and use it to thrive–for a long time.