Approaching retirement early in the 21st Century

The world has changed dramatically in the last 20-30 years since the time our parents started retiring, and is totally different from the world that existed in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the concept of retirement was first widely implemented. As people are living longer healthier lives, the thought of 3 decades of leisure during retirement is not that appealing, especially to the active, progressive Baby Boomer generation facing retirement in the next 5-10 years.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are a unique generation.  They have pioneered new ideas and movements their entire lives, including growing up in the suburbs, working women, sexual freedom and unmatched prosperity, and they are now the first group of adults to enjoy a long healthy, active, non-child bearing season of adult life. Boomers are the group born between 1946 and 1964 who lived their teen years in the 1960s and 70s. These years were filled with causes and revolution, the witnessing of the assassinations of leaders, widespread protests and the development of the civil rights movement. Viewing these events and realizing that the world was not working, helped to shape this group into the world changers they are today.

Boomers have a deep desire to make a difference in the world. They also tend to be competitive and ambitious. Boomers have worked hard with passion and commitment during their careers, but are now questioning the lasting value of the outcomes they have achieved. Boomers have acquired both prosperity and position as signs of their success. By in large, as a result, Boomers have not had the discretionary time they would have liked as they needed to work so hard for their success and now feel they want time to make a difference in the wider world. Many seeking meaningful ways to make a contribution in the years ahead and to leave a legacy.

How the world has changed

Modern medicine has extended people’s life spans dramatically. While HIV and Aids are wreaking havoc with South Africa’s age expectancies, people living without the disease can expect to live longer than their parent’s generation.

The world has also become ‘flatter’, in other words, the playing fields have been levelled as individuals now have more access to opportunities through a proliferation of technological advances.  These include the personal computer, fibre-optic cabling, while the rise of Windows powered PCs has enabled individuals to create and share content with anyone in the world. Technology has also totally transformed the world of work with work-flow software, supply-chain management, outsourcing and sharing of information, all of which has enabled broader collaboration on projects.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the release of Nelson Mandela and the riots at Tiananmen Square in China all occurring within 8-months of 1989 have all brought about a political change in the world.  Today, power has shifted to a large degree from governments and companies to individuals who now have the power to organise themselves and oppose systems and regimes that don’t abide by accepted norms.


The Boomer generation has approached midlife after 30 years of hard work in their careers. They are taking a look around and questioning their lives and their meaning. As their engagement with corporate work declines over the next few years, Boomers will need to decide what to do next. But the good news is that this new season could be a time of liberation and exploration, finding out what they have always wanted to do and having the time, energy and resources to do it.

No other group in history has ever had a non-childrearing period in their adult lives where they are free to pursue their dreams, while still healthy and wealthy enough to do so. This is a time to explore and discover the meaningful and productive roles and activities that you would like to pursue in the 20-30 mid-life years ahead of you before resting in your old age – and the options are as diverse as you are.

Are you retiring FROM something or TO something?

As we reach the artificial finish line approaching retirement, there is a misconception that we have to stop working.

On our Retire Successfully Wheel of Balance we have identified Work as an area you need to be engaged in.  In fact, people who work after retiring enjoy better health.

According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology in 2009 “retirees who transition from full-time work into temporary or part-time jobs experience fewer major diseases and are able to function better day-to-day than people who stop working altogether.”

In life planning meetings I always discuss work in the context of the Chartered Wealth Solutions’ definition of retirement:

“Retirement means having the freedom to achieve your yet unfulfilled dreams and goals, on your terms and in your own time.”

Some people coun down the days until retirement – the day they can finally stop working.  Others decide to stay where they are.  The process I go through with my clients involves looking at what it is about their present job that they enjoy, and then trying to incorporate that into their lives in retirement.  If there is nothing about their job that they enjoy, we ask them what kind of work they have always wanted to pursue, keeping in mind that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a paid job.  If they are happy with their current work situation we may suggest slight restructuring.  Taking Fridays and Mondays off is one suggestion.  This gives the client time to be more involved in other activities and spend time with the people in their life that matter.

I am reminded of a client of mine who had been working for a large corporate company for 40 years.  After retiring, something had been lost for him in this transition.  At first he was so excited at the prospect of spending time on the golf course.  On further introspection however, he actually wanted to start his own business in the same field he had been in and where he could feel he was making a valued contribution.  We decided to invest his pension fund into a living annuity, drawing a minimum amount because he would still be making a living.  Today he is doing so well that I need to have follow-up meetings with him to make sure that he is in fact finding enough time for his golf and other interests.

The point is this: we try to create something that our clients can retire TO.  We look into ways to fill the hours that were previously work hours, and we get creative taking into account our clients’ interests, experience and skills.  Great possibilities exist in looking at those things that you enjoy.  Sally Williams, for example, started her business at the age of sixty in her kitchen and turned her nougat recipe into a very lucrative enterprise.

I see so many of my clients limiting themselves, not believing that they can achieve so much in this next life chapter.  But in truth, retirement is full of opportunity and is a chance to reinvent yourself.  I encourage you to dream more and dream big!

Pam Golding only started her estate agency at fifty and now at eighty she can look back at the legacy she has created.

From my interaction with clients I’ve learnt that if people aren’t retiring TO something, they feel extremely lost.  That is why we try to find something that gives them a sense of direction, accomplishment and fulfilment.

Even if you don’t want something as extravagant as opening up a business in retirement, you still have a choice to fill your hours with something meaningful.  Choose to spend that time wisely and you will be all the richer for it.

Imagine a creative society

Book review

Tom Peters writes the following in his book Re-imagine – a must read:

“I imagine a truly creative society: each person moves from project to project, from gig to gig. Global Voluntary Communities of Interest, rather than corporations, provide the bedrock upon which we stand.   Learning never ceases.  Self-reliance is the norm.  The society safety net is not a condescending “corporate benefits package”, it attaches to the individual and promotes flexibility throughout a New Global Economy.  Each career consists of numerous “mini careers” with time-outs along the way.  The cubicle slave is dead: long live the Free Agent”

I understand and identify with this quote.  I hope that this is the kind of life I am creating around me.  I love the fact that I can work virtually and connect and work on a few projects all at the same time.  I can also take time out to do other things that do not generate income but are an integral part of who I am.  I want to continue learning and stay relevant. Creativity is critical in this kind of world and we all need to find ways to unlock this potential inside of us.

Decisions about working in the future

Before deciding which option is best for you, you will need to decide:

  • Whether you want to use your existing skills or try something totally new in the second half of your life?
  • Do you want to pursue a long-held dream or passion, or fill an immediate need?
  • Do you want to stay close to your home and family or travel the world?
  • How much time and involvement do you want in your family’s life?
  • And of course, how much money do you need?

The answers to these questions will help you decide what is important to you in this next stage of life and armed with these guidelines you will better be able to sort through the options available to you for this next season.

You will also need to consider:

  • The amount of time you would like to devote to work in this next season.  There will probably be a number of activities that make up your life and time over the next years, including work, learning, volunteer work, family, and leisure time.  You will need to decide how much time you want to allocate to work at this time.
  • The structure and variety of your ideal work arrangement including whether you prefer working in a highly predictable arrangement, or variable episodic bursts.  For example, would you like to work a structured 3 mornings a week, or work full-time for 3 months and then be off for 3 months?
  • Your economic reality and the role that finances needs to play in your life, bearing in mind that the longer you are able to engage in some form of paid work life the later you will need to tap into your retirement savings and the less you will need to have saved up for that last stage of life.
  • The degree of challenge and difficulty you are willing to take on in your career in your next season of life.  Your decision to take on difficult and challenging tasks will probably need to have an accompanied commitment to learning new skills in the years ahead.
  • The level of responsibility you are willing to take on in this season of life.

Once armed with the answers to these questions, you will be in a better position to decide which work option is best for you going forward.  The options are as unique as you are and can each be tailored to suit your needs and desires for work 2.0.

Options for working past retirement years

Continue working in your field of experience for extended period of time, possibly negotiating more preferable terms of employment such as flexi-time, part-time, contract options.

  • Branch out into a whole new field that you have always wanted to pursue, which might require additional studying or learning in order to qualify for these new positions.
  • Boldly start your own business doing what you have always wanted to do, which could be risky, but very rewarding.
  • Leave the corporate world to use your skills to add value to a non-profit or non-governmental organisation working for a cause that is close to your heart.
  • Volunteering and giving of your time, skills and experience freely in order to make a difference and leave a legacy be it in volunteering, coaching, mentoring etc.

The World of Work

Every day I get up to work.  Sometimes I work for money and sometimes I work for free.  At times the work I do for free adds more value to my life than the work I do for money.  The worldview is that work = money.  Do you agree?

In South Africa we do not have a volunteering mindset.  Maybe it is part of our history?  The question is how do we change this?

The world of work is changing.  We now have more of a portfolio approach where work for money will be one of the components of the whole.  Work for many is already not the 8 to 5 world that many of us grew up with.  Technology allows work to happen anywhere and anytime 24/7/365.  We can work in an office, face to face, at home, locally and globally day or night.

If all of the above are facts that already exist, maybe the question we should be asking is what defines my life and how do I add value?

What colour is your parachute for retirement?

This is a title of a book by John. E. Nelson and Richard. N. Bolles. Richard is well known for writing the book called “What colour is your parachute?” helping individuals to plan the best work life for them.  This one follows a similar style but will help you in planning your later life stages.

They call Retirement, an undivided life.  Life has been segmented into efficient industrial boxes called education, work and retirement.  Another division has been splitting our own core values from the larger core values of society.  The wellbeing split into prosperity, health and happiness.  The human in us yearns for wholeness, completeness and integrity.

This next phase of life is an opportunity to have what we yearn for.  This is an opportunity to live an undivided life, integrating all the parts of life.

The challenge is on how to do this?  It takes time, reflection, conversation and some hard reality checks.  I am finding that many are not prepared to invest in taking this “road less travelled”  We just assume that life will continue along the linear line that it has for the past 60 or so years.  That is such a tragedy as your life can be so much more if you will just take the time to discover what is possible.

Is your parachute going to be colourful, bright and full of life or bland and lacking life or purpose.  You are the one that controls the direction, colour and life left in your parachute. Make sure you fly high; making a difference to those you encounter and live out a life of completeness.

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