holding hands with elderly person

And now for something completely different: A look at work after retirement

Dec 22, 2020
Empower Insights

Ethel Leresche loves her job.

As a hospice chaplain, she helps people who are dying find peace and work through end-of-life issues. Her work can be heart-wrenching and extremely difficult, yet she finds it “tremendously rewarding.” “I feel like every day when I go in there, I’m making big differences in people’s lives. Every single day.”

It has taken Leresche some time to get to this point. The Denver, Colorado, resident is thriving in her encore career, a second career that began after retirement.

“I felt called to be ordained as a minister when I was 10 years old,” Leresche recalls, “but I found out that girls couldn’t do that [in the Episcopal church] back then, and so I just put it on the shelf and ignored it.”

Instead, she found her way into a career as an executive assistant in finance and education. She didn’t love the work, but it paid the bills for her and her family for 21 years before she retired.

She stayed out of the workforce for the first 10 years of retirement. Then one day while she was volunteering at her church, her pastor said to her, “I wish you were ordained — I need you to be a deacon.” And the next week she was enrolled at Denver Seminary.

Looking back, she’s still impressed by how things worked out. “That’s the thing that was so cool about it. Post retirement, you can do what you always wanted to do.”

Encore careers are just one element of a generational shift toward working in retirement. Some, like Leresche, view it as an opportunity to pursue a dream deferred, but for others, working in retirement is more about the physical, mental and social benefits it brings or the extra income it produces. Regardless of their motivation, many retirees enjoy the opportunity to work on their own terms. In our 2019 white paper Rethink, Rewire, Retire, we found that the most sought-after retirement jobs emphasize a flexible schedule and personally meaningful work.

Husband and wife of Asian background exercise together outdoors

Side-stepping into “retirement”

Doug Popken retired in October 2019 after a diverse career that culminated in six years as the senior vice president of analytics at a healthcare software company. But Doug makes sure to specify that he puts quotation marks around “retirement,” because while he has left his full-time position, he continues working as a consultant at roughly 25% capacity.

“Obviously, you’re more in charge of your own schedule [when you work for yourself],” he says. “It’s not about how much time you spend on something, it’s about what you produce, and the quality of what you produce — so it’s much more flexible. Working for myself, I also get to work on a much wider range of topics, and I enjoy that.”

Ellen Shamas-Brandt echoes this sentiment. In 2016 she left a decades-long career in elementary schools to teach one-on-one piano lessons. She also continued her supplemental work as an adjunct professor at a community college, which she had begun toward the end of her teaching career.

The shift to teaching music was natural for her, because while she was ready to retire from public schools, she wasn’t ready to stop teaching. She comments, “I love to teach, I love working with kids and I love music. I thought [teaching music lessons] would be a great way to put it all together. I think I’m going to be teaching for a long time.”

But her work at the community college also serves a more practical purpose — increasing her public education pension, which she didn’t take when she retired from her first career. And for all the personal fulfillment working in retirement can provide, studies find that money and healthcare benefits still provide significant reasons for people to work in retirement.

Recrafting retirement

“When I retired, it was thrown upon me,” Ric Rogers says, remembering a 2011 injury that forced him into a medical retirement. “It wasn’t something I was planning to do at that time. But learning to make peace with something that wasn’t your choice — it makes a big difference.”

After a lifetime spent as an engineering inspector and a contractor in the construction industry, Ric admits that the sudden transition was difficult. But once he accepted it, he decided to focus his energy on one of his favorite pastimes: woodworking.

“I’m enjoying the heck out of it,” he laughs. “I make canes, walking sticks — I do a wide variety of custom walking sticks — I make antler-slingshots, pens, back scratchers, key chains, letter openers, knives, bowls and coasters … I think that’s pretty much it.”

Ric sells what he makes at craft fairs, which he attended at least once a month before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of them. And although his “hobby-business” doesn’t make up a large part of his income, he says that’s not the reason he pursues it.

“I can come out into my shop, and I’ll have a project on my workbench that might be a 20-minute project, but I’ll be still out there four hours later doing something. I don’t hurt when I’m out there. It’s just peaceful. It makes everything else go away.”

If you’re nearing retirement, you may want to consider an encore career or other work in retirement. You may also want to think about when to take Social Security, talking to your spouse about retirement and these estate planning tips.

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