The Fat Lady May Have to Wait to Sing

If you are approaching retirement or even semi-retirement, you may be thinking hard about your next transition. You may or may not be ready to stow your the briefcase -- at least yet. Last week, I addressed some issues to consider when contemplating an “encore career.” 

The most important thing to think about first in a post-retirement analysis is simple, your health. This requires an honest assessment of your physical condition. It is the rare diva or an unusual baritone who readily accepts growing old gracefully. Begrudged as most are about the aging process, our bodies are just not the same as they once were. With every new ache or pain, my grandfather would always ask, “What’s the alternative, kid?”  

Next, you must assess your finances. Are you able to work for sheer personal fulfillment? Do you need a steady paycheck – or even a volatile one with that fulfillment? According to the Civic Ventures and the MetLife Foundation, forty percent (40%) of the people ranging in ages from 44 to 70 in 2012 were interested in pursuing an encore career. No one in the same group was financially secure enough to retire all at once.  

Similarly, a survey conducted by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies in 2011 backs up this finding, adding that fifty-four (54%) of all workers intend to keep working once they formally retire. Most workers in 2014 feel that their pensions alone are insufficient because: (a) they have diminished due to a weak economy, poor management or are simply underfunded, and (b) people are living longer, healthier lives, and they need added financial resources to feel more secure.

Planning your retirement, you will also need to explore how Social Security works. You should determine the income caps on what you can earn and understand how a new career will affect your benefits. You may not lose your benefits, but you will likely draw them at a different time. (You can use AARP’s benefits calculator and the IRS’ retirement estimator to ascertain how an encore career will affect your Social Security.)

There are even creative financing options you can utilize to support yourself while pursuing a new career. For example, there are annuities designed to supplement part-time work until Social Security takes effect. Surprisingly, there are even 529 college savings accounts available to support a later future transition.

Provided you are healthy and can afford to retire, the third factor you should consider could be the most difficult to determine: what do you want to do with your time? Do you want to do something that simply helps the world?

If so, what activities are most enjoyable to you, most challenging and meaningful? You must identify your interests, strengths and values. If a new career would involve a different line of work, serve different values or entail different job requirements, you will need to assess your transferable skills and your character strengths.

In thinking about substantive areas you enjoy – either in the same professional scope as your original career or something completely different -- it is also beneficial to consider industries that are growing. Health care services, accounting firms and the food industry are examples of businesses that perform well during bad times.

It is also wise to consider organizations with a workforce culture that respects all workers. An especially good place to look is with small and medium sized businesses that create most new jobs today.

The last step in the analysis of determining whether an encore career may be right for you is the recognition of any new required job skills. You must assess what more you need to learn to be considered for a new role. If needed, you may have to brush up on some of your skills or learn new ones. The key here is to determine how you can best meet the needs of a specific market and make a contribution.

In some instances, this may require going back to school. Community colleges offer advanced and accelerated training programs in many fields. Online courses offer flexibility and are relatively affordable.  

Key to getting up to speed in today's world, however, may primarily depend on updating your computer skills. Older workers who did not grow up with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter need to learn about them – and quickly. Failing to keep up with technology gives hiring managers an easy reason to recycle the applications of older candidates and supports the argument that mature workers will not fit into the culture.

For the most part, our grandparents strived to keep mentally active while exploring more leisurely pursuits in retirement. Today, we live longer, healthier lives while facing challenging financial times. While the fat lady may have to wait her turn, as long as she can still project, sustain a vibrato, and hit an occasional high note, her voice will resonate when the time comes. 

My parents didn't want to move to Florida, but they turned sixty and that's the law." 

                            -- Jerry Seinfeld
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This article first appeared in the Law Bulletin Publishing Company's The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, in the related blog, Around the Water Cooler, and on the web site of Ms. JD,