I do not consider myself financially well off in the least, but I have worked hard all my life, mostly as a freelance writer and publisher – a tough business that I would not recommend to anyone unless you have a very thick skin that can take more rejection than what most people deal with throughout their lives.
Recently, I decided to start collecting early social security. I now get a small monthly check, primarily because I never really earned a large annual income over most of my financial roller coaster life. Fortunately, at least for the time being, my work continues to augment the social security check, so I’m surviving.
Bottom line is I’ll be working long as I am able on a full-time basis, and hopefully that will be until my last breath.
I am not complaining. I feel being forced to work to survive right up until the end is a blessing in disguise, keeping me engaged in the game of life as an active player who must keep up with the times to thrive. Looking over my life to date, I feel fortunate and even lucky because I have always managed to come up with some way to earn just enough to clothe, shelter and feed my family. Nobody is ever hungry or really wanting of anything significant. I think and hope I have learned enough to continue to stay in this camp.
My Relatively New Path
I have been writing about plenty of different things these days, one of which deals with reflecting on people such as myself, who are retirement-aged, low-income individuals active and still swinging the bat – people who are trying to keep their heads above water financially as well as healthfully and purposefully while they deal with all the pressure, pain, and lack of opportunities that befall them as they grow old. It’s not as bad as that sounds, at least not for me at this time in my life. Certainly there are many great and wondrous things about aging, as well as many disturbing and debilitating aspects of growing old.
A Word About Baby Boomers and the Age of Non-Retirement
There are numerous articles, reports, and books all about what the future portends to be for baby boomers such as myself (born between 1946 and 1964), whose first major cohort reached the age of 65 in 2011. Many of these well-researched and very convincing articles, reports, and books by impressive academics and experts on aging came out several years before 2011, and they are still rolling out consistently today.
The first wave of U.S. baby boomers to reach age 65 started on January 1, 2011.
The U.S. Census Bureau calculates that by 2020 55.9 million people in the U.S. will be 65 or older, and by 2030 that number will reach 72.7 million.
How will all these boomers thrive in the 21st century? By staying in the workforce, at least minimally on a part-time basis, and not fully retiring, say many experts on aging. As noted by Gallup in Many Baby Boomers Reluctant to Retire, “nearly half of boomers still working say they don’t expect to retire until they are 66 or older, including one in 10 who predict they will never retire.”
Boomers don’t consider themselves old until around 72 years of age, claimed a Pew Research Center study. Long held culturally and historically embedded notions about how to retire are becoming outdated. Many boomers no longer see themselves playing shuffle board, golfing, fishing and generally relaxing for the remainder of their days. Plus, age-related scientists are now saying that a life overly focused on leisure and passive entertainment could actually promote poor health.
A 2014 study conducted by the National Institute of Aging-funded Rush University Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, points to living a life of purpose (identified as having a strong sense of meaning, which frequently comes from significant paid employment and/or volunteer work) as highly conducive to reducing one’s susceptibility to stroke, dementia, movement problems, disability and premature death.
In short, full retirement is not a smart option.
An expansive cottage industry supports an opting-out-of-retirement boomer explosion. The AARP’s Life Reimagined site, for example, has a strong focus on assisting boomers with remaining active in the labor force. Since 2006, the growing Encore.org, an organization known for “advancing second acts for the greater good” has provided numerous services related to aging boomers, including the “The Purpose Prize,” awarded to more than 500 over-60 innovators who have brought their skills and talents to communities all over the world.
Aging Experts Endorse Active Engagement
To further elaborate on this trend of aging boomers staying on the future of work treadmill, I talked with Chris Farrell, author of Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing The Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life; Nancy Collamer, author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement and owner of an informational site for boomers called mylifestylecareer.com; and Paul Irving, editor of The Upside of Aging and Chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging.
“There are a lot of organizations all over the country that are coalescing around this working longer theme and helping people figure it out,” Farrell said. “People are using different phrases such as meaning and money, passion and a paycheck and this notion of reimagining and rethinking.”
“The big thing is that people are living longer,” Collamer said. “So you have a dynamic where people work in their primary careers for as long as 40 years, give or take, and then they could be looking at a retirement that lasts 30 years – that is a lot of years to fill and a lot of years to fund.”
Not Without Challenges
Irving explained how a variety of challenging circumstances are often the root cause for boomers not retiring. “There are different reasons why retirement is changing,” he said. “Many people have dramatically inadequate and in some cases no savings beyond social security. The increasing costs of healthcare and housing present a remarkable challenge. The opportunity to generate income for a longer period of time is not an elective for fun and interests. It is a need for resources and the opportunity to maintain an acceptable life.”
According to a Fidelity Investment retirement health care cost estimate, “a couple, both aged 65 and retiring this year, can now expect to spend an estimated $245,000 on health care throughout retirement, up from $220,000 last year. The figure has increased 29 percent since 2005 when it was $190,000.”
Overall, there’s plenty to scrutinize and act on, both politically and socially, to ensure that the aging boomer generation gets the support they need to keep working productively. “More people are having conversations about it,” Farrell said. “We do not have enough institutionalized offerings like phased retirement programs and flexible work schedules. There are a lot of laws that make it difficult for companies to rehire part-time, former employees. There is a lot of underbrush to be cleaned out so that it becomes much simpler for people to keep working.” He added that the politicos in D.C. “do not have a clue. This is not entering into the political discourse.”
“As a general matter, this [referring to enabling aging boomers to be productive workers] is one of those great challenges we need to address as a society,” Irving said. “Both as individuals and as a broader society, we should be encouraging it, enabling it, celebrating it, and making sure that it is an opportunity for all of those who choose to do it.”
Collamer referred to the historical dismantling and decrease in pension funds and other employer-paid retirement funding opportunities. “As more employers start to face the so-called brain drain of losing key talent in institutional knowledge, hopefully we will start to see a rise in employers who will start to offer their employees some form of retirement,” she said. In addition, Collamer described the problem of age discrimination in the work place as being “real, with a lot of people experiencing difficulties finding good, quality part-time work after they retire from their full-time jobs.”
In typical boomer fashion, however, they are starting to tackle such challenges in a twenty-first century way: by going online. “The opportunities for doing things like freelancing and consulting work and establishing products and services that you sell on the web have become real possibilities for boomers,” Collamer said. “The amount of money required to start online businesses is far less than if you were to try to establish a brick and mortar business.”
In his recent post, Gig Economy: Better for Boomers Than Millennials, on the PBS Next Avenue blog for people over 50, Ferrell wrote that “boomers will increasingly and gladly gear up for the gig economy as they enter their 60s and 70s. Already, Uber says more of its drivers are over 50 than under 30 and that about a quarter of its drivers are 50 and older. Last year, incidentally, Uber and AARP’s Life Reimagined teamed up to help Uber find more 50+ drivers.”
To borrow a popular phrase from the psychedelic 60s, boomers, figuratively speaking, still turn on and tune in, but they have no intentions to drop out.
More Characteristics of Boomers
As someone who is definitely not going to drop out, I continue to study all the research aging. I even purchased a 600-page college textbook on aging to the tune of $130. Going through this text book has been like enrolling in a gerontology program.
Overall I have gone through more information on aging than I can effectively synthesize. All the professional researchers and writers bring forth numerous valid, authoritative, and uniquely different insights concerning our aging selves. One thing remains constant; however, it is impossible to classify aging in very strict and common terms. In a 1993 gerontology textbook with roots in the University of Massachusetts Gerontology Institute, Scott A. Bass, Francis G. Caro and Yung-Ping Chen wrote that “Compelling evidence indicates that the aging process is highly individualistic, with enormous differences in the ways various individuals age and in their subsequent performance in physical and mental activities. Some individuals in their seventies and eighties may be very active and produce their most significant contributions, while others in their fifties and sixties may be unable to function full in society or may choose to withdraw from productive aging.”
For example, how any times have you read or seen a video from some aging guru who is broadcasting from some beautiful sub-tropical location, offering lectures on how to live a fulfilled, happy and purposeful life – how to be spiritually aware, and how to be in tune with nature, etc. They make me want to take the next flight out to some oceanside hideaway where I can watch the Sun and listen to calming waves at night.
Ain’t gonna happen, though, on my current budget. So, the next best is to simply enjoy where I am at, in my home office, typing this. Life is good. The present is good. That is one way to view “aging in place,” so to speak.
Speaking of Place
When I think of the word “place” from a physical perspective – the geography of place – my first thoughts go to the six U.S. states (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Michigan, Nevada, and New York) and one European country (Germany) I have lived in, the combined 30 residences I inhabited in those places, the three times I drove across the country, and the numerous extended stays I’ve experienced in Florida and Colorado, as well in Canada, Luxembourg and Switzerland. That’s not an enormously wide swath of places, but it’s certainly more than many people. Most of the people I know intimately have lived in pretty much one place all their lives except for one or two stints trying to live someplace else before concluding that there is really no place like home.
In addition to the importance of the geography of place, there’s the journey you embark on in life to find your ideal place—your inner pathway toward whatever compels you to move forward career-wise, psychologically, socially and spiritually. These aspects of your “place” are also vitally important.
What surprised me more than anything is that when I turned 60, my sense of place grew more important than ever before. Questions about where I might wind up, which has still not been fully resolved for me, grew in importance. Do I want to move to a warmer climate? Do I want to stay close to where our children live? Should I stay in this country? Should I go to my geographic area, which is Northern California? How much can I really afford? What kind of move, realistically, can I embark on?
The Art of the Pursuit
So this question of “place” is not a small one. Like learning how to play a musical instrument or becoming a specialist or expert in any given field, behind it all is the art of the pursuit—meaning your creative instinct, or your creative drive to achieve whatever it is that you decide upon. By creative I mean individualistic, because we all essentially pursue our worthy dreams in our own unique ways, with the help of outside influences that we choose or not choose to follow or emulate to some degree. Your worth is measured in this case by how much of your personal potential you have truthfully reached along your life’s journey. And only you know the answer to that question.
I’d like to add that you don’t have to actually move to a different physical location, especially if you cannot afford to relocate (it’s expensive). You can make your overall place much better by paying very close attention to how you are or are not fulfilling your inner missions, so to speak, within the psychological, sociological and spiritual realms of your life.
To quote author Edward Abbey, a Utah park ranger who has often been compared to Thoreau, from his 1968 book Desert Solitaire: “Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio or Rome—there’s no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment.”
In essence, regardless of age, the limits of your “human capacity” can still be found in your ability and willingness to be a risk-taker in search of your ideal place. But, in addition to having a penchant for taking a dive into the unknown, you must also pursue this journey with some plain common sense, as provided by the pragmatic and intelligent Clayton M. Christensen, author of How Will You Measure Your Life. He reminds us that it takes time to find our purpose in life, a bit of risk-taking and certain openness and awareness of opportunities that arrive on our doorstep that often are not so easily recognizable.
“Strategy almost always emerges from a combination of deliberate and unanticipated opportunities,” he explains. “What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests and priorities begin to pay off. When you find out what really works for you, then it is time to flip from an emergent strategy to a deliberate one.” I feel that this kind of thinking is good to have if you are feeling old or being identified as an elder in society. You want to be in the right place. You want to be actively in the game of life. It’s what keeps you energetic.
Getting out there and trying stuff with a risk-taking mindset also requires that you have a certain curious nature in your bones. Put simply, you have to be both a risk taker and have a very curious mind in order to find your ideal place. “Curiosity never killed this cat,” is what the famous Studs Terkel wanted for his epitaph. I also like to add that your age has nothing to do with this task. Five years from now you will be five years older. What do you see?
I conclude with some words of wisdom from Gene D. Cohen’s excellent book, The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain: “Some people never retire in the classic sense; they continue writing or teaching or coaching or performing until the end of their lives. And not because they have to, but because they want to. Retirement is also being reinvented in social and psychological ways. Despite the stubborn retention of the notion that older people are “over-the-hill,” it’s becoming increasingly clear that the second half of life can be more rewarding, stimulating, enjoyable, and rich than the first half.”