Not long ago, Richard Eisenberg, the managing editor at "PBS Next Avenue," an online service of Twin Cities Public Television, announced that it was time for him to retire after a decade on the job.
But when he did, he said he would "unretire."
The word retire still suggests "the 1950s version of no-work/all leisure," he wrote. Eisenberg plans on pursuing a portfolio of activities in his unretirement, ranging from mentoring to freelance writing.
Eisenberg is far from alone. For several years, I've tracked and written about people who are reimagining the retirement years to include some work. In the vanguard are professionals, desk-bound workers and skilled trades people. For one thing, they have spent years accumulating knowledge at work.
Retirement often means leaving behind a current job and its daily demands to try something new, to find greater flexibility, to carve out time to pursue other passions and interests. But they find purpose by continuing to tap into the skills learned during their careers.
They want to keep earning money. Few people at retirement are flush with savings — with good reason. The typical household with some retirement savings has struggled financially to raise a family and pay bills while coping with spells of unemployment and caregiving responsibilities.
Earning even small sums of money can shore up household finances, especially since pocketing an income makes it practical to delay filing for Social Security. The benefit is 76% higher by waiting to file at age 70 (the latest) compared to age 62 (the earliest).
Taken altogether, older adults are experimenting with different ways to find purpose and a paycheck, including self-employment, entrepreneurship, part-time work, gig jobs and encore careers. The pandemic has slowed unretirement since many recent retirees are steering clear of jobs to stay healthy.
Yet the underlying trend remains intact. For example, the rate of new entrepreneurs was highest among the 45- to 54-year-old age group in 2020, according to the Kauffman Foundation. The second highest? The 54-to-64 cohort. Odds are unretirement will regain momentum once the pandemic becomes endemic.
We don't have good language for capturing the trend. I like "unretirement," while "encore" and "next chapter" are well-known.
Whatever label you use, think smart, productive and engaged. Like Lucy Kellaway, author of "Re-educated: How I Changed My Job, My Home, My Husband & My Hair." I highly recommend it for understanding unretirement.
The longtime Financial Times columnist went through a number of transitions starting in her late 50s. Among them was co-founding the nonprofit Now Teach, which prepares people who want to leave their current career and become teachers.
She recalls looking at the first 45 candidates accepted into the program. They had had very different careers, with the oldest 71 and the youngest 42. "There were only two things we had in common: We wanted to be useful and we wanted to do something new," she writes.
To be clear, there is no judgment about choices. For some people, the good retirement remains full-time leisure. Excellent. For others, especially those who worked at jobs with no health insurance, retirement savings plans and low wages, the elder years are financially hard.
Still, for those with rewarding careers and some savings the key question becomes this at retirement: What do I want to do next that offers both meaning and money?
I've learned over the years two practical suggestions in particular are helpful to answering the question.
First, tap into the wisdom of your network of family, friends and acquaintances. Your network will offer valuable insight on what might come next for you. They'll also make connections that will help launch your next chapter.
Second, stay flexible. Transitions take time and plenty of experiments. That's OK. The experiments are critical for figuring out the next engaging stage of life's journey.
Farrell, a regular contributor to the Star Tribune and MPR, is author of "Unretirement: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life."