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Karen and Erica
February 17, 2022

Scared To Retire? Don't Be. You Have What You Need To Pivot.

It’s not easy. But change is in the air.

If, as a financial matter, you can retire, then go ahead and do it if the job is no longer as fulfilling as it once was.

This piece was originally published on Lustre.

Many people, including us, reach the end of their careers and retire as a matter of course. Others do not have any imperative to push them toward retirement. Some are sufficiently uneasy that they hesitate to act. Even when they really want to leave their jobs.

Our advice: If, as a financial matter, you can retire, then go ahead and do it if the job is no longer as fulfilling as it once was. Then take a rest and have some fun. After that, assess where you are. Figure out what you want to do. And then make a plan.

There are some things that do not require you to get anyone else’s approval.

  • Nothing but play? Fine. You will certainly be able to figure out how to play. Travel around the world? Become really good at tennis or golf? Read every Peter Wimsey book?
  • Learn something completely new? That’s pretty easy, too. Make couture clothes? Become a proficient baker? Get a pilot’s license? You can do it. There are so many places that offer instruction in just about anything on earth.
  • Babysit for your grandchildren? Go for it. Your children will hold you in even higher regard. Just make sure it’s your choice, not something you feel you must do because your career came to an end.

But if you want a new and different job, or maybe your old one but with a structure that recognizes your status, it’s a little more complicated. It’s not impossible, but the barriers are high.

Most of those barriers are external. People may expect that you don’t really want to work, or that you can’t learn something new, or that you are too old to really commit and contribute. That’s wrong.

AARP has found that 59% of employers rate older workers as more adept at problem solving. Other research finds older workers are more reliable, less subject to turnover and, when working in age-diverse teams, able to produce better business decisions. The obstacle isn’t older workers—it is ageist and outdated thinking, which overlooks the productive capacity of older adults.

Alternatively, you may feel a little inhibited yourself. Maybe you don’t want to work as hard as you did. Fair enough. But you should not have to. You already know what you are doing. Or maybe you worry you might be taking a job someone younger might want. That’s wrong too. You want a job designed for someone with your experience, a job only someone your age could do.

We at Lustre are fighting attitudes about retirement and age that create these barriers. We believe that anyone who has worked at a career for several decades has many resources—experience, skills, and knowledge—that would benefit people in the ranks today—without competing. None of us wants to take someone else’s job. We want a new job category, that only someone like us could fill.  

Most of us also do not want to work as we did when we were climbing the career ladder. We’re not climbing any more. We may not need the level of pay we had before. We are in a different place altogether, one that demands a different approach. For us, a job must be fashioned to allow us to use the distilled knowledge we have to speed others on their way. We commend the thinking of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, as expressed in a recent Forbes article. She is someone who has thought deeply about these issues, and she too advocates for a new, flexible approach for post-career workers. She calls it Kill The Cliff.

The traditional retirement is a move from 100% employed to 100% retired. Overnight. Flex the model and offer older employees a range of flexible employment options that can taper over time. Older workers hold a lot of knowledge and expertise, but many may no longer need as much money - nor be ready for 24/7 work cultures. Motivation and engagement in later career may have more to do with sharing mastery and mentoring the next generations than it does with climbing the greasy pole or cashing in a year-end bonus. Make sure your incentive structure is age relevant. Simply extrapolating the ‘up or out’ linear career models that are still often the default ignores a huge – and growing – talent pool.

So if you are hesitating because you don’t think you can find a great new job, we surely understand, but we urge you to make a move. Retire, and pivot. Propose something new to an employer that will allow you to do something that interests you. Make that employer see that you are still full of beans, you know a lot, you don’t want to be the boss, and you are definitely no intern. But your skills and experience will surely accrue to the employer’s benefit. All they need to do is be creative about structure.

Employers should be thrilled. They get an incredibly valuable resource with almost no strings attached. And you get to do something fun, consistent with your new status as a person who reached the top and now wants to do something new.

So why is all of this so hard? We think that it is because no-one recognizes us as we are. Older women are seen as—old. Retired women are seen as—done. What a ridiculous and wasteful state of affairs! Help us change it. Show the world that we are vibrant and valuable, and the world needs us. Don’t stay in a job you’re tired of because you are scared about what is next. You will figure it out.

It’s not easy. But change is in the air.

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