Reinventing Yourself After Retirement
June 9, 2020

The following article will be of interest to your clients who are either planning their retirement or looking for information, advice and guidance on a second or even third career.

If you are working after retirement, you are part of a rising trend in unprecedented times, says gerontologist Suzanne Cook. “We’re in a huge societal shift that’s occurring,” says Cook, who holds a Ph.D. in adult education and community development from the University of Toronto and is an adjunct professor in the department of sociology at Toronto’s York University.

“When the retirement age was set at 65, it was a different time and reality,” says Cook, a member of the York University Centre for Aging Research and Education. “I think as people realize that life expectancy has increased, they are going to be thinking, I don’t want the retirement of my parents.”

Cook cites Statistics Canada data that show the percentage of seniors who were working nearly doubled between 1995 and 2015. The federal agency reports that 20% of Canadians aged 65 and older worked at some point in 2015. “You can see the upswing in employment,” says Cook, “and I predict that it’s continuing to increase.”Cook’s grandfather, who retired at 64 and lived to almost 100, is the inspiration behind her enthusiasm to be “forward thinking.” He retired with a great pension, and never envisioned that he would have 35 years of retirement.

Cook thinks her grandfather would have done something completely different if he had known that he would have more than three decades of retirement. “That’s a couple of careers,” says Cook, laughing.

To pursue her passion for later-life careers, Cook founded the Toronto-based consulting firm Carpe Vitam, which is Latin for seize or embrace life. She is also the executive producer of the documentary film Redirection: Movers, Shakers and Shifters. The film portrays the experiences of five older adults who pursued and found fulfilment in new careers.

The following are some key takeaways for older adults who are planning to embark on new careers after retirement:

Start early to prepare for a post-retirement career. “People plan more for a vacation than they plan for their retirement years,” says former computer-technology teacher Barbara Rogina, one of the film’s interviewees. “Don’t rush it when contemplating future work or activities in retirement. Ask yourself: What do you like to do? What would make you want to get up in the morning?” Rogina made a successful transition to a post-retirement career as a yoga instructor. She says she’s glad she earned her instructors’ certificate in yoga while she was still working full time.

If your job or business ends abruptly, reframe this loss as an opportunity.For Heather Leavens, the sudden closure of the family business in aviation, along with the subsequent loss of a friend to terminal cancer, made her redefine her direction in life. When Leavens went through the process of thinking about what made her happy, she realized she wanted to be around people. She is now working as a sales associate in a women’s clothing store. As Leaven says in the documentary: “I’ve never been happier and I’m looking forward to the next 30 years.”

In deciding when it’s time to move on, your health comes first. Noel Corbett, a former professor in the department of French studies at York University, retired after an unexpected heart attack in 1998 and bypass heart surgery. In his post-retirement career, he has gained deep satisfaction from restoring antique furniture. “I have no stress now,” says Corbett in the documentary. “When you’re working you never have enough time. But when you retire you seem to have all the time in the world. Time seems to expand even as it grows shorter.”

Create a new identity for yourself to overcome your sense of loss. Despite the prospects of new opportunities and experiences as an older adult, the process of redirection may pose challenges to self-esteem. “Retirement also brings a sense of loss in terms of your working self, so this is a very emotional experience,” says Cook. “It’s a psychological hit and I think people need to realize that it’s important to create a new identity.”

People need to think about who they want to become in later life without the “mantle” of their former occupation, says Cook. “It’s this sense of a new self that emerges in later life. It may sound clichĂ©d, but I really think people should be making a bucket list.”

Baby boomers, says Cook, aren’t accustomed to plotting the course of their careers. “Their first career most likely fell into place for them. They didn’t have to engage in this conscious planning, being the architect of their next success.” But they do need to make this effort when it comes to taking steps to make a second or third career a reality. “This is going to be a new experience for them but it’s not that easy.”

That’s why Cook advocates planning and thinking about what really matters for someone looking for a new career, so they can transfer their desires and talents into something new and exciting.

For older adults contemplating a new career, “we’re at an age where we’re able to realize some of our dreams,” says Cook, “to do some of these things and pull together our passions and our interests in unique ways. We might not have been able to do this earlier, and that’s the power of age.”

Cook stresses that we all need ongoing knowledge and information on how to live as an older adult. (More information on this topic is available at Cook’s website.) “It’s important to know about the aging process and the issue of aging,” she says, “because life expectancy has increased so dramatically. We now have four and five generations of family alive at the same time and all of this is unprecedented in our society.”

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