Retirement Redefined: Baby Boomers Who Want Jobs, Not A Barco Lounger
August 26, 2011

Retirement Redefined

This is part of a Fronteras: Changing America Desk series on the recession & retirement, along with links to useful sites.

Photo by Devin Browne
"I think I really would like to be here until the day I die," Ann Smith, 75, said in her office at All Saints Episcopal Day School in Phoenix.

PHOENIX -- Many of these adults aren’t waiting until they’re at the so-called retirement age of 65 to make the change. Linda Mason, who is with the Experience Matters, left the corporate world in her 50s.

“The word retirement - I’m not even sure I know what that word means anymore, and I don’t mean that facetiously,” Mason said. “But, my generation isn’t going to sit in the Barcalounger and watch T.V. We’re different, we’ve got all these skills.”

Mason got her first, early ideas of retirement from her parents, who were basically given two options, essentially the 20th century’s retirement ideals. One was to idle away, rocking endlessly on a porch somewhere. The other was to stage a second childhood and play golf and shuffleboard for 30 years.

“But it was looked at as they earned it, they worked hard all their life, they had earned retirement. So their visions were now I don’t have to do that anymore,” Mason said. “My generation’s vision is: ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t imagine not doing that anymore!’ Maybe not in the public sector. Maybe not for a corporation. But the concept of just sitting is just not one that we’re comfortable with.”

In lieu of both the rocking chair and golf, Marc Freedman, who runs the San Francisco-based Civic Ventures, said the goal, in tagline form, is: “Passion, purpose, and a paycheck.”

Photo courtesy Experience Matters.
Linda Mason, program director at Experience Matters, helps prepare other baby boomers for what she calls "encore careers" -- jobs for an emerging life stage in between middle-age and old age.

“I think people are looking for a new kind of meaning,” said Freedman, part of the think tank focused on baby boomers and work. “They’re looking for a role that means something beyond themselves. And they need to get paid to do it, if it all possible. They can’t afford to do it on a volunteer basis.”

Freedman said these people are essentially redefining maturity with what he calls “Encore Careers.” This is certainly true in Smith’s case. If she were to ever leave All Saints, Smith can only think about what other jobs she might do.

“I’m an English teacher. So I could help at another school or come here - as a volunteer in the classroom,” she said. “I can’t think of anything worse than not having something to do to help other people, I guess that’s it. I just like doing things for people.”

At some point, Smith knows she will have to stop working and enter a "true retirement". But what that looks like, no one really knows.

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