Monthly Blogs 2019
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” Carl Jung
For the past 70 years, most Americans have believed that enjoying personal pursuits and leisure is the principle dream of retirement. That dream persists today for most of us who are anticipating or experiencing retirement.
Ameriprise Financial did a broad study of 5,000 retirees a few years ago, and found that of the happiest retirees, about half considered themselves “carefree content.” The other half identified more fully with the label “empowered reinventer.” Which title appeals more to you?
If you are still reading this blog series, I suspect you appreciate the value of all five of the portfolio life elements listed above, and aren’t likely to be exclusively pursuing simple pleasures, or “carefree content” living in your second half.
In this blog I will be referencing the work of Richard Bolles and John Nelson, authors of What Color Is Your Parachute For Retirement? One helpful model from this book was a simple pyramid with pleasure at the base, engagement in the middle, and purpose on the top.
I agree with Bolles that these are three key factors for retirement happiness. I would, however, suggest a slightly different model that would include the same three elements, but constructed as a Venn diagram, shown below. When I have shared this updated model in recent conversations, the most common response has been, “I like this better than the pyramid, and think you should put joy in the middle of the Venn diagram.” I agree.
In this blog I will define each of these three elements. I will also share examples of each, with the goal of helping you build the personal pursuits and leisure elements for your portfolio life years.
What is it that represents a pleasurable activity for you? It may be watching a sporting event, going for a walk, having a conversation, watching movies or television, buying something you want, or eating out. It is about being comfortable and having fun in a relaxed and easy way. Usually the satisfaction of these activities lasts for a short period. You need to keep going back over and over to get more happiness from them.
Retirement is a time to catch up on lost leisure time. Leisure choices are often based on the things you did outside of work, usually on evenings, weekends or vacations. This includes such things as hobbies, travel, socializing, spectator events, and other entertainment. This is a counterbalance to work.
As you anticipate having more time for leisure in your future, consider crafting some experiments. As you contemplate these leisure experiments, you will find both low-stakes and high-stakes options. Be careful with the high-stakes options like vacation homes, a new RV, or buying a boat. Less risky, low-stakes, options might include renting, trying a new recreational or artistic activity, or attending classes at a community center or university.
Search your memory bank for times you enjoyed fun experiences that became displaced by work, or forgotten over time. Draw up a list of those past fun activities and describe what made them satisfying. Choose some experiments, starting with the low-stakes options.
Reach out to others who seem to be especially good at their leisure activities. They can help you get back to those things that gave you pleasure in the past, or discover interesting new possibilities to try now.
My favorite authority on the subject of engagement is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book Flow. The state of flow is best described as the experiences when your abilities are well matched to a challenging task. You know you are in a state of flow when you lose track of time and are deeply involved with a project or activity in a positive way. This is not as simple as pleasure, as it challenges you and demands that you work hard at achieving results. These results often stay with you longer than pleasure, and can’t be purchased or consumed.
If the challenges are too great, anxiety may be the result. Boredom happens when the challenges are below your skill level. You are searching for the middle ground where you have interesting challenges that are a great match for your preferred skills and strengths. This may require some historical searches for clues on engaging activities, just as I have suggested you research pleasurable activities from your past.
I also encourage you to remain open to new possibilities. One of my favorite theories comes from Stanford psychologist John Krumbolz, who proposed the theory of “planned happenstance.” According to Krumbolz, “A satisfying career – and a satisfying life – is found through actively creating your own luck and making the most of new and unforeseen experiences.” Turn off the television, get out into the world, keep an open mind, and pay attention to those serendipitous opportunities that are sure to come your way.
Purpose requires that you use your abilities in the service of something outside yourself, something larger than yourself. It is driven by your values and what you really care about. One of my longtime mentors, Richard Leider, has authored numerous books on this subject, including his best seller, The Power of Purpose. Richard is fond of quoting these words from author E.B. White, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
Purpose requires action, not simply believing in something larger than yourself. It requires that we are aligned with our core values. As you consider what purpose to commit to, think about your family, friends, community, spiritual home, the environment, your ethnic or racial culture, a neighbor, a child needing help in school, the needy, and so on.
Like engagement, purpose can’t be consumed or purchased. Contributing money to a cause you believe in, while important, won’t cause the same sense of purpose or happiness that working for it does. When you commit yourself to advancing the cause that fits you and your values, the sense of satisfaction has the potential to last a lifetime.
This blog has explored personal pursuits and leisure, and how the combination of pleasure, engagement and purpose contribute to a happy and successful portfolio life. Pleasure is most closely related to your interests. Engagement is most closely related to your strengths. Purpose is most closely related to your values. If one of your goals is to find joy in your second half, do the math: pleasure + engagement + purpose = joy!
In this month’s blog I will take a look at health at age 60 and older. My name is Bonnie Hill. I am a recently retired Family Physician, and married to George Dow. He asked me to write this entry because of my interest and experience in counseling individuals about their health and wellness. I am happy to share information I believe will help you to be healthier, as well as a make a few recommendations, and provide links to reputable and useful health related websites.
We tend to think about our own health when we use the word health, but our individual health is part of a complex system. It includes the health of our environment and society, as well as our life experiences, and our individual biology. As you read this, I ask you to consider how your relationships and activities impact your health and the health of those close to you, as well as the health of others. We are waking up to the realization that our health depends on community health, and ultimately on the health of our planet. We are all interconnected.
Health can be viewed three ways, according to Norman Sartorius, a renowned Croatian psychiatrist. First is the absence of illness or impairment, second is a state of health that allows the individual to adequately cope with all the demands of daily life, and third, “a state of balance, an equilibrium that an individual has established within himself and between himself and his social and physical environment.” In this article, he makes the case that our goal should be the third type of health. Using this definition, one can remain healthy even if one has a serious disease. Think Jimmy Carter.
Health of an individual includes physical, social, environmental, spiritual, financial, mental and emotional components. You might easily add to this list. You can think of these types of health like puzzle pieces—if one piece is missing, the puzzle is not complete. Some of these pieces may overlap each other, but they give us something to work with when moving toward a healthier life. And now, time to share some practical ideas for how to remain healthy after age 60.
The best bang for your buck when it comes to physical health is PREVENTION! Much of what follows is about prevention. A good place to start is by taking good care of your body by getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Take some time to read about sleep hygiene, and there may be big benefits. Caffeine, alcohol, evening screen time and lack of exercise all can rob us of quality sleep.
Of course diet is important, as well as maintaining a healthy weight. The CDC reports that hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, mental illness and body pain with activity, are all more likely when you are overweight. Several cancers are related to excess weight; uterus, breast, colon, kidney, gall bladder and liver. Make use of reliable information online and learn to read food labels. For example, 4.2 grams is in a teaspoon of sugar, and two tablespoons (one serving) of catsup contain 4 grams of sugar. A lot! You can practice by comparing breakfast cereals for sugar content and fiber. Lots of fresh foods and moderation in snack food is a great way to get started. See a dietitian or behavioral counselor if you can’t seem to change old habits.
Getting regular exercise can be a challenge, especially in winter, but it is essential for good health. Finding an exercise you actually like to do may be the biggest predictor of success, so keep trying different things until you find something you enjoy and which is sustainable. It is important to work on flexibility and strength, as well as cardiovascular exercise. Silver Sneakers health club memberships (free with your Medicare supplementary insurance) offer lots of options. Committing to a class can help you be more consistent. Thirty minutes, or more, three times a week is an excellent goal.
Vision and hearing checkups are important, too. Sometimes problems creep up on us and we don’t realize our senses are on the decline. Also, some diseases can be identified before symptoms occur, when it may be too late to do much.
And don’t forget your oral health, with regular dental visits and consistent brushing and flossing. The latest evidence does not show that flossing prevents heart disease, but it most likely is a correlation with not taking care of oneself in general. So keep flossing!
Another very important way to stay healthy is to have a primary health care provider, who will get to know you, and vice versa. That person (usually an internist or family physician, but sometimes a geriatrician, a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant) will make sure you are up to date in your preventive health care (such as screening tests and vaccines) and counsel you on things you may need to work on. They can also help guide you to specialists, if the need arises.
There may come a time when you need to talk to your doctor, religious leader, therapist or other mental health professional about your mental, emotional or spiritual health. This is especially true if you have symptoms of depression or dementia, if there is violence or substance abuse involved, or other mental health disorders. Here is a good place to start if you have questions.
Fortunately, we can do many things on our own to improve our mood, such as, spend time with friends and family, volunteer, learn new things, travel, make things, make music, and on and on. Often doing these things with others will expand our happiness, and other times doing them alone will calm and center us. Try to do some social things and some things that you enjoy alone. Look back at things you enjoyed when you were younger, for something you might want to try again.
Spiritual health for you will depend on how you define it. For some this is more likely to be a solo experience such as meditation or a walk in the woods, and for others it involves participation in a spiritual community. Talk with your friends or try out something new if you haven’t found a spiritual home and are looking for one. Many spiritual communities have small groups or other ways to welcome newcomers.
And what about financial health? Having the security of knowing you have enough savings, plus income, to enjoy your life and maintain the lifestyle you want, is important for financial health. Having more than that may allow you to contribute financially to your community health, as well as causes that promote environmental health. Knowing that we are helping others usually makes us happy.
There are many resources that can help you prepare for financial health in retirement. The Medicare.gov site shows your premiums, which are income based. The Social Security (ssa.gov) website has a calculator for predicting your payments, based on when you start them. You may already have an advisor, or you may manage your own money. Be sure your spouse, partner, or other trusted person, understands your finances. For those who wish to do it themselves, check out How to Make Your Money Last by Jane Bryant Quinn and the books by John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard. Followers of his ideas call themselves Bogleheads.
How you choose to “work” or “not work” after 60 has been covered by George in the second blog in this series, but I would be remiss in not mentioning that work can contribute to health in many ways. Work for pay, volunteer work, or working for friends or family, might add to your overall health, if the work is right for you. That is for you to decide.
Hopefully you will find a healthy path with a heart, which brings you into equilibrium with yourself, your loved ones, your community and your physical environment.
So, on that note, I wish you all good health!
Life & Work After 60… Giving Back
First we learned it, then we earned it, and now we return it
“Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart?”
Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan
Bill’s “Giving Back” Story
From “Elected Studies,” to law, to microcomputers, to IT SVP of a Fortune 100
“I never had an easy time deciding what I wanted to be when I grow up. My baccalaureate was in “Elected Studies” because no one major seemed to fit me. Law school intrigued me (I saw it as a means to be of service to others and a good earning), but the study was more engaging for me than my brief ‘go’ at my own law practice with a college friend and legal partner. At the same time, microcomputers were coming into vogue and I went to sell them for a while to learn more about how they worked and benefitted law offices.
Soon, I realized that for me, technology appealed more than lawyering. That led to an MBA in information systems and a new career in IT, beginning as a systems analyst and covering 30+ years until retiring as IT SVP in a Fortune 100. Being of service never left me. Work afforded me opportunities to lead a diversity council and green team. And, volunteering let me help a Red Cross office and a food sharing organization with their technology upgrades.
What, me retire?
I approached retirement with indifference. My retirement plan while still working was simple – wait and figure it out once I got there. I knew others who were planning for it in a more concrete manner with pretty clear ideas of what they wanted to do in retirement, but nothing jumped out at me. I enjoyed working, but I was starting to look forward to more schedule flexibility. I had some ideas for new hobbies – fishing, maybe golf – to add to hockey and skiing. But, nothing as time demanding as my work as an IT leader.
So, when my position came to an end (conveniently just as I was getting closer to retirement age), but before I was ready to leave the full-time working world, I found that I had plenty of time to spare. My wife was quick to convince me of the need to exercise more fully and more routinely. And, I could only hang around the house and catch up on my piles of things needing addressing for so long. Mind you, I wasn’t at all unhappy. Life was good. But, making leisure my primary purpose in retirement wasn’t going to be enough. I knew from way back that I would want to find something that fulfilled in me a desire for a sense of purpose, of giving back, of being of service.
Bill’s “giving back” research
Just before exiting work, the company had run a volunteer fair with different organizations sharing their opportunities for volunteers. One social service group caught my attention, but would require an hour plus drive to and from their offices. More importantly for me, it did get me thinking and evaluating what kinds of organizations would be a fit for my skills and interests (which really meant probing my own beliefs about what mattered most to me). This led me to researching more about the kinds of non-profits out there.
An advisor and friend shared some places to search for non-profit related work or volunteering. This included:
PollenMidwest.org – organizations seeking/offering jobs, board and volunteering assignments
LinkedIn – set a ‘Job Alert’ search for nonprofit or nonprofit board of directors in your area; don’t forget to have your LinkedIn profile up-to-date and showing your social service side
Minnesota Council of Non-Profits – organizations seeking/offering jobs, board and volunteering assignments
Idealist – “change the world” job search site
I visited the local library (they really are one of the most marvelous of institutions) and inquired both about their need for volunteers, particularly computer tutors and their resources for finding area non-profits and social services organizations.
There are a staggering number of organizations and ways to get involved with them. Searching through them helped crystalize my thoughts on what kind of services I was interested in, what function I wanted to perform, how deeply involved I wanted to become and re-focused me on how I might be of service to others yet do something that was well within my wheel-house without taking on a steep climb into another line of work or profession.
Zeroing in on the best options
Many sources led to organizations that weren’t really too nearby. My wife pointed out there must be service groups in my area and searching for those might prove valuable. That led to me refining my search parameters and just using Google and searching “volunteer opportunities near me.” Sure enough, that surfaced two nearby organizations with web sites, both posting ways to become involved as a volunteer.
I contacted both and met with their volunteer coordinator to discuss my interests and possible roles with them. I started volunteering with both. One wanted someone to assist job seekers needing help with resume writing, job searching, applications, and interviewing skills. That fit well with my years in management hiring and career coaching employees. The other wanted a volunteer to teach and tutor computer students also seeking better employment. This added up to several hours a week of volunteering. I added Meals on Wheels delivery and food recovery driving to help restock food shelves. That put me at six hours per week.
After about 10 months of job search volunteering, one non-profit decided to engage a 15 hour a week jobs program contractor. That was a natural to come my way as we now had flight time with each other. So, I dropped back on the Meals on Wheels volunteering hours and happily took the contractor job staff position. It was nice to receive a paycheck, even if a fraction of my former corporate pay, as I was serving some social good.
I continue to tutor computer skills once in a while if my schedule allows and still drive twice a month for food recovery. Voila! a post retirement portfolio of work, volunteering and hobbies had emerged. And, who knows what’s next – maybe a board slot, maybe a different social services organization, or maybe more leisure – life’s an explore.
Bill’s lessons learned
Search multiple resources more than once to a) see the wide variety of organizations, b) learn more about your areas of interests and the roles you see for yourself, and c) search again, as new positions and volunteer opportunities arise at different times.
If you’re retiring take a little time off, months even, but start volunteering at something – it’s not necessary to find the perfect fit for yourself before taking action, and you can start small or change it up when you find that next right gig.
Look nearby – it may surprise you what’s available in your own backyard.
It’s OK, and maybe even advantageous, to take on smaller roles than what you once did. You may enjoy doing what helps others but comes easy for you.
Final thoughts, and what’s ahead
One thing I would add to Bill’s list is networking. Landing a great volunteer opportunity is linked to networking just as much as landing a great new job. First, do your self-assessment and community research, as Bill has suggested. After that, engage your network. This is especially true when seeking opportunities with greater responsibility and a longer tenure, such as board roles. Networking will help you discover and vet new opportunities, find your best fit, and present yourself in the most favorable light.
Thanks for sharing your story and for your sage advice, Bill. Your last point about exercising regularly is the perfect segue to next month’s focus on healthy living, the fourth of five portfolio life elements featured in this blog series. My wife, Dr. Bonnie Hill, will be featured in that blog about maintaining good health after age 60.
Happy trails as you pursue your version of a path with a heart.
“There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
T.H. White, The Once and Future King
This month is part three of a six part series about life and work after age sixty. This series is for those who want to create a thoughtfully crafted future that is best described as a portfolio life.
The five elements of a portfolio life include 1) working in the form you want, 2) learning and self-development, 3) giving back, 4) healthy living, and 5) enjoying personal pursuits and leisure.
In this month’s blog I will be describing the second element of a portfolio life, learning and self-development. Along with offering numerous learning and self-development options after age 60, I will be suggesting you read a March 15th article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper about a 67 year old student’s return to the University of Minnesota.
I will also share a friend’s story about the many benefits of participating in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program. This month’s blog title “Curiosity Never Retires” comes from that adult learning program.
In our 60s, many of the learning and self-development elements of a portfolio life might still have a professional focus. Most of us are familiar with the resources available to help us stay current in our professional life. Staying current and connected in our field is usually a good idea, especially if we hope to stay professionally engaged and employable after age 60.
When the time is right, however, you may prefer to do and learn things altogether different from what has been your professional focus. Consider these programs and resources: universities, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), online learning, podcasts, CDs, books, TED talks, the One Day University, community education, physical, personal, spiritual and financial education, and development resources.
Don’t forget libraries, and take a look at one of my personal travel + learning favorites, Road Scholar. Google any of the above, and discover what is available in your community, on line, and beyond.
In the Twin Cities consider lifelong learning options at The University of Minnesota and other local colleges, Learning Life at the U of M, and the Selim Center at the University of St. Thomas. Education is often free or deeply discounted for seniors 62 and older when attending college level classes.
One day, when your professional world narrows and the rest of your life broadens, why not think of yourself as a liberal arts college freshman, but without the need for a professionally focused major or course load?
Google this article in the March 15th Minneapolis Star Tribune: “More than 500 retirees taking classes at University of Minnesota — but not to earn a degree.” You’ll find an excellent article describing how one 67 year old, and more than 500 retirees, are taking classes at the University of Minnesota, but not to earn a degree. They are attending the University’s Senior Citizen Education Program. Read that article, and give some thought to a university class that could be a great experiment for you.
Janet’s OLLI Story
Two years ago I facilitated an eight month class at my church entitled, “Will a Portfolio Life Become Your Second Half Story?” There were eleven participants in this class, with an average age in the mid-60s. One class member totally lit up when describing her learning and self-development experiences in recent years. Here is her story.
Janet had a liberal arts undergraduate degree, with two master’s degrees. Her career incorporated work in public transportation, public health, teaching, and raising two children.
Janet was a frequent volunteer in schools, church, politics, and her community. She retired in 2014 after over 20 years in public health.
Janet’s Catalyst for Change
“About 6 months before my retirement, a female friend at church said, “Check out OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) when you retire. You’ll love it!”
Janet joined OLLI and discovered that it:
Was inexpensive – one registration of approximately $250 covered multiple courses for 26 weeks of the year.
Had wide ranging programs including art, history, science, sociology, travel, music, literature, theater, and so much more.
Was convenient, with most classes during mid-day hours and at various locations throughout Twin Cities area.
Had knowledgeable course instructors/facilitators.
Offered an opportunity to meet other interesting class participants with similar interests.
Involved no tests and rarely any “homework.”
Janet also discovered many other learning options in the Twin Cities area, such as book groups at libraries, other library discussion groups on various topics – history, current events, etc., Westminster town forums, community education catalogs from school districts, and community activity listings from municipalities.
Janet has starting painting and knitting since retirement, something she hadn’t anticipated.
Reflections, and Lessons Learned
“These learning opportunities are easy to find, easy to try, and easy to discontinue if they don’t fit for some reason.
The public library system is amazing in what it offers at no cost.”
I hope the combination of the learning and self-development resource listings, Star Tribune article, and Janet’s story will motivate and guide you to craft new experiments.
I also encourage you to shift some of your personal connections to people like Janet who will guide and embolden you, as she did each of us in the church class I referenced.
Enjoy the road ahead. Keep broadening and deepening your knowledge and your life, and never let your curiosity retire.
This month is part two of a six part series about life and work after age sixty. This series is for those who want to create a thoughtfully crafted future that is best described as a portfolio life. The five elements of a portfolio life include working in the form you want, learning and self-development, giving back, healthy living, and enjoying personal pursuits and leisure.
In this month’s blog, I will be describing the first element of a portfolio life. Stories from my father-in-law, Jack Hill, and my father, George Dow Sr., illustrate how to work in the form you want after age 60. You can also learn about nine distinct career options by reading my 2018 blog series, “Career Crossroads After 50.”
Jack Hill’s Story
Jack was an exceptional mechanical and electrical engineer. He was also a pioneer in the computer industry. Over his career, Jack worked in both large and small manufacturing businesses. He preferred the more nimble, less political, small businesses during the second half of his career. By his mid 50’s, Jack had risen to Vice President of Engineering at Ramsey Engineering, a small manufacturing business in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Jack once shared with me that being a Vice President was not as satisfying, or as good a fit, as his previous roles in engineering. He had worked very hard to earn that Vice President title, was highly compensated, and a loyal and productive leader.
Ramsey Engineering was a very successful company, but shortly after Jack turned 57, the company experienced a deep revenue drop. Some personnel changes were needed to cut costs, and Jack with his high salary was a target. There was a good chance that Jack’s job was going to be eliminated, and he needed to do some quick thinking to avoid that fate.
The proposal Jack made to the board during this difficult period was brilliant. Jack told the board, “I’ll shift my title to engineer and project manager, and work half time, thus cutting my salary in half. I will return to engineering and help solve the toughest customer problems at Ramsey.” Jack’s proposal was accepted by the board, thus beginning a ten year period that turned into Jack’s most satisfying and productive of his career.
In the first five years in his new role, senior managers would smile and say, “We got a great deal with Jack. We pay him as a half time employee, but we know he thinks about the company all the time.” That observation was true the first five years, because Jack needed to spend considerable time getting back up to speed as an engineer. In his last five years, however, between age 62 and 67, Jack was able to hold true to his half time work schedule. He was bridging to retirement by taking on volunteer roles and adding more travel and leisure to the other half of his schedule.
Jack often described these last ten professional years as, “My perfect bridge to retirement.” He lived to age 99. In his early 90s, Jack was still very productive in his volunteer work for the Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE) two days a week, and reading for the blind two mornings a week. Needless to say, Jack is an inspirational role model!
George Dow Sr.’s Story
My father was a sales representative for Deluxe Check Printers (now Deluxe Corporation) for 38 years. He loved his job and was dearly loved by his co-workers and customers. George retained the coveted Twin Cities sales territory for all those years. When he turned 65, George was told that he had to retire in order to move younger, ambitious, sales reps into his highly attractive territory. He was devastated. My father did not want to retire, but was given no choice.
When George became progressively bored and restless at home during his first six months of retirement, he realized he had to turn off the TV and get out of the house. He started to visit his former customers at the banks. George asked about how Deluxe was treating the bankers and tellers after his departure? They had positive things to say about Deluxe, but also told George about a competitor of Deluxe who was offering bank forms at a very good price.
George was intrigued. He asked about the quality of the products and the competitor’s sales rep. The response was, “The price and quality are great, but the sales rep is the owner, and he is no George Dow.” They wanted their good friend George back, and perhaps this could be a way to make that happen. If he was employed by the new bank form company, George could once again make the bankers and tellers smile, laugh, and buy from him, as they had happily done for 38 years.
Shortly after that encounter at the bank, George met with the owner of the bank form company. He told the owner, “I can definitely sell your bank forms, but it will have to be on my terms. Some weeks I will want to work full-time, some weeks not at all, or just a little. I plan to be gone five weeks each winter, and several weeks each summer. If I can sell your bank forms on my terms, with fair compensation for my time and results, then let’s do this.”
Without hesitation, the owner said, “Yes.” For the next 15 years, until George turned 80, he happily sold bank forms for this tiny, three person operation. He loved it, and told me to spread his story to anyone considering what he called, “extra innings, but on your terms.”
I am very lucky to have had Jack and George show me by example how to work in the form I want after age 60. Now you, too, have their stories to guide and inspire you as you piece together your future life and work. Next month I will continue this blog series with the second element of a portfolio life…learning and self-development. Until then, happy trails to you.
This month begins a six part series about life and work after age sixty. This series is for those who want to create a thoughtfully crafted future that is best described as a portfolio life. The five elements of a portfolio life include working in the form you want, learning and self-development, giving back, healthy living, and enjoying personal pursuits and leisure.
Over the past thirty years in my career transition practice, most of my clients in their 40s, 50s and 60s have been very interested in one day living a portfolio life. Many have already done so successfully. In this blog I will describe this life and ask you, as I have asked each of my clients, “When the time is right, is this how you would like to live in the second half of your life?” I am betting you will.
Irish economist Charles Handy coined the phrase “portfolio life” in his 1989 book, The Age of Unreason. Handy describes this life as “A portfolio of activities – some we do for money, some for interest, some for pleasure, some for a cause…the different bits fit together to form a balanced whole…greater than the parts.” I will get to this second half of life destination in a minute, but first let’s take a look at what precedes it.
The Learning Years
The first quarter of life (childhood to young adulthood)
In our first twenty-five years, the majority of our time is spent learning in school, on the playground, in our families and neighborhoods, and in the organizations we occupy. We learn how to do what we need and want to do, and how to navigate our world.
The Earning Years
The second quarter of life (young adulthood to middle age)
In this phase, in addition to our personal and community commitments, most of us choose to establish ourselves in our paid work. We spend more time at this than all other areas of our lives, and want to establish ourselves as competent and successful. If we are highly ambitious in our careers, over 70% of our time and energy will be invested in our paid work.
The Portfolio Years
The third and fourth quarter of life (big changes that begin in our 50’s or 60’s)
The earning years usually continue without much change early in this period, but over time, can take on many forms. For most of us, getting out of the workforce altogether is not economically feasible or wise until sometime in our 60s. Economics editor Chris Farrell’s book Unretirement makes a strong financial, personal and societal impact case for working longer and retiring later.
It is difficult to leave your career early, not only because of financial needs and longer life expectancy, but also because our identity, social circles and sense of purpose are tied closely to our working role and organization. Letting go of a significant job without a predictable alternative income source or a compelling new work identity, can be very difficult. Proceed with caution, but start exploring options before the big changes take place. Start building your bridge now before you need it.
Understanding the many ways you can work in the form you want in the second half can ease the disruption of leaving your job and can include a wide range of options. There include using your existing skills in a new environment, pursuing new terms of employment (like consulting, contracting, part-time or interim assignments), starting a new venture, downshifting to a lower level role, new work altogether, or a plan to bridge from one of these options to another over time. You have many more choices than you might realize.
To learn more about these options, read my 2018 blog series. Each of nine distinct career alternatives is described, along with financial implications, degree of difficulty, success strategies and case studies. Keep an open mind, experiment a little, and have some conversations with people who have already pursued these new avenues. You might be surprised by what you discover!
Over time, as earning a full-time wage becomes less of a primary driver, other aspects of our lives grow in importance. More time is available to broaden and enrich our lives. The five part portfolio life model is described in the writings of David Corbett, author of, Portfolio Life, the New Path To Work, Purpose and Passion after 50. I highly recommend this book to executives and professionals considering a portfolio life.
In the early stages, the learning and self-development elements of a portfolio life might still have a professional focus. On the other hand, when the time is right, you might prefer to do something altogether different from what has been your professional focus. If so, consider programs within universities, community education, and other learning options such as Road Scholar (previously Elderhostel).
Start thinking of yourself as a college freshman, but this time you don’t need to choose a practical major. Is it time to experience liberal arts learning with this liberating twist? Is there something you have been hoping to learn and/or develop, but you haven’t had the time? Is it time now?
Giving back to society becomes a growing focus of a portfolio life. More of your time, talent and resources can now be directed towards the programs you care about. What has worked for you in the past, and what hasn’t? Sit down with someone who has set a good example of being generous in this way and has similar community interests and values to yours. Discuss your options and ask their advice on how to find a path that might fit you. Who needs you now? What cause do you want to serve that will energize you?
Healthy living includes several personal aspects of a portfolio life, such as mind, body and spiritual work, strengthening relationships with family and friends, and managing your finances. Is it time for that fitness class? That bike ride? Are you satisfied with your financial health? What are you reading these days? How are you taking care of yourself? Do you have a spiritual practice? There are many good resources and people out there to tap for ideas. It is time to take stock and begin those conversations about your health, finances, relationships and overall well being.
At one time enjoying personal pursuits and leisure was the principal dream of retirement and second half living. I suspect it is still that for many. Ameriprise Financial did a study of retirees a few years ago, and found 20% of their retired subjects considered themselves “carefree contents.” Another 20% identified more fully with the term “empowered reinventers.”
There are many personal and leisure pursuits that will bring us satisfaction in our portfolio years, but if you are still reading this blog, It is likely you appreciate the value of all five portfolio life elements. You aren’t exclusively pursuing “carefree content” living in your second half. Personal pursuits and leisure are not enough to sustain you, but they are important. What are the activities that you enjoy?
Summary, and what lies ahead in this blog series
Is a portfolio life the story you would like to write in your second half? It may take a while before you can jump off the full-time job track and fully embrace a portfolio life, but I think you will agree that this is a very appealing choice.
Perhaps your portfolio life will include some version of the five part model I have described in this blog. You will learn about each of these five elements in the coming months, with case studies and guidance to help you shape your path forward.
Even if a portfolio life is a ways off for you, it’s not too early to start building a bridge to it. Perhaps it is time to start letting go of some work related activities. You might also want to start adding other elements you haven’t attended to recently, or which your work has displaced. We are always moving towards a new life stage. Good luck as you start your next chapter.