If 70 Is the New 60, What's Your Next Career?

Woman writing a note

We hear a lot about retirement planning these days. "Will we have enough?" seems to be the question we're all nervously asking.

Always the contrarian, I find myself finishing that sentence in my head: enough for what? When economists discuss retirement savings, they focus most often on formulas to finance current lifestyles, but with aging bodies. The piece that's only beginning to get attention is the assumption that people will even want to stop working.

Surveys are beginning to show that seniors would prefer to keep busy, to contribute their skills in some way and to keep learning and earning. But they want and need to do it their own way, on a flexible schedule that allows them freedom to travel or visit grandchildren, or accommodate their own health needs.

This makes sense. If 70 is the new 60, in terms of our health and life expectancy, why wouldn't 70-year-olds hold jobs, as 60-year-olds do? And, more to the point, why wouldn't 55-year-olds plan new careers, just like 45-year-olds do? If, in fact, a person in her mid-50s is staring down the barrel of another 20 to 30 years of employment, doesn't it make sense to do a little career planning along with the retirement planning?I was listening to a radio program this summer with two respected financial advisers answering questions about retirement planning. Diversification, they nearly chanted. Not enough diversification in our portfolios. We don't take enough risks to grow our money, we don't step outside our comfort zones, we don't take advantage of the full range of ways to invest.

This got me to thinking: Given that most of us will probably be working in those golden years of ours, how much thought are we giving to diversifying our skill sets? We know we'll want part-time or flexible work schedules, but what will we offer in return? And how portable will our skills be if we want to relocate to cabins or sunny climes? (or, heaven help us, to care centers? Are you listening, nursing home directors? Better equip my room with a desk and Wi-Fi, because I'll be writing articles to finance my meds.)

For years, I have been advising my clients who work in highly physical jobs, especially those in the trades, to learn nonphysical work skills -- just in case. I've seen too many injured tradespeople to assume long careers for people in physically demanding work.

Now I'm beginning to apply the advice to all my clients, in all fields. I'm asking, "What do you have to fall back on? What could you do part time when you're 70? What special knowledge or skill do you have to offer?" For my 40- and 50-year-olds, I'm asking, "What training or license have you desired, but assumed it was too late to get?"

While it's too soon for me to have collected a bundle of answers from my clients, or examples of their successes, here are some of the skills and career paths I've been imagining as part of a good retirement with flexible employment.

  • Spoken or written fluency in a language to be used as a bargaining chip for jobs in customer service, technical writing or even translation if the skill is strong enough. Inexpensive language training, especially in Spanish, is available, so there's no excuse not to try.

  • Any kind of special skill that can be used in self-employment -- from a law license to home inspection to tutoring. If self-employment sounds daunting, remember that you'll only need a few customers to earn the supplementary income you'll be seeking. Starting a side business in your 40s or 50s, when the stakes are low, is an excellent way to work out the bugs for later.

  • The customer side of almost any field you've built experience in. For example, my tradespeople sometimes move into customer service and estimator positions for builders, especially if they have good math, communication and blueprint-reading skills. Others have "retired" to less demanding roles as maintenance people for smaller organizations. Chief in this plan, at least in the Midwest, has been the ability to earn a Boiler Operators License, to oversee commercial heating units.

I have a longer, less-tested list in my head. ... For now, I challenge you to look beyond traditional formulas for retirement savings and ask yourself: What will I do in those years? How am I preparing myself now? If you absolutely don't want to work for income after retiring, then get going now on your accelerated savings plan. Otherwise, it may be time for some diversification.

Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Powered by Yellowbrix.

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