You can do something you love as long as you do a little planning.
LUTHER KEITH RETIRED IN 2005 from his job as an award-winning reporter and editor at the Detroit News. But, he never really retired.
Keith, 68, has two second careers. By day, he works as executive director of ARISE Detroit, a nonprofit community organization. At night, he morphs into a blues singer and guitarist and is about to release his fifth CD.
Many people live well into their 80s or 90s, and it is common for people to retire from corporate jobs and try second or encore careers – sometimes branching out into something entirely new. “It’s very exciting to have a second career and do something you love,” says Christine Russell, senior manager at TD Ameritrade. “With a little bit of preparation, you can do it.”
Here’s how to prepare for your post-retirement second career.
Consider a completely different field. Retirement can be an opportunity to transition into a new job that is unlike anything you have done before. A second career often involves using your existing skills in new ways. “Approach it like it’s a new adventure and not bringing baggage from the old career,” says Kerry Hannon, an author and career expert. “But bring that skill set.”
Don’t be afraid to try something new. Marilyn Arnold, 71, retired in 2011 after a 29-year career in finance. She’s now running a successful business, Marilyn Arnold Designs, in which she turns old wedding gowns into pillows. Arnold’s mother was a seamstress, and she wanted to be a dress designer. “My dad was an old Missouri farmer and he wasn’t paying for that kind of foolishness,” she says. “I ended up with a business career, though it went very well.”
Arnold retired as a managing partner at New York Life in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 2011. She considered going to school for fashion design, “but I figured I would have been 80 years old by the time I finished,” she says. Then a friend asked for a favor: “Would you make pillows for me from my wedding gown?” The gown had been hanging in her closet for 30 years and she wanted to do something to display it in her bedroom. After moving and restarting the business in Kansas City, Arnold now has two employees and is about to start another business, as a consultant for sole proprietorships. “Figure out what your passion is,” Arnold says. “Go do what you are passionate about. Doesn’t matter what it is.”
Write down your plans. You need to have a plan if you are going to succeed, Russell says. Arnold did a business plan and a feasibility study. Keith had a plan for his community organization and acquired a grant to get it started.
Secure health insurance. While starting a new venture is exciting, it doesn’t often come with group health insurance. Retirees who are 65 or older can sign up for Medicare. “If you have access to Medicare, that’s great,” Russell says. “But keep in mind it doesn’t cover everything. You may have to look at other plans.”
Be prepared for lower pay. Your encore career is probably not going to pay what you earned at your previous job. “If you are contracting, ultimately your income will be down from what it was,” Hannon says. “The fortunate ones are financially fit, with no big debt hanging over their heads, have a good budget and aren’t working for a particular salary.” Keeping your cost of living low can give you the freedom to pursue a job you enjoy.
Flexibility is important. Lifestyle is one of the key things people look at when they embark on encore careers. “It may be that they want the ability to work at home so they can spend time working in the community,” Russell says. “Or they may want the challenge of a career, but they want more free time. They may want to be closer to home and have a life plus work.” Many retirees choose to work part-time or on a seasonal basis.
Follow your interests. Keith knew he wasn’t done when he retired from the Detroit News. He set out to start a community organization, not be a musician. He succeeded in the first encore career, but the second one started out as a hobby.
Keith didn’t even own a guitar until he was an adult. “The only thing I played growing up was baseball and the radio,” he says. “Nobody in my family played music.” While working for a newspaper in Lansing, Michigan, in the early 1980s, he started buying blues albums and going to blues concerts, and eventually bought a guitar.
Keith says he took a few lessons, but he learned to play by going to jam sessions and playing with other musicians. Finally, at one of those jam sessions, someone told him he was getting to be pretty good and recommend he put together a band and make a CD.