Gary Wordlaw failed at retirement. His attempted retirement didn’t even last a year.
“It probably lasted about six or seven months,” says Wordlaw, 66, whose career as a TV reporter, news director and station manager took him to cities across the country before his short retirement. “It didn’t take me that long to realize I’d made a big mistake.”
Today, Wordlaw is a news director at WVLA-TV and content editor for Nexstar Media Group in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he has no plans to retire again.
It’s not uncommon these days for baby boomers to continue to work well into their 60s, 70s or even 80s. Some decide to continue working because they need the money. Others love what they do and can’t imagine not doing it anymore. Or, they just need to stay busy. With continued improvements in health care and life expectancy in the U.S. steadily increasing, people can spend as long in retirement as they spent working.
That’s not to say there aren’t millions of baby boomers who can’t wait to retire, especially those with physically or emotionally stressful professions. But increasingly, older Americans are choosing to stay in their jobs or find new challenges that will keep them engaged.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1977 and 2007, the employment of workers age 65 and older rose by 101 percent. The number of employed men 65 and older increased 75 percent, but employment of women 65 and older climbed by nearly twice as much, increasing to 147 percent. Though the number of employed people age 76 and older is relatively small, this group increased by 172 percent.
Sandra McPeak, managing director of investments at Wells Fargo Advisors, says 50 percent of retirees follow a nontraditional retirement, and 26 percent “un-retire,” according to 2010 research from Harvard University. Of her clients, a third are still working and two-thirds are not working, compared to 20 years ago when only 5 to 10 percent were not retired.
Clint Camua, vice president of EP Wealth Advisors in West Los Angeles, says one of his clients worked into her early 80s – and worked two jobs, though she didn’t need the money. “She worked as an assistant to a judge from 7 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m.; then, she would go to the race track and be a security guard, carrying a weapon.”
The financial benefit was huge, even though she didn’t need to work. “Her money was growing and not being depleted because she was not even tapping her savings,” he says. She stopped working when she got sick and moved to an assisted living facility. But, at 91, she is still active socially, he says.
McPeak, meanwhile, says the most interesting older workers are those who decide to un-retire. “A lot of times, people, when they retire, think they will have all this time. They think they can catch up. But after a while, they are drumming their fingers. They feel out of it. They don’t feel engaged. They feel like they aren’t contributing.”
Here are top reasons why people decide to stay active and not to retire in their older years.
You can socialize and find fulfillment in your organization’s work. Wordlaw, after more than 40 years in the TV industry, decided to retire when his job as general manager of a TV station in Tallahassee, Florida, ended with new management. “I figured this was the appropriate time to stop doing anything,” he says.
He and his wife moved back to Louisiana. “Every morning, I would get up and go to the community coffee shop, have my coffee and I would watch people who had real jobs come and go. I said, ‘Look at these people. They don’t know how great it is to sit here and have coffee.'”
That feeling didn’t last. “Minutes turned into hours, and hours turned into days,” he says. “I had all this pent-up energy of wanting to contribute to the industry I had been in all those years. I said, ‘Man, this isn’t what it was supposed to be. I’m not satisfied.'” His first thought was to write a book, but then he started watching the news. “People weren’t doing it the way I thought it should be done. At this stage in my life, I wanted to be a teacher in the industry.”
He reached out to friends and ended up with his current job in Baton Rouge. “I got the best of all worlds,” he says. “I get to hire young people, work with seasoned people and put a stamp on things. Going to work, for me, is like being on an extended vacation.”
As for his wife, Marjorie, she’s been happy since he un-retired, he says: “I wasn’t underfoot.”
You can continue to pursue your life’s passion and support worthy causes. Howard Wooley, 61, is also un-retired. He retired in 2013 after 33 years in the communications industry, first with the National Association of Broadcasters and later with Verizon.
He and his wife, Gail, traveled and settled down at North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Gail, who suffered from sickle cell anemia, was writing a book about her life and her battle with the disease. Wooley was spending his days at Starbucks and taking long walks. “Gail said in the first six months after I was home, she felt like I was pacing around the house.”
“Toward the end of 2014, Gail could see that I was getting restless,” he says. So, she did not object when an offer from Microsoft brought him out of retirement to do public policy consulting. But she laid down the ground rules. “She said, ‘Howard, this cannot be a repeat of your corporate work where you are on your smartphone 24/7.'” Being a consultant gave him the family time he needed.
Gail died in March 2015, at 58, from the disease she had battled her entire life. (A pediatrician had told her mother that she wouldn’t live past 35.) Wooley took her book to an agent and eventually a publisher. “Soar: A Memoir,” was published in 2017. Wooley also continues her mission and passion: sickle cell research and advocacy. He has also taken on a second client and serves on several boards of directors.
You can stay engaged and mentally sharp without giving up on a profession you love.George Fraser, a noted public speaker, author and networking expert, says he racks up about 350,000 airline miles per year. Fraser has never tried to retire and has no intention of doing so. “I never even thought about it,” he says.
“I can’t imagine doing anything other than this work,” Fraser says. “I’m 73 and I’ll either die sitting at a podium or at my desk dotting an ‘i’ or crossing a ‘t.'”
He says he can’t even imagine retirement. “I enjoy my work more than vacation. I’m not a sit at the beach and chill kind of guy.” He also says he has no friends who are retired.
“If your health allows you, don’t ever retire,” Fraser says. “If your work enthralls you and excites you, you should keep doing it till your last breath. It will keep you interesting and engaged with life. It’ll keep you curious.”