According to the old paradigm of retirement, work ended at or around age 65 for most individuals, and from that point on they were expected to withdraw from the world of work and “enjoy” a retirement life of leisure. They came to be mainly defined in the past tense, and relegated to a life of reduced expectations in terms of social, professional and vocational contribution— what they had been and what they had done… not what they were going to be and do next.

This old paradigm of retirement now has shifted dramatically. As the massive generation of 77 million Baby Boomers crosses the age divide into what once would have been their retirement years, they are redefining what it means to retire. According to William Frey, a demographer and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, “[Boomers] will want to stay engaged in their work and be physically social.” Ken Dychtwald, author of “Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life,” agrees, adding that “we are going to see adult education, re-careering and personal reinvention become a standard part of the later years.”

There are many ways the “face” of life after retirement has been transformed. Among the top five are these:

1. Dramatically Increased Life Expectancy

Retiring Boomers have ahead of them 20 or 30 or more years of life after retirement (from the National Center for Health Statistics). That’s a very long time for a vacation.

2. Retirement savings have been impacted by the economy

Employers’ decreased long-term commitment to their employees, impels many Boomers to plan to work after retirement. Four out of every five (totaling over 60 million individuals) expect to at least work part-time after retirement, and 40% (upwards of 30 million) declare “I will work until I drop” (from a recent survey of Boomers conducted by Merrill Lynch).

3. The urge to stay connected & creative, engaged & relevant, active & challenged

Many Boomers plan to learn, seek out involvement, and continue to contribute their talents and energies, well past the traditional age when past generations were expected to retire and “step aside.” As they determine what to do in retirement themselves, they fully intend to retain their roles as players, not just spectators. Beyond any financial considerations, two-thirds (67%) of Boomers who plan to work after retirement say they will do so in order to stay mentally active; 57% of those planning retirement work give as their reason the desire to stay physically active (as per the Merrill Lynch study).

4. A determination to live in stimulating locales

Over 90% of Boomers plan to continue to live in their own homes after retirement. The 10% who plan to move to a new location are as likely to relocate to a major city, or even to another country, as they are to shift to a retirement community where all their needs are met (from the MetLife Mature Marketing Institute study).

5. Work and involvement options made possible by the Internet

Retiring Boomers have post-retirement work opportunities that were unattainable to past generations, brought within reach by the connectivity, and globalization of the Internet. They now are able to work, create, invent and relate in an “any time, any place, any person, any pace” environment where white hair doesn’t show, and physical strength and stamina are not requirements to remaining engaged and making an active and significant contribution.

All of these changes are positive ones, perhaps even those that are driven by economic necessity. And these alterations to the realities and possibilities for life after retirement result in the critical necessity for individual change. 

The notion of stepping aside to do nothing for the rest of our lives does not appeal to many of us. For some of us, it may not even be possible.

And so comes the all-essential and personalized question of what to do in retirement. What will lend purpose and meaning to our lives for the two or three decades ahead ? How well will we work through the necessary and critical process of redirection, re-exploration and renewal that will culminate in a future that engages us fully and towards which we can and will apply ourselves with vitality, enthusiasm and enjoyment.

The “old” face of retirement was one that looked backwards. The “new” face of retirement looks ahead to a future—a next phase life and work that well may be the best personal and professional opus yet. Retirement Life is your site to carry on with these discussions and to support you in your own explorations of your retirement life and work.