THE BLOG
01/25/2015 08:52 am ET Updated Mar 27, 2015

What's Your Second Act in Retirement?

At the turn of the century our average life expectancy was around 45 - today Americans can expect to live to be at least 75 years old - that's 30-plus additional years filled with lots of choices and decisions. Navigating this virtually uncharted territory can be daunting.  Just remember - you're in control of aging successfully through your 30 Bonus Years - especially when it comes to retirement!

Retirement is a transition that's generally filled with mixed emotions. You may feel like you've finally reached your professional stride and still have many productive years left, but the human resources department is suggesting you take a "less-demanding" position based on the results of your annual physical and length of time with the company. And then there's the obvious route - leaving the active job market altogether by choice!  There's so much to consider before making a permanent change in your employment status, including setting some new goals for your future and making sure you have the funds to achieve them. Much like plotting an exciting roadway adventure - retirement requires planning, especially during transition stages when you're scrambling for answers.

There's no doubt that being physically and mentally healthy (and engaged) means nothing if you don't have enough money to support yourself through your 30 bonus years. Clearly if you haven't figured out your finances completing this task first is a HUGE part of the equation.  One downside of early retirement is that a lot of people don't take the time to do the money math before they take the leap. "A good rule of thumb is: If you can't pay off your mortgage, you can't afford to retire," according to Tom Sightings, a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s.  Tom frequently posts blogs on the Sightings at 60 website where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of Baby Boomers who realize that "somehow they have grown up."  When financially planning for the future it's especially important to be prepared for unexpected big ticket items like healthcare expenses, accidents and illness.  Did you know that according to Fidelity Investments a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2014 was estimated to need $220,000 (out of pocket) just to cover medical expenses throughout retirement - SCARY!?

Never stop working may just be the mantra that keeps you alive longer, and not just due to the extra money in the bank.  In their book The Longevity Project psychology professors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin present end-of-life findings with surprising conclusions about the factors that sustain a long, rewarding life.  Friedman says "fun can be overrated and stress can be unfairly blamed" which is an especially important point for those who contemplate retirement as decades filled with leisure and relaxation.  

The encouraging link between continuing to work and longevity is exemplified in the Chianti region of Italy, located in Tuscany between the cities of Florence and Siena. In this wine region, the family-owned vineyards are often passed on from generation to generation. While the elders may leave the more taxing jobs to the youngsters, they never fully retire. The older members of the family continue to walk the rows of vines to make sure the grapes are in good condition and participate in tastings to ensure the quality of the wine, and they remain involved in important business decisions. Many locals claim it's their ongoing daily involvement that is responsible for their exceptionally long and healthy lives.

Perhaps a smart way to approach your potential retirement is to transition into a softer job that provides a more meaningful reason to get out of bed in the morning. Seek to parlay your expertise into an advisory position or pursue a freelance job that keeps you in control of the time clock. For those of you who are ready to retire (or at least adjust your path) Zenployment, a concept from Canada that is catching on in the states, might be the perfect option. This idea refers to any kind of work, including self-employment, that you choose to do after you retire from your regular career, with the goal aimed at making a difference.  Not only will Zenployment keep you active, but according to a report published in Psychology and Aging those who volunteer, or work in jobs where they feel they are giving back, are said to reduce their mortality risk by about 25%.

While you're weighing your options, why not consider doing something for the sheer joy it brings? Consider offbeat choices, such as posing for portraits with kids as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, or perhaps conducting guided tours for a museum or historical attraction that you enjoy visiting. The rules and criteria that once defined your professional career may no longer exist, thereby clearing the way for something else that is completely different and perhaps outside your comfort zone. For instance, imagine the kick that a 62 year old model gets out of knowing she still has what it takes to generate consumer interest in lingerie - as she says "sexy has no expiration date" - LOVE IT!  Expect to see more senior spokespersons in the media, as the shift to target the incoming sixty-something age group increases.

So unless you're prepared to give up your claim in the game of life, stay engaged in either a fun job or challenging and meaningful pursuit to stay sharp and ready for the adventures that await in the 2nd act of your retirement, whatever you decide it should be!

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Disclaimer: Content and suggestions provided within should not be construed as a formal recommendation and AJA Associates, LLC makes no representations, endorsements or warranties relating to the accuracy, use or completeness of the information

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