By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Reduced or non-existent pensions, insufficient Social Security benefits, skyrocketing costs and tanking investments represent just a few reasons many people continue working past “retirement age” these days.
But if your finances are solid, it doesn’t mean you must stop working just because you have a certain number of candles on your birthday cake.
Age is only a number to Max Malikow, licensed mental health counselor in private practice in Oswego and Syracuse University professor. At 74, he’s been in the mental health field since 1987 and is not about to put his feet up.
“I’ve been asked, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ the answer is simple,” he said. “I like what I do and it doesn’t prevent me from doing what I want. It’s no strain to do what I do. Why not do what I’ve been doing for so many years? I’m not one of those guys who wants to move to Florida to play golf.”
Between his clinical practice and instruction, he works about 40 hours weekly, yet also has time enough to write his 21st book, exercise and lift weights and spend time with his wife, children and grandchildren.
He understands not everyone is fortunate enough to work in enjoyable careers and he expressed gratitude for his employment. But he also feels no obligation to retire and believes that any people who like what they do should not feel pressured to retire, either.
In addition to simply liking what you do, you have more reasons to keep working, whether as a paid employee, consultant or a volunteer.
Becoming idle is not good for your brain or body.
“It might sound a little bit odd, but there are many benefits to working, even though a person may not need the money for living or retirement needs,” said Rita Worlock, licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Liverpool.
Whether it’s continuing to work or developing means to mentor, consult or freelance, she believes that when paired with a good work-life balance. Working later in life “can actually be good for you,” she said. “Studies show that early retirement will bring on decreased mental and physical activity and therefore result in higher instances of illness. Working helps keep your mind sharp and your body active and encourages you to engage in problem- solving and creative thinking on a regular basis. It also challenges you to keep achieving and rewards you when you do.”
Even part-time work is helpful in helping you stay sharp and feel useful while still allowing enough time to pursue hobbies, interests and volunteering.
Working provides a reason to get up in the morning. Although the first few weeks and months of retirement may feel like a vacation, many retirees feel adrift without some sense of meaning in their lives. The routine of work provides this.
“Working can give you a sense of purpose,” Worlock said. “Most people that retire are challenged with the transition of finding a purpose due to the fact that some people lose their identity, as their identity can be tightly connected to their work. Without the structure and familiarity of a place to be every day a retiree’s schedule and responsibilities change and a lot of them don’t always find a reason to get up in the morning and get going without that structure and familiarity.”
If your career really isn’t what you wanted to do with your life, Worlock suggested retiring from it to pursue the work you’ve always wanted to do. Even if it’s at the entry level, you may find that the emotional rewards are worth it.
Continuing to work also helps people feel less isolated. Most people build a network of colleagues and friends at work. Upon retirement, they may initially stay in touch. However, most of these relationships will
not continue for months and years after retirement.
“Working can actually greatly improve their connection to other people,” Worlock said. “It is vital and important for retirees to be open to making new connections.”
If you don’t want to keep doing the same thing and you’re unsure of what to do next, Aaron Southwick, owner of Southwick Life & Leadership Coaching in Syracuse, advises trying introspection.
“What is the dream you had years ago?” he said. “Can you still do that? And then I think it’s looking at passions, especially if money is not a worry. Where does your passion connect with your ability? And then you pursue that. You want to wake up knowing you’re going to do what you love to do rather than, ‘I’ve got to get up and do that job you don’t like to do.’”
A mentor, friend or coach may be helpful in generating ideas as to why you want to stop doing your current job and what type of endeavor you want to undertake in retirement. Southwick warned that it is important to communicate clearly with post-retirement employers. He knew of a recent retiree who wanted an entry-level position working with children at a nonprofit, yet because of his experience was railroaded into a high-level job he subsequently quit.
“Before accepting an offer, make sure people know exactly what it is you’re looking for,” he said. “If you’re not upfront, you could get asked to do things you don’t want.”