What is a "Happy" Retirement?

MusingsWhen it comes to a "happy" retirement, not everyone will have the same perspective. One reason may be the simple fact that not everyone even agrees on what retirement is, or should be.

That's why I'm glad there are at least some retirement experts who are trying to figure out what it takes for most people to feel they have a happy retirement. Richard Eisenberg, the Money & Work Editor for the website SecondAvenue.org, shares his views in an excellent blog post entitled, "9 Keys to a Happy Retirement." I have excerpted a few highlights below.

The first key is essential: "Figure out in advance what you want out of retirement," and it goes hand in hand with the second, which is to "talk frankly together" with your spouse or partner about what you both want out of retirement. Advance planning can help you set realistic expectations and achievable goals and avoid disappointment down the road.

Eisenberg includes some keys that, not surprisingly, have to do with money and health. Here's one you may not have considered, though: "Keep a schedule, but not like the one you had before you retired." The point here is to organize your time in a way you see fit, because, writes Eisenberg, "Having some kind of schedule prevents you from getting bored, depressed or lonely.

The article is well worth reading in its entirety... and as a bonus, at the end Eisenberg includes links to other articles, as well as eight recommended books, about happy retirement. 

Learning is Living

OnaWhimViewed positively, our later years can be a time for learning about things we never had the time to learn about. For most of us, "free time" was such a rarity in our younger years. Now, though, the luxury of time permits many Boomers to invest in learning for enjoyment. There are many ways to engage in learning, some in-person and some online. Several learning opportunities are likely to exist right in your own community.

Writing for NextAvenue.org, Nancy Collamer offers some excellent suggestions for taking "classes on the cheap." Among her ideas are taking a "MOOC" (Massively Open Online Course), typically offered at very low cost by some of the world's best known educational institutions. There are also a variety of online platforms mentioned by Collamer that offer a wide variety of online classes.

Another great option is a local community college. Many community colleges offer not just degree courses, but continuing education courses, workshops, job training, and certification programs. My local community college, for example, provides many free courses for small businesses through its Small Business Center in cooperation with SCORE.

Perhaps you're even motivated to return to school to complete an undergraduate degree or pursue an advanced one. Some colleges and universities offer reduced or free admission for seniors. You can find a state listing of such colleges here.

Finally, communities with large retirement populations often host senior learning centers. One such center, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), operates at numerous colleges and universities throughout the country. These institutes provide reasonably priced courses and workshops for seniors, as well as social events and opportunities for seniors to volunteer as instructors. Find the OLLI nearest you here.

Our retirement years can be a time for educational rewirement. After all, learning is living.

Writing a Last Letter: Sensible or Nonsensical?

MusingsA recent article in The New York Times by a geriatric physician discussed the idea of writing a "last letter" to loved ones. It is something Dr. Periyakoil recommends to patients, not just when they might be facing their imminent demise, but also when they are still healthy, "before it's too late." The primary reason, the doctor writes, is because writing the letter might alleviate end-of-life regret: "The most common emotion [my patients] express is regret: regret that they never took the time to mend broken friendships and relationships; regret that they never told their friends and family how much they care; regret that they are going to be remembered by their children as hypercritical mothers or exacting, authoritarian fathers."

Dr. Periyakoil was so committed to the last letter concept that she spearheaded the "Stanford Letter Project." This project of the Stanford University School of Medicine offers anyone three free tools, basically letter templates, to help write a "what matters most" letter, a "friends and family" letter, and an "advance directive" document.

After reading the article, I thought I'd read some of the accompanying comments. I was surprised to see several comments that were downright derogatory about the notion of writing a last letter. A few choice excerpts:

"...these sample letters seem kinda underwhelming and shallow to me."

"If people feel a need to do this, fine, but to encourage the practice is unnecessary, and kind of morbid."

"If you have something to say, tell me to my face. Otherwise, I don't want to hear it."

"The idea of summing up one's life in a template form letter, another digital to-do in the list, strikes me as pathetic and depressing."

"I think it would be cynical to write a letter of regret to try to absolve yourself of all your life's guilts at your death."

In fairness, there were also positive comments about the idea of a "last letter," but my purpose in quoting some of the negative comments is two-fold.

First, in my opinion, the real reason for writing such a letter is to be honest about one's feelings and, perhaps, to attempt to make things right before leaving this earth forever. Some of the naysayers seem to miss the point, either because they are insensitive to that need, or they are too hung up on the use of a "template," which is nothing more than a vehicle for those who need it.

Second, and again it's only my opinion, I think some of the comments reflect the sad fact that the very act of sitting down and writing a last letter is viewed as archaic. Also, at times I get the feeling that some people are not willing, or maybe not capable, of writing anything meaningful anymore. It seems to me that we have become something of a say-it-fast-and-short verbal culture that treats the written word all too casually. As a writer, of course, I am biased toward the importance of the written word.

Anyway, these are just my opinions... I'd welcome any thoughts you might have on the pros and cons of the "last letter."

Please read the thoughtful comment posted by Cheryl. See "Comments" below.

Older Entrepreneurs Continue to Break Ground

OnYourOwnI've written before about the older entrepreneur phenomenon. For many years through the Small Business Center at my local community college, I counseled hundreds of small business owners in branding and marketing. A considerable percentage of those business owners were 50 or older.

A recent New York Times article confirms the high level of interest in business ownership by Boomers. The article cites a compelling statistic: According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), "one in four people between 44 and 70 are interested in becoming entrepreneurs." The article also mentions that the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship, found that over 24 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2015 were 55 to 64 years of age.

When you think about it, Boomers are perfectly positioned to go out on their own. Unlike younger entrepreneurs, Boomers have already acquired a portfolio of skills and a wealth of knowledge, distilled from their own careers working for someone else. Both their business experience and their maturity combine to make them credible business owners and potentially reduce the risks of starting a new business. Still, many Boomers may lack the funding or confidence to take the plunge. That's why it's encouraging to see more and more programs popping up in support of older entrepreneurs. The Times article references a number of such programs around the country, including a partnership between AARP and the SBA.

As I've mentioned before, I'm an example of the older entrepreneur trend. My wife and I leveraged our skills and started a small service business together in our fifties, ran it successfully for seven years, and then sold it. Operating our business was a great midlife experience that allowed us to do something we enjoyed and generate income after we left our professional careers. Admittedly, not every couple can work together, but it worked for us.

So if you have the urge to start a business, know that you are in good company. There are plenty of Boomers doing the same thing.

Why Ageism Hurts Everyone

MusingsThose of us over 60 -- and even those of us over 50 -- have a sneaky suspicion that those under 50 are somewhat prejudiced against us. No, this isn't paranoia, it is reality. And it is especially real in the workplace.

Ashton Applewhite, someone who writes about ageism and author of the book, This Chair Rocks, could not have said it better in her recent New York Times article, "You're How Old? We'll Be in Touch."

She asks why can't Americans over 50 find work? Her answer: "The problem is ageism -- discrimination on the basis of age. A dumb and destructive obsession with youth is so extreme that experience has become a liability. ... Age discrimination in employment is illegal, but two-thirds of older job seekers report encountering it."

Later, she makes a wise observation regarding attitudes in the workplace about both young and old workers:

"Age prejudice -- assuming that someone is too old or too young to handle a task or take on a responsibility -- cramps prospects for everyone, old or young. ... Unless we tackle age bias, [Millennials] too are likely to become less employable through no fault of their own, and sooner than they might think."

Finally, Applewhite lobbies for real activism on the issue:

"What is achieving age diversity going to take? Nothing less than a mass movement, like the women's movement... Confronting ageism means making friends of all ages. It means pointing out bias when you encounter it (when everyone at a meeting is the same age, for example).

"Confronting ageism means joining forces. It means seeing older people not as alien and 'other,' but as us -- future us, that is."

These are surely some of the wisest words I've read about age discrimination, which seems to be deeply embedded in our culture. Boomers and those beyond the Boomer generation are, statistically, a significant portion of this country's population, and it is the Boomer generation that holds the nation's greatest wealth. Our sheer numbers alone should give us the power to stand up against ageism. We all should do just that when we suspect someone we know is being discriminated against because of age.

Special Offer to Readers of Happily Rewired

Cover openThis month, I'm celebrating the one year anniversary of the publication of my book, Let's Make Money, Honey: The Couple's Guide to Starting a Service Business.

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If you have ever considered going into business with your spouse or significant other, this book is a must-read. It has received rave reviews from reviewers and readers alike. 

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Work Longer, Live Longer

MusingsSome interesting research suggests that people who work longer actually live longer, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The Center cites the following study:

"A new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found strong evidence that older workers who retire even one year later have lower mortality rates.  This held true for both healthy and unhealthy people."

The Center goes on to describe the study:

"The researchers at Oregon State and Colorado State used a survey of older workers to follow some 3,000 people who were employed in 1992 but had retired by 2010.  Since health drives mortality and is a factor in deciding when to retire, they separated their research subjects into two groups – healthy and unhealthy – to see if they had different results.

"The healthy people were more likely to be physically active, non-smokers with a lower body mass index and fewer chronic medical conditions.  Other research has shown that having meaningful work can also contribute to health at older ages.

"Over the period of the study, one in four unhealthy retirees died, compared with just about one in 10 healthy people. But the survival odds improved for people in both groups who retired after age 65, reducing the risk of healthy people dying by 11 percent and unhealthy people by 9 percent for each year of delay."

I guess Boomers should take this to heart. Many of us have to work past retirement age to generate income... but at least if you work longer, you just might live longer!

What Does the Uptick in 65-Plus Employment Mean?

MusingsConsider these statistics from the Pew Research Center:

"More older Americans – those ages 65 and older – are working than at any time since the turn of the century, and today’s older workers are spending more time on the job than did their peers in previous years, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of employment data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"In May, 18.8% of Americans ages 65 and older, or nearly 9 million people, reported being employed full- or part-time, continuing a steady increase that dates to at least 2000 (which is as far back as we took our analysis). In May of that year, just 12.8% of 65-and-older Americans, or about 4 million people, said they were working."

Perhaps even more stunning is the Pew Research Center's analysis that more older workers continue to work full-time:

"Not only are more older Americans working, more of them are working full-time. In May 2000, 46.1% of workers ages 65 and older were working fewer than 35 hours a week (the BLS’ cutoff for full-time status). The part-time share has fallen steadily, so that by last month only 36.1% of 65-and-older workers were part-time."

So, nearly 20 percent of those 65 and older are in the workforce, and more than half of those older workers work 35 hours or more. Undoubtedly, this remarkable generational shift is driven by financial need, but there is probably more to it than that. Older workers continue to work not just for income, but because it demonstrates self-worth.

Boomers I've connected with often feel as if our society treats them as obsolete. It is a sad commentary that someone in their sixties or even fifties experiences age discrimination in the workplace. What happened to employers that once respected experience, stability, job longevity, and employer loyalty? If people are capable, healthy, and vibrant well into their seventies, are they any less employable than younger workers? Those employers who embrace older workers recognize their value as employees. Employers who encourage competent older workers to leave are doing them and their companies a disservice.

The larger issue, though, is a societal one. We as a society must learn to respect people as they age, instead of ridiculing the elderly and celebrating only youth. Everyone will grow old eventually. But today, society's perception of growing old needs to change for the better.

Aging Ain't So Bad

MusingsYou know how myths develop a life of their own and become mistaken for fact? This has never been more true when it comes to aging. That's why, when I read the eight top myths about aging on Senior Planet, I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. The myths perpetrated against the elderly are something to behold. Here are just three myths that are all too common, according to gerontologist Joan Erber, co-author of the book, Great Myths of Aging: 

"Older people are suckers -- easy prey for scam artists."

It is often said that older people are far and away the demographic that is most vulnerable when it comes to scams. Actually, says Erber, people in their 80s and 90s may be more trusting, but they are no more gullible than young people. The reason it appears more older people are scammed, she says, is likely that they are targeted more often because of their perceived nest eggs. In addition, older people are less likely to report fraud.

"If you live long enough you'll wind up in a nursing home."

Not true, says Erber; in fact, "only a small minority of old people wind up in nursing homes." In 2011, for example, less than 4 percent (3.6 percent) of people age 65 and older lived in institutional settings. The trend today is for older people to "age in place."

"Brain power declines with age."

Yes, certain cognitive abilities (short term memory, for example) decline with age. However, "a recent study about aging and wisdom concluded that older people are more likely to look at things from multiple perspectives, allow for compromise and recognize that knowledge has limits."

It would serve our generation well if we were to continue to set examples that bust up myths like these. For more myths, go to Senior Planet.

Creating a Company Over Age 50

OnYourOwnEntrepreneurship is alive and well -- surprisingly, especially over the age of 50. It's logical in some respects for the 50-plus set to be thinking about starting a business. Careers in later years seem to decline for any number of reasons, including layoffs, age discrimination, and burnout. The good news is that creating a company over the age of 50 can be an invigorating experience.

Michael Glauser's new book, Main Street Entrepreneur, doesn't concentrate exclusively on entrepreneurs age 50 and older. Still, almost half of the hundred small town business owners he met during his research trip across America were in that age group. Glauser tells Richard Eisenberg of NextAvenue.org that these entrepreneurs have advantages: "The obvious one is that they've been in an industry for a number of years, so they really know it and related industries. ... The second thing is they know how business works; they're not young or naive. And they're pretty sure their business idea will work before they launch it."

Glauser also notes that this is a great time to start a company. "There's a growing preference for small, local companies," he says. "Also, powerful technologies now let you do business with the same kind of tech equipment that only large corporations could afford in the past." In addition, says Glauser, "there are a lot of new financing formats, like crowdfunding, to test products before you spend a lot of money on them."

Read Glauser's full interview on NextAvenue.org here.

By the way, my wife and I are proof positive of what Glauser learned. We started a small, local service company in our mid-fifties and ran it successfully for seven years before we sold it. You can read about our experiences in our book, Let's Make Money, Honey: The Couple's Guide to Starting a Service Business.