What the New Normal for Retirement Looks Like
By Maryalene LaPonsie
Nick Pronovich has three words for anyone thinking about retirement: "Don't do it."
The 74-year-old found himself forced into an early retirement in 2001 when his job was eliminated as a result of that year's recession. He spent the next year doing freelance work and trying to find a new position but soon learned it was hard for someone pushing age 60 to compete with 30-something job applicants. In 2002, after a career in advertising that spanned 40 years, Pronovich hung up his hat for good and decided to make his retirement permanent.
Years went by, but retirement never seemed to agree with Pronovich. "There was always a part of me that really missed [work]," he says. "I had a feeling that there was something missing."
So this year, Pronovich and two friends launched Dancing Moon Coffee, a company selling coffee beans on Amazon.com. He no longer considers himself retired and says it's better that way. "I don't know anyone who's really happily retired," he says.
Pronovich and his friends are examples of the new normal that's emerging for our nation's seniors. No longer are older Americans quitting their jobs by age 65 and riding off quietly into the sunset. Instead, they are starting businesses, writing books and cycling across states.
Not Retirement, a New Life Stage
Carey Kyler, vice president of consumer experience and strategy at AARP's Life Reimagined, says her group's research points to older Americans, particularly those between ages 45 and 65, swapping out traditional retirement for a new life stage. According to Kyler, this time in a person's life is when they may embrace their passions, explore new ideas and set out on adventures they never would have attempted in their younger years.
"This is a life stage generations before didn't have," Kyler says. "The boomers and the Gen-Xers will have to be very creative about what they do with it."
Getting creative is exactly what Harry Edelson, 82, has done. Like Pronovich, he doesn't consider himself retired and sees no reason to stop working. "Nothing has changed from age 65 to 82," Edelson says. "For me, getting old is a mistake."
While Edelson can't stop his chronological age from advancing, he says being old is a state of mind he refuses to adopt. "I play softball every Sunday with people in their 20s through 40s," he says from his summer home in Boothbay, Maine. "I climbed a small mountain here in Maine yesterday."
After a long career as a financial analyst working for major firms on Wall Street, Edelson founded Edelson Technology Partners and moved into self-employment. Today, he provides investment services, travels the country as a speaker and will be publishing a book -- "Positivity: How to be Happier, Healthier, Smarter, and More Prosperous" -- this fall.
Edelson feels strongly that seniors who lay low during their later years are missing out. "I would admit it is difficult to get a job as [people] get older, but everyone can get a hobby," he says. "There's so much to do nowadays; it would be a shame to think I'm going to pack up and just play golf every day."
Forget the Stereotypes of Retirement
Even seniors who have taken a more traditional approach to retirement say it's not what you might think, and it's definitely not a time to be lazily puttering around the house.
"It seems like we're busy from sunup to sundown," says Don Eckler, a 78-year old retiree in Portland, Oregon.
Eckler left the U.S. Coast Guard in 1976 at age 38 and considers that his retirement year. Then he and his wife Elsie met in the South Pacific while working with the Peace Corps and later settled in Hawaii for 30 years. In 2009, they decided their advancing age meant it may be smarter to move to the mainland where they could more easily get any care they needed.
The couple selected the Rose Villa retirement community and say they have seen a shift in attitudes among retirees since they arrived. "When we first came in, [it seemed] people came here to waste away their lives slowly," Eckler says, "but our group, now in our 70s, is very active."
Rose Villa provides facilities such as a wood shop and arts studio, and Eckler enjoys trying his hand at Chinese brush painting, canoeing and other pursuits organized by the community. He and his wife also spend plenty of time exploring the Pacific Northwest. He participated in the Cycle Oregon ride, a seven-day event in which bicyclists pedal their way across the state, and the couple are members of the American Association for Nude Recreation as well.
"We have a mentality in this age where you can do whatever you want without being looked down upon," Eckler says, explaining that he's never felt as though certain activities were off-limits because of his age.
Seniors: Having the Time of Our Lives
Most importantly, seniors say retirement is fun. Millennials might wonder what older Americans do with all their free time, but those who are in the thick of this life stage say they've been given the opportunity to do things they couldn't during their younger years.
"We started talking about 'couldn't we do something that could be fun?'" says 67-year-old James Weldon, a partner with Pronovich in Dancing Moon Coffee Co. "If it weren't fun, I'm not sure we'd want to do it."
"Fun" is a word used repeatedly by other seniors as well. "I love getting up every morning," Edelson says. "[My work] is great fun."
Whether working or playing, today's seniors are embracing their later years as a time to shine. As Kyler says, "Recognize that age doesn't limit abilities; it can expand your options."