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This chapter is from the book

Determine How Much Change You Want

The following sections discuss the alternative choice you can make, ranging from a little change to a lot of change.

Stay the Course

Keep doing what you are doing until you can’t stand it or are thrown off course. Stay with your current employer and hang on to your job as long as you are able or you can tolerate it. In employers that permit it, such as government organizations, many employees are working well beyond 65 because they enjoy the work and their retirement benefits are continuing to grow. If you are a successful entrepreneur and you are enjoying it and sustaining your income, why stop? University faculty often continue in their positions long after age 65, many into their seventies, because of the stimulation their work provides.

At age 60, Sylvester Stallone decided to make a sixth movie about Rocky Balboa, after a 16-year hiatus. Sly observed, “People were saying the parade had gone by, and who was I to try and bring it back again? I just felt that I’ve had a lot of regrets in the past 15 years, and I had to go back and rid myself of this regret.” The film, written by, directed by, and starring Stallone, is about a washed-up champion who insists on a last, doomed chance at a younger man’s game. This might be considered a metaphor for Stallone’s declining career fortunes. Stallone saw it not as a comeback, however, but an opportunity to avoid obsolescence. “An artist dies twice, and the second death is the easiest one. The artistic death, the fact that you are no longer pertinent—or that you’re deemed someone whose message or talent has run its course—is a very, very tough piece of information to swallow,” said Stallone in a New York Times interview. “Every generation runs its course, and they are expected to step aside for the next generation,” Mr. Stallone said. “My peers are going through it right now, and they feel they have much to contribute, but the opportunity is no longer there. They’re considered obsolete, and it’s just not true. This film is about how we still have something more to say.”

Renew Your Work Passion

Build on your strengths. You may not need or want to “reinvent” yourself. Rather, find ways to reawaken your love of your work, what you enjoy, or what you do well. Push yourself to go to the next level—reach to a higher standard, or reinterpret what you are doing. Change your context (different company, different orchestra, different geography) if it will further your renewal. For example, Audrey, an administrator in a community college, sought to qualify for a job with greater management responsibilities, and she recognized the need to obtain advanced education credentials. She’s taking the necessary coursework while continuing to work and build relationships at the school.

As another example, an actor, a concert pianist, and an art collector in the French movie, Avenue Montaigne, rediscover and deepen their love of their respective arts. They have devoted their lives to art, but question what kinds of lives they have gained and have lost their passion. They cross their paths at a café and are influenced by a young waitress who came to Paris to look for her own fame and fortune. The waitress, Jessica, prompts reflection and redirection in their lives through her conversations with them. Renewal lies within us and welcomes a chance to emerge.

Sometimes individuals go back to earlier callings. Hope, a professor for many years, splits her time between a home in the U.S. and a small house in Mexico. Now instead of receiving a paycheck, she tutors townspeople who want to learn English in exchange for assisting her with construction, gardening, and cooking. As an added bonus, those she teaches are helping Hope perfect her Spanish. She finds this newfound bartering system the perfect way to continue teaching others and to make a difference while also benefiting from others’ expertise.

For example, after graduating with a degree in education, Bob taught elementary school in a Florida city. Many of the children were from poor families, suffering from health, family, and other difficulties. The pay was low, and the school circumstances were frustrating. When he noticed an advertisement for jobs at a parcel delivery company, he moved. He built a career there, progressing through the ranks. His current role as an operations training manager draws upon his 32 years experience and affords a degree of flexibility in work hours. Training activities are conducted 24/7. Bob is now turning 55, and is eligible for retirement. He can continue in his role for another eight years, earning his salary and also accruing an annual 2% increase in his pension benefit. On the other hand, he is thinking about returning to his preferred vocation, teaching. With his degree, he merely needs to take two courses and pass a certifying examination to become eligible to teach again. “If I’m going to do this, this is the time to do it—not eight years from now,” he said. With a son in college and two sons recently graduated from college, he and his wife are “empty nesters.”

Create a To-Do List

Do those things you have always wanted to do. Keep a list and set priorities. Add things as you think about them and as they become important to you. Move actions up if you wish you could do them sooner. Some folks want to play more golf (or learn golf), learn guitar, travel through the Canadian Maritimes, or become involved in a community or charitable initiative. Learn Italian and travel to use it. For example, Jim always was “on the road” as a management consultant. Slowing down the consulting pace allowed him to join the local Rotary Club. Sherry wanted to join her condo association board “when she got time.” When she changed jobs that had flexible scheduling, she put her name on the ballot and is now leading the association’s landscaping committee.

As another example, Jerry got married and joined the FBI after earning a business degree in marketing and a law degree. He served three years as a special agent in Norfolk and Detroit. He returned to his Illinois home and went into private law practice after a few years in the prosecutor’s office. Ten years later he was appointed circuit judge. At age 60, he retired. “No, I did not go back into private practice. I retired! I enjoy playing a lot of golf in the summer and hunting in the fall. We travel in the winter and we visit our grandchildren. Our ‘things to do’ list is still long but getting shorter.”

Go for One Big Thing

Get serious about your life’s passion—the one ambitious thing you’ve always dreamed of doing and worry that you’ll never do it. Make painting your serious work, instead of a pastime. Climb Mt. McKinley or Mt. Everest. Sail west and don’t stop. Write the novel for which you’ve been collecting ideas since you left college. Stan and Bev visited North Carolina many times and decided finally to build a new home and life there. Jeri and Bill had worked for others in restaurant and catering businesses, and set out to open their own pizza/Italian “heaven.” From day one, it has been the most popular spot in town.

Sandy suffered through TWA’s reduction in pay, elimination of pension benefits, loss of stock value, and ultimately, acquisition by American. At her career peak, she was flying entirely international flights. With the downsizing and mergers, she accepted flight assignments within the U.S. and gradually reduced her workload. When Sandy officially retired from American after 35 years of service, she received a coveted lifetime travel pass. While still flying part time, she earned a nursing degree. She is now working at a local hospital, where she receives health care benefits for herself and her husband, Rick. She and Rick feel they are well situated for continuing to work in the future for another five to ten years.

Transform Yourself

Get on with becoming who you really want to be. If you missed a mid-life crisis back in your thirties or forties, this is the time to make a dramatic shift in your life’s direction. Re-examine your interests, your abilities, your dreams, and aspirations. Define your real purpose in life and your vision of where or who you want to be. An airline pilot retired early (as they often do) and became a certified financial advisor—not an easy thing to do. A bus driver, who used to work as a technician in a factory that closed some years ago, was determined to become an Episcopal priest. Many folks have chosen to become realtors, although the recent market downturn has made such a successful transition more difficult.

Diane has taken on new and varied roles since retiring early from an insurance company where she was a senior executive. At age 57, she was not eager to move into a full-time job in another company. After retiring, she served as an executive-in-residence at Boston College. Soon she was asked by a local historic preservation society to serve as the interim director (without pay). “It was a huge adjustment, but I loved it,” she said. She found that the small staff had a passion, drive, and tenacity that called for team building and problem solving with few resources. The staff appreciated her experience and leadership. That projected completed, she turned to pursue personal passions: taking piano lessons, studying dance and yoga, helping a conservation organization fight beach erosion, and spending time with her husband. Within several months, after considering her preferred focus for the years ahead, she enrolled in a program to earn a master’s degree in elder care and is looking forward to making a contribution in this field.

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