Are you a reluctant retiree? Try a phased exit

Posted by Cindy Wilson.
Financial advice is my passion. But so are horses. I guess I’m quite lucky—not everyone who loves what they do has an outside hobby to rival work. For so many of my clients, their profession is their hobby. Many of these “reluctant retirees” can afford to retire, but are afraid there will be a sudden emptiness in their lives. And when you don’t train your mind, keep it agile, there’s the danger it will atrophy, like an unused muscle.
I see this a lot in academia, where the vast majority of faculty are tenured and plan to work well beyond age 65. Professors often feel they have more to discover, more to publish. Academic work is not as physically demanding as other professions, so you can continue it for longer. In fact, the proportion of people over the age of 65 who are teaching at American colleges and universities, more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. The last year that colleges were permitted to enforce a mandatory retirement age was back in 1993.
For example, as part of their Faculty Retirement Incentive Plan (FRIP), the University of Chicago allows faculty members to work halftime for up to five years at two-thirds of their pay.2 The FRIP is part of the university’s culture and a great opportunity for professors to phase into retirement— and perhaps pick up an interesting project or hobby outside of work.
Even if your employer doesn’t currently have something like this in place, you might be able to negotiate a kind of phased retirement where your hours are reduced to better help you adjust, emotionally and financially. This can be a win for both you and your institution, since your knowledge and experience are highly valued. And, gradual retirement could allow you to keep working part-time while developing new interests.

Retirement doesn’t mean retiring your passion

For many people, it’s more relaxing to stay busy doing odd jobs than sitting watching daytime TV or losing yourself down some online rabbit hole. I’ve seen a widowed spouse continues working simply because they didn’t want to be home alone, after they had planned a joint retirement. The owner of the ranch where I board my horses and park my RV is 90 years old and he’s more active than most 50-year-olds I know, driving his tractor around and generally making himself useful. Of course he’s lucky to be in good shape, but even if you’re not as mobile as you once were, you can get passionate about many kinds of things, like a book that translates your academic papers for a general audience, or something less ambitious like Scrabble, or crosswords–something that keeps you mentally fit.
Our passions adapt to accommodate our changing circumstances. After three back surgeries, trail rides on my horse involve an easy walk rather than a gallop. My passion for horses hasn’t dimmed; it has merely evolved. I ran a marathon in my early 40s—and never imagined that I’d stop long-distance running. I think the same happens to people whose job is their primary passion. But retirement doesn’t mean you have to lose your purpose or sever your connection to a beloved institution; you just need to be more flexible. It’s all about redefining retirement and making it less abrupt, either through a phased approach or by maintaining ties to your employer.
There may be a “retire/rehire” option that allows you to maintain a relationship with your workplace, or you could look into being a mentor, a board member or guest speaker at events.

A more tailored fit

The older I get, the more idiosyncratic I feel myself becoming. We don’t just grow set in our ways, our ways become all the more individualized. The 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday regime that once felt comfortable can start to pinch like an ill-fitting garment. Even if retirement is some years away, maybe it’s time to try out a more flexible arrangement for size, something tailored to your highly individual circumstances: more flexible hours, working from home when you need to, working Tuesdays and Thursdays only, preferring to start early and clock out at 2.
As you near retirement, your needs–for flexibility, for financial security—may align more with the needs of your employer. Which is great if you’re reluctant to dip into your 403(b), want to delay Social Security for as long as possible–or need a bit more time to find a new obsession!
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August 15, 2018
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