When you aren’t ready to retire: The best may be yet to come
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An actress finds herself out of a career at age 65 due to illness.
A 50-year-old civil servant finds himself at his retirement goal which was set long ago.
A 58-year-old is downsized out of a job.
Many people find themselves in retirement, either voluntarily or involuntarily. This major life change raises similar financial and psychological issues regardless of the circumstances. Among the latter challenges are losing a sense of identity and purpose, thinking we want to retire when we really want a career change, and not being prepared psychologically to give up our careers.
It is this last point that I want to focus on. Entire books are devoted to this subject so we will just touch on a few of the high points. Retirement looks much different to us than it did to our grandparents. Due in large part to the uncertainty of Social Security, the traditional retirement plan of yesteryear has been replaced by 401(k)s and self-planning. Many of us are working longer because of worry that we can’t afford not to. Surveys of nonretired adults have found that the average American expects to retire at age 67 – a leap of four years compared to those polled in 2002 and seven years for those polled in the mid-1990s.
Some, primarily those in certain public service jobs, will find themselves retiring when they are literally in the prime of life whether they are ready or not.
How unnerving is it to find yourself with nowhere to go before you are ready? You may find that your entire social life is at work. What will your social network look like in retirement? Do you have hobbies or interests that will lead to a sense of fulfillment during retirement? It isn’t realistic to believe that you will “find” a social life or hobbies as soon as you retire.
To add to our consternation about retirement, research shows that people who have meaningful careers and stay productive have the longest lives.
To inspire those of us who find ourselves in the angst of mid-life (or later) interruptions to our careers, I would like to provide the following list of people who found fame after 50, and sometimes much later.
• Harland Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders, was 62 and broke when he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952, which he would sell for $2 million 12 years later.
• At age 55, Duncan Hines wrote his first food and hotel guides (including one that mentioned Sanders Court and Café, the original restaurant owned by Harlan Sanders). At age 73, he licensed the right to use his name to the company that developed Duncan Hines cake mixes.
• Charles Darwin spent his lifetime as an obscure naturalist. He was 50 years old before he published On the Origin of the Species in 1859. Whether or not you agree with his theory, the book has immortalized him.
• Ray Kroc spent his career as a milkshake machine salesman before buying McDonald’s at age 52 in 1954 and turning it into the world’s biggest fast-food franchise.
• Julia Child was 51 when she launched her career as a celebrity chef with a television debut on The French Chef.
• The husband-and-wife team of Tim and Tina Zagat were corporate lawyers when they first started printing their restaurant guides. At age 51, Tim left his job to manage the business. Google bought Zagat for $151 million in 2011.
• Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first novel until the age of 65. The 12-book Little House on the Prairie series became an instant children’s literary classic. Of course, it later was the basis for a stunningly successful TV show by the same name.
• Taikichiro Mori was an academic who became a real estate investor at age 51. His real estate investments made him the richest man in the world in 1992 with a net worth of $13 billion.
• Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, began her prolific painting career at age 76. Grandma Moses’ original interest was embroidery but, once her arthritis grew too painful for her to hold a needle, she decided to give painting a try. She lived another 25 years as a painter. In 2006, one of her paintings sold for $1.2 million.
These examples encourage us to consider that some of our greatest accomplishments may yet be ahead, no matter our age. Even unexpected endings can be great beginnings.
During his 25 years of practicing in the Central Valley, Dr. Bradley T. Wadja (aka "Dr. Brad") has amassed extensive experience in adult and child psychiatry, as well as comprehensive substance abuse treatment. Catch Dr. Brad at RadioPsyched.com. You can also read more from "Dr. Brad" at EsanoHealth.com.