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Published:October 29th, 2013 14:27 EST
I Can`t Stop Working: Seniors Are Unable or Unwilling to Retire

I Can`t Stop Working: Seniors Are Unable or Unwilling to Retire

By Jay Forte

"I can`t stop working." So many retirees have said this to me lately. But there are twi reasons why they say it.

Some can`t stop working because they can`t afford to stop working; they didn`t save enough, lost savings in the recession, have kids living with them longer or have aging parents to care for. They don`t have the money to stop working.

Then there are some who can`t stop working because they came from the most driven, focused and work-minded generation in history. They have no lives out of their work and are afraid to stop working because they lack purpose, and without purpose we all quickly fail. They have seen it in their friends who finished work and many of them finished life at the same time.

So many retirees find themselves unsure of how to navigate this next chapter in life. Though retirement sounded appealing with a more leisurely pace, no financial worries and, little if any of this is happening. There is a new period in our seniors` lives - I call it the retirement career. The hallmark of this time period is the need to continue to earn and/or the need to part of something important, valuable and relevant. Both have ushered in a new look at what retirement has in store for all of us. 

Let`s start with the Boomers who don`t want to stop working; my grandfather was like this. In his mind, age had nothing to do with the ability to choose to show up and be efficient, effective and extraordinary at work. He was forced to retire at 65 and resented leaving the workforce. An avid learner and a stay-busy kind of guy, he drove my grandmother crazy until he redefined his purpose and rebuilt his definition of retirement.

 Many of today`s retirees want to stay busy because, coming from the industrial age, they lived lives that were active, productive and focused. To end work without replacing it with something meaningful doesn`t address their need to feel relevant, vibrant and valuable - all critical in our sense of self and in our ability to stay healthy. As Dr Mehmet Oz says, "If your heart doesn`t have a good reason to keep beating, it generally won`t." Without a reason to wake up each day, we sometimes choose not to bother.

To age well requires that we more tightly align around purpose. Without learning how to reconnect to meaning and purpose, many of today`s retirees find themselves staying busy but in roles that fit them - they either have little impact, little joy or little value in the role. This makes life hard and uncomfortable. Coming from an industrial age that found little value in self-awareness and self-actualization, they now find that to stay busy in a meaningful way requires getting introduced to who they are - their talents, strengths and passions - so they can review today`s world for those work, volunteer and life opportunities that fit them. This allows them to connect to their potential and to show up significantly each day. Again, if the heart doesn`t have a reason to keep beating, it generally won`t. Purpose and value create reason.

 The other aspect of today`s retirees relates to those who have to continue working; their retirement funds are insufficient to support whatever lifestyle they are living. Whether the high cost of medical coverage, food, energy or living, we see the graying of today`s workforce. To be successful in the workforce in our later years requires the same things that are needed for those retirees who don`t need to work but want to stay busy in a meaningful way - to know their unique abilities and align them to the roles that need what they do best.

 In today`s workplace, successful organizations hire for fit. They understand the activities each job performs, assess the behaviors required to successfully complete those activities to build a performance profile for each role. This allows an organization to define the core abilities, skills and experience that truly disregards a candidate`s age in the hiring process.

 Though age discrimination is illegal, many organizations still prefer to hire younger employees. However, the best performance has more to do with talents and abilities than age, skill or experience. I regularly consult with many companies on attracting, hiring and retaining talented workforces. My coaching is always to hire based on fit without regard to age or any other protected status. Abilities have nothing to do with age, gender or other visible attribute; abilities are based on thinking and performance preferences; these refer to employees` insides, not their outsides. Discounting older employees because of their age is not only illegal, it shortchanges a workplace of powerful and capable talent.

 With my older coaching clients, I have to regularly shift their perspective away from considering only those roles in which they had previously worked. By defining their talents, older workers can see their core abilities and can expand the job opportunities that need what they do best. This connects them to roles that support their sense of value, importance and purpose. This increases opportunities in the workplace for those who either want to keep working, or need to keep working.

So how do we help our aging generations who find themselves choosing to stay busy through work or needing work to make ends meet?  Two different solutions but both of them revolve around becoming more self-aware, something that was not in vogue through their many years in the workplace and can be summarized this way: Know yourself - what you are good at, passionate about and what matters to you; know your world - what are the expanding jobs, needs and opportunities; connect your best to a need, challenge or opportunity in today`s world. This is how it is done. Be self-aware. Be world-aware. Be an opportunity-hunter to find those opportunities that connect with your best abilities for the right paying job, or the right purpose job.

 We all need to feel valuable, relevant and important; this starts with connecting to purpose. This is our work to do to be able to show up ready for, happy with and part of life - at any age.