Working beyond (into) retirement has many benefits in addition to the benefit of additional income. In the first episode of Beyond the Numbers of Retirement, my guest, Gary Allen Foster and I look at why people’s view of retirement is changing, why there still is some resistance to working in retirement, some of the primary benefits of continuing to work later in life, and some of the studies that support these benefits.
To learn more about Gary, read his blog, and subscribe to his newsletter, visit his website Make Aging Work (www.makeagingwork.com).
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RWS: The topic for today’s episode is the importance of working beyond retirement. My guest today is fellow retirement coach Gary Alan Foster. In addition to being a retirement coach, Gary is also an executive recruiter and a career transition coach. Gary resides in the Denver area.
The reason I was excited to have Gary on the episode today is Gary is somebody who has continued to work beyond retirement. And he has really thought a lot about this and has experience in the importance of working beyond retirement. So I’m excited to get Gary’s thoughts. Gary, welcome to the episode today!
GAF: Well thanks Reid. Good to be here. Good to see you again. Look forward to our conversation.
RWS: Yeah, absolutely. This is such an important topic, Gary, and I think it’s becoming more important because of the topic of longevity. You and I have talked about before. Of course, people are living longer, they’re living healthier, they’re more active, there’s a lot more baby boomers that are transitioning into retirement or what is called the retirement.
And so I think this topic is really important for a lot of people who are, who are reaching that stage in their lives and want to think about how they’re going to spend that time. So the first thing I wanted to get your thoughts on is, there seems to be a changing view of retirement which I think currently happening. And I wanted to get your thoughts on why people are starting to change their view of retirement.
GAF: Well, there’s a lot of spots where we can jump into that. I think you touched on one of them when you mentioned that simply the fact that we’ve got the boomers moving through this phase now and you being one. I’m a pre-boomer by four years, but I really think of myself as a boomer fundamentally. I mean the boomers have given a lot of change as they’ve gone through their lives. So I think this is just another one of them.
But I think, you know, behind it also is the fact that there’s this growing realization that this really what we’ve held on to his retirement, this traditional retirement concept is, is frankly just kind of an archaic, irrelevant model. I mean, it goes back, uh, we can really kind of tag it back to the 1935 when they established the retirement age of 65 which was political decision anyhow.
GAF: I mean average lifespan back then was 62 so that didn’t make a lot of sense and we’re, we’re still carrying that forward. But I think a lot of people know, and it’s, it’s amazing to me how entrenched this whole idea of retirement is in the minds of most people. But I think we’re seeing a change now where people saying, Hey, I’m not so sure. This makes a lot of sense. Certainly there’s, you know, age 65 is just a number. I mean, it’s arbitrary and that it doesn’t mean we’re done, you know, at 65 I certainly didn’t feel that way. So I think that’s part of it.
And you know, certainly you touched on another one, longevity. People are realizing, hey, 30 years of bocce ball and Bingo, they isn’t got to make a lot of sense for me. So, I think, you know, when the boomers have pioneered a lot of things and they’re saying, you know, I’m worth more than just hanging out.
GAF: You know, I’ve contributed a lot. I want to continue to contribute. So I think there’s kind of a sense of this looking at their own worthiness. And I think that’s beginning to shed a new light on what is considered the retirement age. I like to refer to refer to it really kind of the third stage of the third act of life, which is that, you know, it’s that space between middle age, which is really the end of parenting or end of career to true old age where we’re incapable of doing anything.
So that’s where people are looking at that and saying, wow, that’s now 20, 25, 30 maybe 40 years. I can probably get a lot done during that time. So I think of it just like, you know, people are just backing up and say, hey, you know, I’m not done yet.
GAF: I think there’s a lot of things that I could still do. A lot of them, I think in the past year, and you and I have talked about this whole thing of balance, I think people see it as an opportunity, especially if they’re financially prepared, which is a whole other discussion topic maybe we can touch on. You know, if there are financial prepared, it’s an opportunity for them to put together a balance of leisure and work and perhaps even continuing to learn.
And I think that’s a growing trend too, in this third act, of doing those three things to kind of balance life, work, learning and leisure. Mixing them all together and, you know, it helps keep you productive. So that’s a long winded answer, but that’s kind of part of what I feel is an impact in the new attitude.
RWS: Yeah. And you think it’s a good time too for people to explore different passions and it could be something either in their career area or outside of their career area that they can continue to work. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in your career field that you’ve worked in for the past 40 years. It could be, again, like you said, especially for people who are financially prepared, it can be doing something that they’re really passionate about but perhaps doesn’t bring in the same amount of income, but it brings a lot more joy and meaning and purpose to their lives.
GAF: Well, I think that, I think that’s a great point. You know, if there’s, sometimes there’s this tendency to think of either or when in fact, when you move into this phase of life, it can be both, and in other words, maybe through your work career of 30 or 40 years or whatever that may be. Maybe you weren’t right at the heart of your passion or your purpose, uh, but you develop skills, you’ve developed counts and payed the bills along the way right. But maybe deep inside you’ve got something that you’ve kind of really wanted to get back to. Maybe it’s a deeper passion. Maybe it’s what you liked to do when you were six or 10 you know, like that sort of thing.
So why not bring that forward, combine that with the skills and talents that you’ve acquired through your career, and then turn that into- I like the concept of a lifestyle, or a lifelong lifestyle business. I mean keep doing it, but there are options. But I think that so much of it just really gets around to the fact that hey, we really need to rethink this whole arbitrary artificial finish line of 65 and what that means. Because my fear and part of my quest is you well know, is to try to help people or help convince people that, you know, we’re wasting a lot of resources here. We had ought to just turn those back and redeploy what we’re good at. Keep going. Lead a balanced life and continue to contribute to society. So…
RWS: Yeah, and you see that a lot too. When people do leave their careers that they do want to keep working at, a lot of times, whether they’re let go from their company because of age or whether it’s because of health issues, there is a lot of knowledge in companies that is walking out the door that could be repurposed or continue to be used.
GAF: But I don’t think we can ignore the fact that there have been some economic events over the last two or three decades, which have influenced a lot of viewpoints on retirement and for one, we’ve seen the elimination of pensions, for example, which is really kind of thrust people onto the mercy of the stock market. We’ve gone through, I think I’ve gone through seven different major corrections in the stock market in my investing career.
So, you know, and I tell you, I share it with you. I saw an alarming statistic. I guess it’s not terribly alarming because I’ve kind of heard numbers like this before, but there was a MarketWatch article that came out last week that said, over half right now, over half of Americans have zero in retirement savings, and only 11% of the population have $500,000. Well that sounds like a lot of money, but if you’ve got 30 years ahead of you, just do the math, the 500,000 isn’t going to carry you very far when you consider, because the other part of the statistics here was the fact that couples over 65 they live to an average lifespan are going to face at least that much $400,000 to $500,000 in medical costs and long-term care costs.
GAF: So, those are pretty freaky numbers. And again, I think people are just saying, whoa, I’m not ready, I’m not prepared, so I’m going to have to do something. And there was a serendipitous effect of all that when they realize that they’ve got to continue to work, what often happens is that they get healthier, which is kind of an irony about the whole thing.
RWS: Right, right. Let’s take a look at… kind of the flip side of that to me, Gary, is that I think there’s still some resistance to retiring or continuing to work beyond a certain age. So, people still have this, this…I guess they’re resistant to working beyond a certain age, so they still have this view that I need to retire at this age. Why do you think there continues to be some resistance to continuing to work in retirement? And I think we’ve covered some of that, but…
GAF: Well, you kind of take me into one of my favorite areas right now. And that is, because I am really kind of becoming a student of this, and that is that the impact of cultural expectations. When I think about how our culture and some of the, frankly I call them myths and models and messages, that are really kind of erroneous. And I think we’re kind of driven by this cultural expectation that you need to be checking out into retirement somewhere around 62. I think the average retirement age right now, 62 so, so there’s this there’s kind of this cultural expectation and you know, as humans we’re susceptible to comparison and we’re concerned about what others may think.
So you know, somehow we’ve kind of created this atmosphere where if you haven’t decided to retire by 65 your retired neighbor is going to give you a bad time about it, right? It’s like you’re ostracized for wanting to continue to work and contribute. So I think that’s a big part of the pressure, plus just simply the fact that is so pounded on us. Let me give you an example: how many non-financial planner commercials were there during the Masters (golf tournament)?
GAF: Very few. You know, if they aren’t some major investment firm advertising during the Masters, it’s going to be some drug company, right? All aimed at people in their later age, but it’s all about retirement, retirement, retirement, and it’s all about only the positives of retirement. So it’s, it’s so driven into us just in, in our culture and in the media it’s hard to give it up.
RWS:Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Yeah, absolutely. And I think that goes back to a previous comment you made to that it’s been so ingrained in our society for such a long time that the retirement age it this (number) and people don’t start to look at there’s a different option that’s perfectly viable and it can be completely for a non-financial reason or reasons. So
RWS: So that kind of leads me into then my next question that I wanted to pose to you, Gary, is… Why do you think work is, and particularly I think from your own experience and from your experience working as a career transition coach, and you’ve probably worked with people later on in their career transitions is…why is work important, particularly in retirement? And I know we’ve covered some of these, but if you could summarize maybe some of the primary reasons somebody should consider working beyond retirement, what would those be or what would that list be?
GAF: Well, you’ve got to start with the fact a lot of people just have to, there’s some people or a lot of people are just going to have to continue to work. The whole economic dynamic has changed. So I mean that’s, that’s a given for, I think, a significant percentage of the population. But I also think another reason, and there’s really some compelling evidence that work is important.
And, I guess maybe the easiest thing I could reach to is if you just consider, take for example, if you’re familiar, and some of the audience may be familiar with the concept of the Blue Zones. There was a book written by Dan Buettner where they went to five…They found five countries in the world where the average age is much higher than most of the parts of the world. And they had the largest percentage of centenarians.
GAF: Well, there were eight or nine common factors across all five of those blue zones. Well, at the heart of it was, people didn’t stop working, you know, work was something that they did right up to the end. And not only that, but they had what I call a shortened period of morbidity. In other words, they didn’t have an extended illness before they died. An awful lot of the people, the centenarians, like went to bed and died in their sleep, you know, fully vital the day before. So, but they were always active, they were working. And typically that work involved a considerable amount of physical activity. So, and that’s where I think we kind of get in a trap and our white collar, uh, information age economy, where we sit in front of a tube like I do all day. But I think that, so there’s strong evidence, number one, that work is a part of remaining vital. And there’ve been, a lot of studies. Uh, I remember the one done by the Society of Actuaries- who would have known there was such an organization- that’s called the RP 2000 study. And, I believe the essence of that study was that people who retired early had more than twice the death rate of those who continued to, uh, to work.
And that was reinforced by a study that Shell Oil did. They did the same sort of study and they found, I think it was, they looked at retirees at 55 and they had double the risk for death before reaching 65 compared to those who work beyond 60. So, I think there’s a lot of compelling evidence in favor of continuing to work, you know. And then kind of on the flip side was, what I recall is there was a study by, I think IBM did a study, this goes back a generation or generation a half ago, and they looked at the number, they looked at their pensioners and they found that the average number of pension checks that were issued was 24.
GAF: So people who fully retired on average, were living in like two years. Social Security study did in 1995, a similar study, and they found the average number of social security checks was 29, so a little beyond two years. So, to me it is evidence that those people just kind of checked out and went to the Lazy Boy weren’t sticking around as long. You know, another thing, and I’ll share this with you because this goes all the way back to when I was in my forties… because I remember I started questioning the whole retirement concept back when I was in my forties, and one of the things that, cause I kind of got into the self-help deal back in, this was in the 80s and it was the time of Brian Tracy, and Tony Robbins was starting to emerge, and Denis Waitley and people like that…and one of the things that has always stuck in my mind.
GAF: And I don’t remember where I read it or heard it… was that when you look at the people back then that were living the longest, they were people who stayed in the creative world. It was musicians and composers and artists and writers who, people that didn’t remove themselves from, from their work. And it can go all the way back to ancient Greece where the average lifespan was like 28 or 30. And you look at some of the really big people from that era, and I can’t name the names, but they, Aristotle’s, and those people like that. They were living into their eighties, sometimes into their nineties.
So they were, you know, two and three times the average length (lifespan), but they always were in the creative process. So, I think that we’ve got a lot of compelling background research and information that shows that if we continue to work in some capacity, it’s going to do a lot for us from a physical health standpoint and from a mental health standpoint. But I mean, again, we’re looking at it and Alzheimer’s may even be affected by our willingness to continue to work, so…
RWS: Sorry to interrupt, Gary. I was just going to jump in and just say… just from the standpoint of a mental challenge, we need to keep challenging ourselves in some capacity, and a lot of people, when they retire, and I think this goes back to… I think if they would have, and I don’t know in those studies if they dug into that, but I think a lot of it is simply when they stop working and you’re not mentally challenged, there’s a physical component and there’s a mental component, and if you’re not continuing to learn and be challenged and have something to look forward to…that’s really where I think the work can come in to in retirement. We need that. We need that extra challenge and there’s health benefits.
The one thing that I don’t think we’ve talked about is the social benefits too, because so many people when they leave work that is their main social circle, if you will, of people that they connect with and when they leave that work, all of a sudden they don’t have the social connections. And there’s research I think around the importance of having those social connections too.
GAF: Well, it’s pretty substantial really. I mean, in fact, AARP even came out with an article that I found interesting that, and I don’t remember exactly what their source was for this, but they said that social isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So, you’re absolutely right. For men in particular, typically when you move into retirement, one of the biggest challenges is replacing your identity. Because we as men tend to tie our identity to our work.
And you know, you, you leave work and you got close relationships there, relationships you’ve built over 10 or 15 or 20 years or whatever, and there’s kind of the expectations that those relationships are going to continue. And it sounds a little harsh, but I kind of feel like that relationship started going into the tank about the time they swallowed the last piece of your retirement cake.
GAF: You know, you’re out the door and they’re (work Friends) are into their own issues and you wonder why they’re not responding when you call them to get together for lunch, you know. And it’s a challenge for men, I think in particular, to rebuild a social network. Women are better at it, let’s face it then typically when Papa comes home in retirement, she’s already got her social network built and she doesn’t necessarily want him horning in on it, if you will.
So it’s a, yeah, I think isolation is that, well, we know physically and mentally. Yeah. The other thing too is, I mean I, you know, I tell people this all the time, look, you know that your muscles are going to atrophy if you don’t use them. Well your brain’s a muscle. So if you don’t use it, we now have incredible evidence that has turned part of neurology upside down.
GAF: You know, 20 years ago we just accept the fact that our brain was going to shrink and we’re going to lose mental capacity. Well that’s absolutely false. We now know that you and I even at our age can rebuild neural connections as effectively as someone 20 or 30 or 40 years younger. Now we’re going to be a little bit slower connecting to it, but we can rebuild our neural connections and retain and build brain capacity as we get older. So, but we’re not going to do, I love the study that was done…we’ve got this thing now called functional MRI, FMRI. That’s where we can wire people up and we can read where the electrical activity is taking place in the brain. And somebody did a study where they did, they took two groups and they had one group stare at a brick wall and another one watched a sitcom.
GAF:Â And they measured their brain activity in both of them. And guess what, they compared them…. Which one do you think had the most brain activity? It was a wash. So think about that the next time you watch a sitcom, you know you can stimulate your brain at the same level if you are watching tv or looking at a brick wall. So I think that’s a story that really resonates with me because things that we could be doing to stimulate our brain, uh, TV isn’t one of them. So I get off that soapbox.
RWS:Â Well this is a great topic Gary, and I know it’s one we could continue talking about much longer, and there’s lots of different angles and different takes we could add to this and I’m sure it’s probably a topic we will dive into in a future episode. Thanks for joining me today Gary. And I am looking forward to the next episode with you.
GAF: Well, I’ll tell you what, I really appreciate what you’re doing with this because it’s a message that you and I obviously feel very strongly about it, that, uh, we need to just keep pounding this message that, hey, we ain’t done yet. You know, we’ve got a lot we can accomplish. So I applaud what you’re doing and hopefully be a part of it going forward.
RWS: Thanks, Gary. We’ll talk again soon.
GAF: Great, thanks Reid.