John Watson, 56, was an international telecommunications manager for DuPont in Wilmington, Del., until he was forced into early retirement three years ago. "There's a homeostasis when you've got a job and a paycheck and you're comfortable, and you just kind of assume it's not going to happen to you," Watson says. "It really comes without warning." Although it wasn't his choice,Watson was given one year's salary and 90 percent of his pension to retire. He's eligible for health insurance through his wife, Janice, who still works at DuPont. After leaving the company, Watson searched for a new job with a comparable salary. "I sent out 23 résumés and got turned down 23 times," Watson says. But, he admits, "I wasn't too anxious to go back to work for corporate America."
Instead, Watson started his own cabinetmaking and custom furniture business, Watsons Woodworking, in his 2 ½-car garage. "I think it is an incredible freedom compared with corporate America, where you are constrained by meetings and teleconferences," says Watson of running his own business. "My hope was that I will make enough money to fill in some gaps for the next five or 10 years."
Watson doesn't bank as much dough as he did during the DuPont days, but he enjoys the creativity of cabinetmaking. And he has some advice for those who find themselves unexpectedly retired: "If you are in a couple, try to live off one salary, so if one person loses a job, you can recover quickly and you can go with the flow."