Reinventing Retirement Becoming Boomer Model

Great Recession drives current decisions but longevity is spurring a new life stage of encore careers.

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If you have 45 minutes and a web browser, sit down with a cup of coffee and get some solid insights into how to think about your retirement years. Merrill Lynch Wealth Management put together a webcast last month that does an engaging job of talking about Reinventing Retirement. While the Great Recession and related financial reversals may have triggered the need to approach retirement differently, the discussion wasn't really about money but attitudes.

[ See America's Best Affordable Places to Retire.] Moderated by former ABC News anchor Charles Gibson, the panel included Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, which also has created an offshoot, Encore Careers; Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor and, as if you need academic standing in this field, an expert in happiness and the author of Stumbling on Happiness; Anna Quindlen, long-time New York Times and Newsweek journalist and author, and, Sallie Krawcheck, president of Global Wealth & Investment Management for Bank of America, Merrill Lynch's parent.

There were also three vignettes of couples that had tackled or were planning new ventures in what would be considered their retirement years. In fact, as Gibson noted, there has been an enormous entrepreneurial surge in recent years among older Americans. Looked at by the numbers, you'd think there was more creative drive in the Baby Boomer group than younger people. The nice thing about the mindset of the panel was that this was interpreted more as a normal condition and not an anomaly. Why should anyone be surprised that Boomers plan to keep pushing long after they turn 65?

[See 10 Essentials for Successful Retirements.]

Freedman spoke about society's need to "break our addiction to youth." Quindlen noted that "we have a whole generation who are making up a stage of their life" as they go along. That was another obvious but compelling takeaway. Unlike past generations, the wave of people that will begin turning 65 next year knows with certainty that it has another 20 to 30 years of life left -- on average. It's enough time to accomplish many new things. And while money may be a driver for many such efforts, finding new ways of contributing and staying engaged contributes far more to happiness than do the dollars, Gilbert said. Krawcheck, who tended to play the role of financial adviser, emphasized the need for planning. Gibson also made valuable observations, including sharing the difficulties he felt when he left ABC late last year, losing a good chunk of his professional identify and joining many others in seeking to carve out a new role for himself.

There was no news made or headlines generated by the panel. This, too, is one of the realities of thinking about retirement. There are as many different paths as there are people. And as Gibson noted in the inaugural session of the series last March, he was discovering that "retirement was a process, not an event."

[See Experts Spotlight 8 Key Retirement Topics.]