The Unretiring Kind: Boomers  Gear Up for Second Careers

This year the first wave of Baby Boomers hits the 65 mark. In the past, age 65 was like the red line on a car’s tachometer that warned you when you neared the engine’s maximum recommended revolutions. When the needle tapped the red line, it was time to back off the throttle and begin to slow down.  And retire.

The Boomer cohort , some 79 million strong, doesn’t see it that way. From all appearances, this post-World War II population is hell-bent on proving that author F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.”

Boomers have never left the stage. Their second acts include starting their own companies, buying franchises and reinventing careers.

But for some Boomers, economic expediency rules and the curtain never falls on their first act. There is no do-over for them.

“We work because going homeless, not having health care and starving are not options for us,” Boomer Jeanette Friedman said in an email.

For others, however, economic necessity has become the mother of a life-enriching reinvention and the crafting of a second act that brings the satisfaction the first never could.

“I continue to work because I don’t have a pension, but honestly, I’m almost glad I don’t,” Susan Harris told BusinessNewsDaily. Harris, soon to turn 62, was a court reporter in Washington, D.C. She chucked the courtroom for full-time blogging in 2006 and today writes GardenRant and Boomer Turn-Ons.

“Having to earn an income is the great motivator that led me to my second career as a writer — the first career for me that’s been remotely creative or fulfilling,” Harris said. “So for me, the combination of needing money but no longer being able to stomach mind-numbing work has been magic.”

Most of the Boomers BusinessNewsDaily talked with voiced a similar blend of expediency and self-actualization as the motivators driving them. But it’s hard to focus on self-actualization if you’re always stressed about keeping the wolf from your door.

“People are finding they have not put enough money aside to retire and have the lifestyle they’re accustomed to. They need additional revenue,” said Arthur Koff, a 75-year-old who retired from the ad business and then launched his own web venture, RetiredBrains.com, a job and information resource, in 2003.

During his last years in advertising account services, Koff had focused on the Internet and wanted to stay involved with it.

“I’m a fairly active guy,” he said. “I get up at 6 and still work 50 hours a week. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I didn’t have an office to go to. I don’t look at it as work; it’s fun.  If this is work, I’m clearly in the right business. I hope to continue working as long as I’m mentally and physically capable.”

Joe Sassano, 62, was forced to look expediency squarely in the face when he was laid off in 2006 after a career as an executive in the financial services industry.

“I was 57 years old and I still had expenses,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared to not have an income. Timing has been atrocious in my career.”
Sassano’s solution was to buy a franchise .

“I wasn’t prepared to be in the corporate world anymore,” he said. “I’d been a guy working hard my entire career. Things should be getting easier. They weren’t. I decided to try self-employment.”

He and his brother in Chicago were going through parallel career flux. His brother was working with a franchise broker and discovered ShelfGenie, a cabinet-shelving franchise. Both brothers purchased franchises and discovered they loved their new careers.

“I love it,” Sassano said. “Sometimes great things come out of adversity. I’m helping people with problems and providing solutions.”

He’s also gotten his groove back. A bass guitarist, he’d stopped playing in the early ‘70s, he said, but started again five years ago with a local Connecticut cover band called Intraction that plays music from the days of their youth in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“It took me six months to get my chops back,” he said.

Money is one of the reasons that Boomers are continuing to work, said Doug Poretz, but not the only one. After a long career in communications, Poretz, 65, joined with two other retirees in 2009 to form Nuuko, an online collaborative marketplace for consultants.

“I decided I was ready to move on,” he said. “I was ready for the next challenge in life. It wasn’t in my genes to kick back.”
Most people who reach traditional retirement age , he said, want to leverage their knowledge and expertise.

“For a large part of their lives, their youthfulness came from their careers,” Poretz said. “They want to stay in the game somehow. They want to stay engaged.”

Nukko, he said, gives them that opportunity.

“I’m turned on by creating a new model,” he said.  “I wanted to be a one-man business again without all the corporate trappings and politics. I think the concept of the collaborative instead of the company is going to become very, very big. I’m living what I wanted to create.”

But sometimes reinvention requires compromise. After a career as an environmental attorney with a prestigious Boston law firm, Christopher Davis, 58, followed his passion and took a new position as director of investor programs with a green nonprofit investment firm there, Ceres.

“Ever since the first Earth Day in 1970 I was captivated by the Earth and helping preserve it,” he said. “I felt I needed to make more of a difference. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.”

In what may strike some as a reverse Faustian bargain, in his new position Davis makes less money but works longer hours. It has required some lifestyle sacrifice.

“My wife is struggling with the value proposition of taking a pay cut and working harder,” he said. “I feel really good about my job, ambivalent about my lifestyle, and sympathetic with my wife.”

But not all reinventions require sacrifice, said a 64-year-old casino card counter who goes by the nom du blackjack of “Daniel Dravot.”

His first act was spent as a hotel developer. In 2005, he sold the business but, because of “partnership problems,” didn’t have enough money to retire and had to find employment.

He rekindled an old passion for blackjack and reread all the books he had acquired about card counting.

“I read them this time with the intent of taking $5,000 and testing my mettle,” he said. “Six years later I’m still out there winning. I make over six figures a year. I travel with my wife and we see all the great sites all over America. And she thinks I’m James Bond. I think of myself as David against the casino Goliaths.”

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.