Two years ago, after 35 years as a rheumatologist in Wilmington, Del., Russell Labowitz sold his medical practice and set out to make a lifelong dream a reality. With fond memories of his first job scooping ice cream at a corner drugstore in Philadelphia, Labowitz decided to open an ice cream shop. To prepare, he attended a five-day ice-cream-making course at the famed Pennsylvania State University Creamery and traveled the East Coast to consult with specialists. Some 18 months and $300,000 later, Labowitz, 64, is getting ready for the grand opening in early August of Uncle Russell's Ice Cream in Northfield, N.J., outside of Atlantic City. "I'm looking forward to doing something totally different," he says.
For many people, working in "retirement" means remaining in a long-standing profession and enjoying flexible schedules with fewer hours. But later-in-life career changers don't care about taking it easier and often work as hard or harder than they did in the jobs they left behind. This will become an increasingly common scenario with the first of the baby boomers, the most educated and healthiest American cohort to approach retirement, turning 60 next year. A recent Merrill Lynch (MER) retirement survey of more than 3,000 boomers reported that 83% intend to keep working, and 56% of them hope to do so in a new profession. For many, the new job would be in community service, according to Civic Ventures, a San Francisco nonprofit.
Any career change can be daunting, but perhaps more so in middle age. Most seasoned professionals don't relish having to relive the "what am I going to do next?" soul-searching they might have last experienced right after college. But "if you take the perspective that there are still years to plan and do things, the change can be very exciting," says Nancy Schlossberg, a retired University of Maryland education professor.
Keeping that in mind, the first and most important step you should take is setting aside enough time to make the transition. "We want something to fall into place right away, and that's not how things work," says Ronald Manheimer, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement. It took Liliane Ford Kates a year to figure out what she wanted to do with her time. Three years ago, at age 67, she decided she wanted a change after running a human-resources company in Manhattan for 25 years. "I knew I didn't want to retire," says Ford Kates.
She joined Transition Network, a New York-based networking group for women over 50, and attended lectures on career change. One speaker, Jeri Sedlar, co-author of Don't Retire, Rewire! inspired Ford Kates to ask lots of questions about what she really loved to do, the type of work schedule she desired, and why she wanted to remain in the work world. After realizing she loved helping people and being physically fit, this mother of two and grandmother of three set out to become certified as a personal trainer. She did that by completing two years of coursework at Marymount Manhattan College and a home-study program from the American Council on Exercise.
MAKE THREE LISTS
Asking probing questions will take up a good chunk of time. Ken Dychtwald, co-founder of Age Wave, a San Francisco research firm that focuses on the graying workforce, suggests in his new book, The Power Years, that you make three lists: First, write down every job you've ever had, both volunteer and paid. "Don't rule out anything," he says. Under each position, list three things about that job that you enjoyed most and when you felt most personally satisfied. Next, make a list of how you spend your discretionary income because that can be a good indicator of your priorities.
Finally, look back over your life and think about all the dreams and ambitions that might have gotten sidetracked by practical concerns, such as financial security to pay the mortgage or put your kids through college. These lists can help you "craft a new career from the inside out and help you find and follow your passion," says Dychtwald.
That's exactly what Preston Moore, an attorney-turned-Unitarian minister, discovered. Moore, 56, enjoyed the three decades he worked as a civil litigator at a San Francisco law firm. "But I had already proved myself, and I began to realize that winning another case just wasn't doing it for me anymore," he says. Moore gave up his partnership five years ago but continued to consult part-time to provide some income. Now he's doing an internship in Portland, Ore., after completing a three-year graduate seminary program at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He'll finish in December, and says he is willing to relocate wherever he and his wife, also a graduating ministry student, find jobs.
Like Ford Kates and Moore, many prospective retirees return to school to launch their new careers -- and colleges and universities are taking note. Two examples: Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., offer students credit for workplace experience. That could lighten your coursework as well as your tuition bills. Internet programs are also a low-cost and flexible option for those who want to gain new academic credentials.
For others, the key is transferring well-honed skills to a different setting. Joyce Roché spent 25 years in the corporate world, most recently as CEO of Carson Products, a Savannah (Ga.) manufacturer of hair products. Roché, 58, knew she had valuable skills and decided it was time to use them in an organization with a strong social-service agenda. "I sat on nonprofit boards but never really felt I did very much," she says. Networking through business contacts landed her a job five years ago as CEO of New York City-based Girls Inc., a national nonprofit dedicated to helping girls -- especially those from low-income families -- fulfill their potential. "This is probably the most challenging but rewarding job I've ever had," says Roché. Having lived in New York City prior to her stint with Carson Products, Roché was happy to return.
Sometimes, though, making a change means starting at the bottom again. After working as a computer analyst and then a hotel entrepreneur, 60-year-old David Morgan retired 12 years ago. But the joys of softball and gardening eventually wore thin. So recently Morgan decided to return to work -- as a salesman for a BMW (F), Volvo (F), and Mercedes-Benz dealership in his hometown of Chico, Calif., 100 miles north of Sacramento. "I've never been this far down on the totem pole," says Morgan, who has owned BMWs and Volvos and took the job on a whim after seeing a help-wanted ad. Still, he enjoys his 40-hour workweek. "I found it increases my mental acuity and physical stamina," says Morgan, who recently sold four cars in three days.
When thinking about your next move, consider areas where labor shortages are expected and there are few age barriers to entry. Workplace experts predict staffing shortfalls in the fields of education, health, and technology. If you're interested in teaching, expedited programs can take experienced workers and put them in front of a classroom in just a few months.
As society becomes more welcoming to an older workforce, there's no better time to marry your skills to newly meaningful work that works for you.
By Toddi Gutner