Revisiting the To Work or Not to Work Dilemma

Since publishing my book, Retirement Transition: An Innovation Approach (available on line at Amazon), I’ve gotten into a few conversations about working and retirement.   Some have questioned, “If you’re working at all, are you really retired?” (Yes, you can be.)  Others have stated, “Of course you should work at least part time, otherwise you’re not contributing (to society)”.  (Oh dear, living up to other’s expectations!) One person told me he went back to work, in his same field with fewer projects, because he was bored.   This work questioning/conversation leads me to revisit a topic I’ve written about before – working or not working in retirement.

For many, working in retirement can be a choice!  For some people, working in retirement is a financial necessity, to supplement income.  But for those who do not need the financial compensation, I think it’s important to understand why you feel you “need” to work. What needs will be met by continuing to work at this stage of your life?

Work provides 4 key benefits beyond financial compensation.  Before assuming you need to work in retirement, first understand if you personally need these benefits as part of your retirement lifestyle.  Then, determine if working, at a second career or any job, will provide those benefits or if they can be achieved via other activities. Working in retirement is a choice, not an expectation!

  •  Structure. Work provides structure in a number of ways, from defining daily routines (what time do you get up, when do you run errands), to understanding hierarchy, and defined roles.  Often while working, we have ready-made calendars (“Tuesday is the budget meeting”, “Monday is my non-client day.”) and are handed our projects/tasks (they come with the job description).  Retirement creates unstructured days; new routines will need to be formed and new projects/tasks need to be chosen.  Some people need structure (an empty calendar makes them antsy) while others love unstructured days and deciding, “what will I do today?”  Is a return to working the only/best way to achieve structure all its forms, if that is a strong need for you? Structure is a huge need for me but I have been able to address that need in other ways.

 

  • Identity. Whether we like it or not, in our culture, identity equals your job. When asking, “What do you do?” upon meeting someone, you learn about his or her job – manager, teacher, engineer – or where they work.   Hardly anyone will answer, at first, “I’m a runner” or “I’m a grandma” or “I take daily beach walks”.  For many, it’s “I work, therefore I am” and “Without work, what am I“?  When your job is gone, can a new identity emerge from your new interests?  Maybe a hyphenated identity ala the millennial culture (I’m a blogger – foodie – mini-adventurer) will provide you a current sense of identity, or do you need the job “title”?

 

  • Achievement. When we worked, we were productive.  At least we felt that way!  We put in our eight (or more) hours of the day; we checked off the meetings, hit the sales quotas, dealt with the checklist of patients/students, or hit project milestones. We had a sense of purpose or a sense of being useful. Work is what we understand for achievement/utility, what defines success, what is habitual; doing and being busy is our cultural norm. When work stops, there is often an unsettled feeling of needing to just do something.  Is work the only way to feel a sense of accomplishment, productivity, or utility? How do you define success if not through work? Is there a way to be comfortable with being, and not doing?

 

  •  Connections. Since I was a workaholic, the bulk of my daily relationships and conversations where with my work colleagues.  Overnight, they were gone.  Yes, many will say, “we’ll keep in touch”, but in reality few of those relationships will survive your change of proximity and common ground.  There are no longer daily connections for accountability partnering, devil’s advocating, mentoring, or cheerleading. Over time, the office politics will be about people and projects you don’t know.  I know of many people who return to work part-time simply for restoring connectivity to others and having those casual conversations.

When considering working in retirement (and it is not about the need for monetary compensation), it’s important to understand what work at this stage will provide so you can choose the second career or part-time work that’s appropriate for you.   If it’s about connections, then gig-consulting work at home is not the right fit.  If it’s about achievement/utility, then a part-time job at the local Home Depot could be a fit.  

Working might or might not be in your retirement lifestyle vision.  Many things can deliver against these four needs  – fitness programs with regular gym or class attendance, new hobbies that create new friendships, or personal goal setting strategies.  But if working feels like the best thing for you, then work.  Just don’t make the assumption that it’s the right choice for everyone!

Have you been challenged on your choice to work or not to work?

Picture Credit: Pixabay

44 thoughts on “Revisiting the To Work or Not to Work Dilemma

  1. Not working, so you are not contributing to society? How much have we fallen victim to the profit game? In retiring early, I felt I was opening up an opportunity for others to progress and have fully embraced contributing to society by volunteering instead. I know others who contribute by looking after grandchildren or aged relatives and without whose care the state would have to step in. If the only way to contribute was to work permanently, the number of volunteers and acts of neighbourly assistance would shrink still further and society would die as we all became enslaved for life to the profitmaster that is capitalism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh, and what about if you don’t have grandkids. Or haven’t figured out where to volunteer because nothing has felt comfortable in what you’ve tried (I give lots of money but both attempts of giving time have left me feeling more frustrated than satisfied). I was pretty much “informed” I had 3 options in retirement in order to contribute to society – work a second career/part time job, focus on family (aging parents/grandkids), or volunteer regularly. You’ve obviously found your contribution to society in 2 of the 3. For me, I keep getting nudges from folks I should be “working”, since I don’t volunteer or have the grandkids that take up my time. And feeling guilty when someone points you that “of course you should be volunteering at this stage of your life – whether it’s with family or others”. But my point really was that you do NOT need to work to meet your needs. Just understand what your needs are and if working will help you meet them.

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  2. I work with many women who are “semi-retired” in my real estate career. I’m 55 and work full time, but many in my office work occasionally and I think they liked to come to the office for the friendships and camaraderie. Plus, there’s always something new to learn and it’s important to keep learning as we age. I would love to not have to work, but that’s not a possibility for me! I do enjoy reading about women my age who are in retirement though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s wonderful you’ve recognized their need to work for the camaraderie. I think real estate also has flexibility (especially if it’s part time) that semi-retired woman probably enjoy. What a great option for some folks.

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  3. Very interesting Pat and reading everyone’s comments was great too. I was forced into an early retirement at 56 a few years ago. Living in a small town, jobs are few and far between especially for someone in their late 50s. I decided to take a break and will not look for work but I do a lot of volunteer work and am productive in other ways. I said in a post recently that blogging has filled a lot of holes for me and although it’s not a money making blog, I get so much from it in other ways. In regards to other people’s expectations, I’ve never had anyone say they thought I should be contributing or anything other than praise and support. #mlstl

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    1. Debbie, It’s wonderful that all you’ve received is praise and support! I have received some of that – mostly via blogging buddies – and, yeah, it’s what I will focus on. Not the “why aren’t you doing more” comments from others. The comments from folks like you on my blog really help push my thinking on topics! Thank you.

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  4. I retired 6 months ago and I LOVE not working (I was a medical social worker). I cannot imagine ever working again. I do have a small jewelry business I started 19 years ago, and now my goal with that is to make enough to pay my housekeeper and perhaps buy a tank of gas! I don’t consider it a job, and I will probably stop when my husband retires in 2 years. In 2 years my license will expire and I will probably let it go rather than keep it on inactive status. That will be difficult because it was a lot of work to get it, but I know I will never work as a social worker again. I don’t even want to volunteer doing anything that remotely feels like social work. That may change in the future. I’ve made some new friends and have found things to keep busy. I love the freedom I have to do whatever I want whenever I want.

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    1. Laurel, It sounds like you’ve really embraced a non-working retirement! I think it’s wonderful that your jewelry making isn’t considered a job and yet, you can make some money with it. I just started “playing with wire”, something I’ve wanted to do for years. My goal is to make a few pieces I won’t be embarrassed to wear myself. 🙂

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  5. My husband has just part retired, he works in our NHS so the part he retired from means there’s no more on-call which is a big break in itself. He loves working 3 days in a career he loves, I think it’s hard to just stop so this is his transitional period I think.
    #MLSTL

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    1. I had a friend who did the part-time in her field and found it was a great way to transition. She went from 5 days a week to 3 days a week, and then to 5 days a month! It gave her time to figure out what else to add into her life and she is now not working at all and busy with the other things she started in her transition. I’ve seen a number of articles that recommend that approach in fact to aid in the transition. Few of us have that option. Glad your husband does!

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  6. What I love about work at this stage of my life is that I get to choose what I do and when I do it. I can’t imagine being retired without some form of work, even if very part time. I struggled with the question of my identity, and still do sometimes. I also missed having colleagues, especially since I worked with many of the same people over 20 years. I am achievement oriented, so it makes me feel good to accomplish things. I will always need to have some kind of achievement in my life-projects may be personal or professional or volunteer, but it always feels good to me to achieve something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Michele, I think knowing what you need in life is so critical. I think I’m coming to terms with I don’t need as much achievement as I thought! My 101 New Things goal makes me happier than any project work I took up when I first retired. So now, I need to deal with the belief that a “woman like me” should have achievement as a need! (ah, the should!) I was a high achiever most of my life….it was expected, dare I say “the right thing to do”. Yeah, Enneagram One. Sometimes as I respond to comments, I get even clearer on my own thinking – thanks for that!

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  7. Hi Pat – you know how this resonates with me at this exact time of my life! I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and two things impacted on what retirement is looking like for me. 1) Worrying about what others think – that I’m being lazy, that I don’t have an identity, that I’m a “pensioner” and 2) that what I earn equates to my intrinsic worth. Both are bollocks and I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that those who know and love me are happy that I’ve worked hard enough to earn the right to stop work, and money is not who I am – my worth comes from much deeper than the world’s values.

    That being said, I’m still tossing up as to whether I’ll find something part-time to do down the track. My compromise is to enjoy every moment of this “school’s out” relaxing, and at the same time I’m keeping a general eye out for anything interesting that may crop up – I will NEVER go back to work for the sake of earning some money to add to the kids’ inheritance, but I would go back if it was for connection and stimulation. Stay tuned – I’m sure there’s more to my story yet to unfold! Your help has been (as always) invaluable in sorting through all of this unexpected change.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Leanne, I knew you’d be all into this at the moment …. it reflects ideas in the chapter of my book I sent you. It’s nice to hear you’ve focused on connection and stimulation…. so if an opportunity presents, you’ll know how to evaluate it.

      I do still worry that others think I’m lazy, being selfish, and not doing my fair share of supporting society. I know it’s bollocks as you say (what a great Aussie word!), but I still worry about it. Sigh. Sometimes I think it’s two steps forward, one step back in my self-development!

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  8. Hey Pat … another fabulous post (as usual!) I have so many things to respond to, but I will keep it focused to just one 🙂 As I read the article (continually nodding in agreement) the word “productive” kept popping into my mind. I know that I must be productive in life … but I do not equate productivity with earning a paycheck. I am probably busier in retirement than I was when I was teaching BUT… I am busy doing what I want to do (genealogy research is my latest obsession). I need to fill my days doing something significant BUT I am the one who defines what is significant for me. I am fortunate that I don’t need to earn money right now – and I (finally) learned that my identity is not wrapped up in my career (thank goodness!)

    I will definitely pin this to my #mlstl board for future reference – and hopefully, inspire others to read this valuable article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Molly. I like how you said “fill my days doing something significant but I define what is significant for me”. I think that’s key for me to keep in mind. I’ve written it into my journal in fact.

      Oh, and you make me wonder what else you might have responded to! LOL.

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  9. Great post. Retirement is just a word, you can make it mean whatever you want it to be. I know some people who went back a couple of times, others like myself, have never regretted stepping off the corporate ladder and not looking back. My husband considers himself retired, but he works part-time. The difference being he works on his terms, when and where he wants. We can still take long trips, there are no restrictions.
    As a generation, I think we are re-writing the retirement rule book, and so we should!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Erith, I do think we are re-writing the “rule book” and hopefully with less rules! I like the idea of working part time, when and where you want! That’s the type of work commitment I need right now in my life.

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  10. So many people with “opinions”….grrr. I have had a really varied retirement: stopped, started part time, stopped, went back more part time…and stopped. AND for quite a while it was a shock to my system. In fact I wrote to about it as a contribution to LifeDeathWhatever…..https://www.lifedeathwhatever.com/five-things-blog/five-things-ive-learnt-about-retirement-and-cancer-by-denyse-whelan

    Hope it is OK to add this link Pat! Denyse #mlstl

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the link Denyse. I had not seen that post of yours. I too have found the transition challenging at times, but I am in a MUCH better place now than when I was working – physically and emotionally. Now if I could just stop worrying what others think/say!

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  11. Interesting that some feel the need to challenge the decisions of others. Retirement is perfect for some and not for others, for a whole variety of reasons, but it’s a personal choice or sometimes sadly not a choice. Though I always enjoyed my jobs (wouldn’t have done them otherwise), I love not having the commitment of working with more time to spend with family, travelling etc. I’m still absolutely contributing in all sorts of ways. Horses for courses!

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    1. Thanks for commenting and I agree. My challenge is I am still working on not worrying about meeting others expectations, and take those challenges personally. I’m finding comfort in my blogging community of many who are happily retired and not working. You are all boosting my confidence that I’m not alone.

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  12. This is a daily dilemma for me. I have applied recently for a full and a part time job and not sure I want either! But my husband’s job is moving and we don’t want to move with it. So have begun thinking about working again. Part time would be great for making new friends, a sense of contribution and productivity.

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    1. I believe that knowing why you’re working can help identify the right type of work. If it’s about relationships and productivity, then focus on what part-time work will really deliver against that. A friend of mine just got a job at the local library for that very reason. She loves the people she’s working with, interfaces with lots of “regulars”, and feels like she is making a contribution. She doesn’t make much money, but enjoys her time there.

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  13. You have commented on this before …. there seems to be a “tendency” to expect people to work till 65 or older. Therefore anyone who retires before 65 gets the implied “shouldn’t you be working”. I wish I had had more guts to reply, “no, I worked my butt off in college to get the difficult degree in engineering and I saved instead of spent thus I can afford to stop working in my 50s.” I regret that I gave into the “good girl” expectation and worked parttime for a few years when we didn’t need the money. Now that I’m in my mid 60s, I no longer get asked about working. I think that’s a mixed blessing.😉.

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    1. I had to LOL about maybe not being asked anymore being a mixed blessing. I’m getting more comfortable about not working, but still feel some guilt when other successful women “expect” me to be doing something big & important. Yeah, I know i should not feel like a failure. You said it right – i worked my butt off for years and had no life…. so now is the time for living. (And not worry about what others are doing or expecting!).

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      1. I had to come in here and make another comment about others’ expectations of you/me/anyone in retirement doing something ‘big and important’. Those things are not confined to a working world. I think I’m always doing something big and important – I’m still being a mother and constant support/friend/coffee drinker etc with my daughters as they raise their young families (which is valued as absolute gold in their minds); I’m being a friend and helper to others, I’m helping look after the older generation in our families, I’m helping with my knowledge, my time, my labour, my smiles, etc, etc etc. Self-worth is not just about your role in a corporate world. I loved my work and I was good at it, but it doesn’t define me or my value. I’m still doing bits and pieces with things that interest me, sometimes being paid a smidgeon, mostly not, but I don’t care. Just making someone happy is important. Do what matters to you and that brings happiness to yourself and others. If you need money, sure – you might have to keep working, but if you don’t and you don’t want to – hell, just do what you want, Forget the guilt – life’s too short. Don’t want to sound bossy, but this is a time for enjoyment. Embrace it all!

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  14. Great blog!! I, too, struggled at first with the thought of losing my identity and it certainly took a while to get comfortable with the the new me. Losing that identity was hard at first and then stress relieving once I got used to not having to be that person anymore. I found it very freeing. Needing to contribute or be needed was more interesting. I still wanted to contribute, so I found the non-profits that needed my help. And that satisfied needing to be needed with so much less stress. I would encourage those thinking about retiring to look at non-profits that suit things they love. Be it opera, cancer, libraries, art, children and so much more, the non-profits need great minds and/or able bodies to help. And I find it so rewarding. It does my health and my heart good.

    I must add that making self a priority, which at first seems selfish but soon feels so wonderful after just a little while, is the best thing to do. Most of us have spent so long working and doing for others that we don’t even know how to make ourselves our priority. But when you learn that it’s OK, it’s truly wonderful. Workout, read, learn new things, travel, find all the free things to do in your area and actually do them.

    I love my retired self and life! It takes time to adjust but we deserve it. We contributed to the world and can now enjoy the fruits of our labor. Including contributing in a non-profit, improving our minds and bodies, and just sitting back on our laurels.

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    1. Candyse, you’ve adjusted to retired life so quickly that it continues to amaze me! And inspire me, too. I like how you talk about it being OK to make ourselves the priority, too. Thanks for joining in the conversation here on the blog!

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  15. Hi Pat,
    I worried about the structure to my day, as well as the feeling of accomplishment my career provided me. Hence, the blog. It has filled the perceived void well…too well, at times where I feel some (self-imposed) pressure to get the next post written and published or all the emails notifying me of the work of fellow bloggers that needs to be read and commented upon.
    I do NOT want to go back to education, or any other career at this point. Dan and I are loving our new flexibility – including the ability to travel at any time, not just during school vacations!
    I have a few selected job friendships that have (so far) survived the transition. One of those women actually had her retirement party just this past week and will be joining our ranks. What has interfered the most with these relationships is our decision to live in NH (2 hours away from where we worked) and in FL in the winter. It is this physical distance I find most challenging, but I knew that when we made the decision. But it is also forcing us into new friendships and relationships which is a good thing…need to keep growing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nancy, I continue to work through the living in two places challenge with friendships as we are here in Florida for 5 weeks again. I do enjoy the slower pace of not-working… the ability to take a morning yoga class, linger over coffee, or chat with a neighbor. I think more of my blogging buddies are the happy-not-working than my IRL friends, so it’s good hear your voices about this topic.

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  16. I can’t imagine working anymore. I have days full of variety and things I love to do. I like my freedom too much to go back to living by someone else’s schedule. I feel lucky and grateful every day. But I also realize it’s different for others. Even my mother worked well into her 70s, I think mostly for the social aspects and to feel productive. But that’s not for me. I can find those things without having a job!!

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    1. I am learning to find them without a job as well. Feeling productive/useful is the most challenging one for me, but I continue to explore ways to get that need met. Thanks for sharing another example of retired-not-working and happy!

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  17. This is an interesting one – and a personal one. I don’t intend stopping work, but I do intend to retire from my corporate job at some point in the (hopefully) not too distant future. My husband retired early – not entirely by choice and not working was difficult for him. He needs social interaction and the sense that he’s doing something useful. Now he’s doing voluntary work and while we miss the income – when he retired our income dropped by 50% – he’s doing something that makes him happy without the stuff that made him unhappy. We’ve had so many people comment on it – especially since I’m still working & surely he should feel guilty about that? But seriously, it’s no one else’s business but ours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jo, Yes, surely it’s no one else’s business, but so often people will imply your choices are wrong. I’m obviously still working on not looking for external validation! It’s interesting that your husband recognized his need for social interaction and utility – volunteer work definitely provides those!

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  18. I (at this point, at least) have no desire to work in retirement. I love the flexibility my husband and I have – to travel, to immerse ourselves in projects, to do whatever the heck we want – and don’t want to give that up. I do think, though, that anyone who chooses to work into their retirement – whether fulltime or part time, in their previous field, or a new one – is still retired as long as it’s a choice and not based on financial need. I also miss the social network that came so easily at work but – so far – the trade-off has definitely been worth it. I try to stay in contact with a few of my former colleagues, but it can be challenging.

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    1. It’s just surprising to me how often I hear that it’s “expected” for retirees to continue to work in some manner. Maybe I hear the expectations more because I always to live up to them. I think I need more retired & not working people in my life. I agree that I love the flexibility and for me, any commitment feels limiting right now.

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  19. I retired about 1.5 years ago. Originally, I did a little consulting and thought it would turn into a good side hustle, but it didn’t. Then I discovered I enjoy not working. It’s like school’s out for summer — forever. Although I don’t need the money, I would consider some sort of work if it fits my passion and values.

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