Virginia Bola

Article Summary:

Choosing to return to work after retirement provides wonderful opportunities for additional income, pride, and an increased sense of self-worth.

Coming Out Of Retirement: How to Rejoin the World of Work

For many years, you looked forward to that day when you would bid the world of work a fond farewell and ride off into the sunset of your golden years.

Initially, it felt wonderful not to have to go somewhere each morning. Days, weeks, months of leisure lay temptingly before you. At last there would be time to do everything you wanted. No stress, no strain, just pleasing yourself for a change.

You can't quite remember when everything started to change. Maybe it was when you realized that you couldn't really afford to do all the traveling you had planned. Maybe it was the third day of puttering around in the garage trying to ignore the boredom and emptiness you felt inside. Maybe it was when you looked around the mall in the middle of the afternoon and realized that you were one of the youngest people present. Maybe it was when you watched the evening news and suddenly felt like an alien in a strange world in which you no longer belonged.

Whatever happened, you wake up one morning and know that you have to rejoin the world for the sake of your sanity, your self-respect, and your deep need to be productive: to count, to matter, to have community and personal value. With a determination, and a strong sense of relief, you step out on the road to un-retirement.

The following strategies may help make your journey more satisfying, more successful, and more fun.

1. Assess your current needs
Before running out to look for work, take stock of your needs, your comfort zone, and your long-range goals. Are you looking for just "something to do" or do you intend to continue or develop a new career? Review your financial requirements, your willingness to make a long-term commitment, your health, your abilities and limitations, your family situation. If you only want to work part-time, or temporarily, or if your primary concern is to avoid the stress of your former work, consider entry-level unskilled work. If you yearn to return to your prior career, consider offering to work for previous employers as an independent consultant. It will provide you with some considerable tax advantages while benefiting your employer who will no longer have to furnish benefits. Many retirees see a return to gainful employment as a "rounding out" of themselves. You may have worked in one industry for several years while harboring a secret dream of doing something completely different. Now may be the time, with your safety net of retirement income, to try something new, just based on personal interest and a strong desire to spend your energy on something that is personally gratifying.

2. Entry-level, stress-free work
The pay levels for this work are typically quite low. The benefits are that you have the luxury of starting immediately with few interview hoops to jump and can walk away without a backward glance when you feel like it. Knowing that you don't have to put up with a screaming boss or sarcastic remarks empowers you and removes the stress of trying to please your superiors and meet their (often unrealistically high) expectations. Typical jobs are security guard, courier, sales associate. If you like working alone, with minimal supervision, night security or courier work is ideal. You work independently where the presence of someone watching and judging you can be minimized. If you enjoy interacting with people, try building or manufacturing security or retail sales work where an extra perk is the typical employee discount on a wide range of merchandise. If you prefer more skilled work, try contracting through a Temporary Agency. Again, if you don't like the assignment, you simply request a new one.

3. Consulting
If you possess particular skills, expertise, and experience, you may be able to return to your prior employer as an independent contractor. Frequently companies undergo sudden spurts of productivity: a new sales campaign, implementation of a large new account, reorganization, a merger or acquisition. In such cases, your insider company knowledge, and your understanding of processes and procedures, is invaluable and a few months of such work may be exactly what you need financially while still promising periods of free time between assignments. While you typically receive no benefits, your income carries significant tax advantages as you qualify as self-employed.

4. Achieving a sense of wholeness
For most of your work life, perhaps 40 or 50 years, you may have been primarily interested in maximizing your income to take care of your family, send your kids to college, and build at least a small nest egg for retirement. Now that you have some guaranteed income on a regular basis, you may choose to move into work which is not so financially rewarding but which fulfills an inner need and has some moral, ethical, or purely entertaining payoff. You may feel a need to give back to your community by working in social or non-profit agencies, in the library, in schools. Perhaps you have always secretly yearned to teach, or coach, or counsel. Perhaps you just want to have fun and sign up as a movie extra or apply to be in television commercials. Your interests and preferences determine your direction. Concentrate on what is personally meaningful for you: art, music, education, reading and literacy, athletics, food, crafts, building, gardening. Whatever your interest, there are probably entry-level positions locally available, although probably at a salary that is a fraction of that you have earned in the past. Despite the income, the spark it gives to your mood, your self-esteem, and your zest for life make it all worthwhile.

Unless you are in a desperate financial plight that requires you to devote yourself to unpleasant work that offers you the highest possible income, post-retirement work can be fun, fulfilling, and a productive addition to your mental outlook, health, and longevity.

Virginia Bola, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist who operated a vocational rehabilitation firm for more than 20 years. She studies the emotional effects of unemployment, aging, overweight, and social issues on the individual.  Her first book, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual addressed the emotional aspects of unemployment, provided psychological support for the rigors of the job search, and incorporated proven techniques for obtaining successful work. Her new (2005) book, Diet With An Attitude: A Weight Loss Workbook, approaches weight control through psychological strategies to permanently modify the body-food relationship. Visit her sites at and

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