By Tom Lauricella
For a growing number of older Americans, retirement is bringing a fresh challenge: learning to juggle.
The juggling act in question is how best to continue working and still have the flexibility to relax or pursue other interests that many people want—and sometimes simply need—later in life.
For some older Americans facing tight budgets, the idea of working during what they thought would be a full-time retirement may be a letdown. And in today's world, where technology can lead to expectations of being reachable by employers and clients at any hour and any day of the week, the thought of never having "downtime" is particularly worrisome.
But juggling retirement and work, especially if it's an extension of a fulfilling career, can be easily managed—and even rewarding—by keeping a few basic ideas in mind. Technology can actually be a help, not a hindrance, when it comes to getting time away from work.
At age 87, Peter White heads to an office each day in Williamstown, Mass., where he works as a financial adviser after a long career in corporate law and investment management. But every Monday and Thursday he takes a few hours off and heads to Williams College where he audits courses on history. These days, he's learning more about World War II and Japan, where he had firsthand experience in the Army.
The key for Mr. White is working in a small office with a job where he's essentially his own boss. While he has responsibilities that come with that job, "I'm my own man," he says.
More Americans are staying on the job. Among men and women age 65 to 69, nearly one-third were in the work force in 2011, up from 24.5% in 2000, according to a report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington. Among those 70 to 74, nearly 19% were working in 2011, up from 13.5% in 2000 and 11.3% in 1990.
Jean Setzfand, a financial-security specialist at AARP, says that while the traditional definition of retirement is changing, often to include working, "it's important to find time and be in control of your life."
For snowbirds who maintain homes in warmer climates as well as in their native colder environs, it may be easier to separate work from "retirement" by keeping the job as much as possible for the time spent back north.
Gerald Green is a 78-year-old semiretired attorney with his own practice. He spends seven to eight months of the year in Florida, and while there, commutes to New York's Long Island every other week for a few days at a time. His wife, Rosalie, stays in Florida when he makes the trip to New York, but they try to take frequent short vacations together.
Although he carries a limited case load, he says it can still be difficult to juggle both aspects of his life. Recently a closing for a real-estate deal was delayed and required him to stay longer in New York than planned. And in a few weeks, the Greens are planning to take a cruise, but a court case was scheduled for that date. He'll either postpone the court date or have another lawyer handle it.
While he loves his work and is reachable by cellphone for his clients any time, he makes it clear to his clients that his downtime is important. "My clients are aware that I spend so much time in Florida," he says. Ultimately, "they have the choice to stay with me or not."
For many older workers, keeping up with the rapidly changing world of technology is presenting a challenge.
Jack Leinwohl, 71, had to have his children teach him how to use a computer. But he now sees technology as providing him the flexibility he needs with work.
Mr. Leinwohl, who lives in Delray Beach, Fla., owns a UPS Store. However, thanks to his cellphone and the ease of tracking his business remotely through his personal computer, on many days he can spend only a couple of hours in the store.
This leaves him time to play golf, relax by the pool or socialize. During summers he's been able to head north and spend time in the Pocono Mountains or Atlantic City, N.J. "I've got my laptop and can be away for eight weeks," he says. "Technology works in my favor."
Of course, for many older workers, health issues can crop up. Mr. White in Massachusetts had a triple bypass and decided to switch offices and shorten his commute to its present 15 miles from what had been a 40-mile trip to Albany, N.Y. And there is simply the matter of often having less stamina.
Still, he says, finding time for both the rewards of his job and interests in his life is worth it.
"I'm very fortunate," Mr. White says.—Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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