Beyond 65: Redefining Retirement and Embracing a Purposeful Second Act

Learn about finding purpose in a second act and what to consider when choosing what to do in retirement.

Senior teaching college students
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Decades ago, retirement often meant spending your golden years focusing on your grandchildren and taking vacations. However, many Americans today are redefining retirement by seeking passion and purpose later in life, often involving a so-called "second act." 

In fact, more Americans are continuing to work well into the typical retirement years. Government numbers indicate the labor force participation rate for men between the ages of 65 and 69 rose from 28% in 1995 to 39% in 2019, while 30% of older women continued to work, up from 17%.

Of course, seeking a purpose isn't the only reason Americans continue to work after retiring. Statistics show many can't even afford to retire. However, whatever your reason for working into the typical retirement years, there are some important things to consider.

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 Do you need a second act? 

A second act is essentially a major career change that occurs after retirement. As to what age retirement begins — 65 is the traditional age and the median age at which Americans expect to retire. However, the 2023 Retirement Confidence Survey  from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that the mean retirement age among Americans is actually 62. This finding indicates that people generally expect to work longer than they actually do.

Thus, it makes perfect sense that so many retirees seek a second act, especially considering that full retirement age for Social Security has been extended to 66 and two months for those born in 1955 or later, with that number increasing by two months each year for those born between 1956 and 1959. Full Retirement age is 67 for those born in 1960 or later. As people continue to live longer and longer, today's average retiree can expect to live at least 18 more years after retirement — potentially requiring many more years' worth of income than they were expecting.

In fact, many Baby Boomers can't even afford to retire. According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, the median retirement savings was only $134,000 for Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 in 2019, the most recent year the survey was conducted. Thus, the reasons for seeking a second career in retirement may be varied and complex.

For example, what a retiree may consider their ideal job might not provide all they actually need. Many people need passion or purpose as a key motivator when considering a second act, so they look for a job that interests them enough to keep them working.

However, some retirees also need a solid income stream when they retire because they didn't save enough, and their ideal job might not provide the income they need. Additionally, some retirees may lack the skills required to be successful in the job they want or have other needs that aren't being fulfilled after they retire.

Thus, choosing the right post-retirement job requires striking the correct balance between passion and purpose, skills, and needs.

Seeking passion and purpose in retirement

An excellent place to start looking for your second act is by considering what you're passionate about and what drives you to give back. In fact, even seniors who need a steady income stream will also benefit from starting here.

For example, many retirees find fulfillment in teaching, such as a college professor instructing students in the field in which they spent their career. Others might consider retail positions involving their career, hobbies, or pursuits that they wished they had more time for while they were working full time. For example, Billy Ozzello, bass player for the 1980s-era band Survivor, now owns a guitar shop in Indiana.

Utilizing your skills

As you consider what you're passionate about and where you can find your purpose, you should also consider the skills you have or could easily learn in a relatively short amount of time. After all, you might not want to spend eight or more years pursuing a medical degree.

However, you will likely have time to take some classes and maybe even earn a two- or four-year degree if you're in good health and are so inclined. Additionally, any skills learned at your regular job are applicable, and so are any you learned through your hobbies or other pursuits.

Meeting your needs 

Not all retirees need steady income, although many do, and some have other needs requiring fulfillment, like staying socially engaged. For example, it was once common to see seniors holding positions as greeters at Walmart, but many might have done the job for the social engagement rather than the paycheck.

In the case of income, it's a good idea to figure out how much you can claim in Social Security benefits and then determine how much more you'll need to live comfortably or, at the very least, to get by. From there, you can circle back to finding your passion and purpose and using your skills as you look for a post-retirement position that fits as many needs and desires as possible.

Bottom line

When people retire today, it doesn't necessarily mean they're done working. Today's definition of retirement often includes a second act. After all, people are generally living longer, which could put some in danger of outliving their savings. Additionally, many seniors find that keeping themselves occupied makes life more enjoyable in their golden years. 

Whatever you decide to do in retirement, you can often find purpose and fulfillment by staying active, whether that involves working for a paycheck, volunteering full time at a non-profit, or occupying yourself with another activity. 

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Jacob Wolinsky

Jacob is the founder and CEO of ValueWalk. What started as a hobby 10 years ago turned into a well-known financial media empire focusing in particular on simplifying the opaque world of the hedge fund world. Before doing ValueWalk full time, Jacob worked as an equity analyst specializing in mid and small-cap stocks. Jacob also worked in business development for hedge funds. He lives with his wife and five children in New Jersey. Full Disclosure: Jacob only invests in broad-based ETFs and mutual funds to avoid any conflict of interest.