Balancing Priorities

Here's the secret to a rewarding retirement: Keep working

The new retirement
The new retirement

The march to retirement just might be the best time to breathe some new life into your career.

Close to 1 in 5 individuals age 65 and over continues to punch the clock every day, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, more than half of Americans ages 50 to 64 are working and not retired, according to data from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Indeed, older employees may continue working because they need to strengthen their finances.

Recent data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute showed that nearly 80 percent of workers say that they'd like to continue working after retirement.

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The 9-to-5 routine doesn't have to be a grind — if you plan for it, said Kerry Hannon, author of "Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies."

"If there's a kind of work that you want to move toward when you retire, it's important to give yourself time to try things out, get the skills and do the job first to see if it's something that will catch you on fire," she said.

The workplace on your terms

There's no denying that a longer career will keep you from tapping your retirement accounts and will extend your access to workplace health benefits.

Hannon said, however, that there are psychological benefits for older Americans who continue to live a 9-to-5 life.

"People go into mourning when they retire," she said. "Your whole identity is caught up in who you are and what you did.

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"Continuing to work provides social benefits, including feeling relevant," Hannon added.

The next phase of your career doesn't have to be a reprise of your current gig, either. Rather, you can see how your current experience will transition to a different field.

"You're not reinventing yourself, you're redeploying," she said. "Maybe you're taking what you're good at and redeploying into a new arena."

Some employers offer workers flexible retirement options to keep their older employees on board.

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Five-year horizon

Hannon recommends that you give yourself a five-year time horizon before you make the leap into your next career adventure.

That is, if you want to retire to a new job at 65, start thinking about how to do it when you're 60.

People go into mourning when they retire. Your whole identity is caught up in who you are and what you did.
Kerry Hannon
author of "Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies."

The five-year window is critical, because it'll give you time to test your new career direction, be it through volunteering or converting a hobby into a stream of income.

The extra time will also give you the bandwidth to take a class and refresh your skills if your next career calls for it, Hannon said.

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Five steps to your next calling

Revamping your retirement doesn't happen overnight. Here are the first steps you can take toward finding your encore career, according to Hannon:

Do some soul-searching: Think deeply about the abilities you've acquired during your career and how you might be able to use them in your new gig. Do you really want to turn a hobby into your full-time obsession? You should also think about how many hours you want to work. A gig as a consultant might give you more flexibility.

Do a test-drive: Volunteer or moonlight in your new job before you make the leap from your current gig.

Network: Get back in touch with your alumni and industry groups and see what kind of work is available. Find people who are already doing the job you'd like to do, and ask them how they prepared themselves.

Research: As you burnish your resume, do your homework on the web. Patina Solutions, HourlyNerd and Upwork connect professionals with companies in search of expertise. Find a post that will let your years of experience shine.

Clean up your finances: You'll feel less constrained during your job search if you don't have large debts hanging over your head. Use your five-year horizon to aggressively pay down credit card balances and reduce housing expenses.

"When you move to these secondary jobs, you have the liberty to be nimble and try jobs you wouldn't have been able to do before retirement because the salary wasn't up to par," Hannon said.

"Debt is a dream killer; financial fitness is really important," she said.