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Self-actualization in retirement

By Barbara Whelehan ·
Friday, April 13, 2012
Posted: 5 pm ET

Contrary to a recent survey that shows baby boomers "leaving the workforce in droves," a survey released this week by the Insured Retirement Institute finds that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of boomers expect to work after retirement to supplement their incomes. On the surface, that seems like lousy retirement planning.

Does "working retirement" seem like an oxymoron to you, leaving a queasy feeling in your gut? It did to me -- until I read "Boundless Potential: Transform Your Brain, Unleash Your Talents, Reinvent Your Work in Midlife and Beyond," by Mark S. Walton.

Inspirational title, don't you agree? The book delivers on its implicit promise by showcasing several people who successfully lived rich, fulfilling and productive lives for many years after leaving the workforce. Notice: They did leave the workforce. And they didn't stay in the same careers in which they'd established themselves for decades. They discovered a new niche that gave them that euphoric feeling that comes with the deep satisfaction of reveling in the "flow."

The flow is a phenomenon that Aristotle called "eudemonia" -- "a state of being that is solely produced by virtuous activity of the soul," Walton explains in his book.

What? Me work in retirement?

The idea seemed abhorrent to me. Retirement is supposed to be a time of freedom, when you can let go and choose to do whatever you want without having to exert yourself physically, mentally or emotionally. But read Walton's book, and you begin to perceive this notion of retirement not as an ideal existence, but as the beginning of the inexorable slide downhill.

Walton wasn't immediately a believer in working in retirement. Early in the book, he concedes that before he started writing it, if his "friends or colleagues tried to persuade me that the ultimate reward for years of hard work, the true key to everlasting happiness was … well, more work, I would have thought they were deranged."

But he has since come around to accepting it as truth.

"After five years of research on men and women who not only reinvented their work, but are profiting -- financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually -- from this work, well into their 70s, 80s, even 90s, I've reached the conclusion that the very concept of retirement is a dinosaur, an idea whose time has come and gone," he told me in an email.

"We are capable of so much more than we've been led to believe, and the benefit that we can provide to ourselves, our families and society in midlife and beyond is so great, it's incumbent on each of us never to retire our ambitions, but to continue developing ourselves in every way possible.

"If this approach to a long and happy life was good enough for the ancient Greeks of Athens -- the people whose work literally invented western civilization -- I think it should be the 'curriculum' for all of us in life's new, longer second half."

You can tell he's not talking about getting a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart, but rather discovering what fascinates you, turning that fascination into action, or flow, and determining how to structure the future, so you can achieve that everlasting happiness.

It's about spending retirement following your calling.

I asked Walton what he plans to do next. Writing this book served as a transition from his 20-year career in the field of business executive development, he says.

"My project now, already underway, is to gather a faculty of experts -- in human development, financial security, entrepreneurship and other fields -- in order to launch a school or college for the second half of life. This will be a place where intelligent men and women can gather together to focus on and develop their personal boundless potential in midlife and beyond."

It looks like he already has in place the perfect textbook for his future school.

How do you expect to spend your time in retirement? Or, if you are retired, are you engaged in an encore career that enables you to build on the skills you used in the workplace? Share your thoughts.


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