Unretirement is trending. As the traditional definition morphs, so, too, is the notion that it’s an ending.
Tennis legend Serena Williams announced that the 2022 US Open is her last tournament: “I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me,” she said in Vogue. Viewing her tennis departure more as a transition, the 23-time Grand Slam champion said, “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution.”
It’s not the only recent high-profile transition — for infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, 81, old-school retirement isn’t in sight either. In December, he will move on from his current role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after 50 years of service “to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field.”
Many New Yorkers are taking retirement this way, too. After professional grant writer Suzanne Shapiro, 67, retired two years ago, she promptly returned to freelancing for arts organizations.
“I hated retirement and wanted to do meaningful work,” said the Tudor City resident. “Plus, it is nice to have an extra financial cushion.”
Shapiro typically juggles three clients, including some short-term assignments that she gets through ReServe, an organization matching employer needs to candidates 50-plus years old.
ReServe helps employers fill critical gaps in foundation outreach, administration support, event planning, IT administration and more. It’s free for workers, and pays a modest stipend, typically for 10 to 20 hours of work per week.
According to Shapiro, the company is “very tuned in. They know my skill set. They called me and recommended a job. I’ve loved it, and it’s a very nice experience.”
The stream of work is also key for keeping a foot in the door. “If there comes a time when I really have to go back to work, I can say I’ve been working continuously,” said Shapiro.
Chris Farrell, author of “Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life” (AMACOM), is seeing an increase in “unretiring.”
“Experienced workers are increasingly continuing to tap into their accumulated skills and knowledge to earn an income well into the traditional retirement years,” said Farrell.
“Retirement is increasingly turning into a sabbatical. You want and need a break. But, financial pressures, and the desire for having purpose and continuing to exercise skills accumulated over a long career, does push people back into the labor market.”
Work also provides an identity and connectedness to others.
“You don’t want to age lonely,” said Farrell. “You want to have purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. For most people, the ideal is a multipurpose retirement, a mosaic of activities, a portfolio that ranges from volunteering to learning a craft to some part-time work to leisure activities.”
Farrell predicted that it won’t be uncommon for organizations to offer phased retirement or semi-retirement. Younger generations will have more time to better merge their careers and search for meaning “to pursue job flexibility and creative variety over a lifetime.”
Staying active fuels Upper East Sider Peter Eliopoulos, 60. “I feel very young. I work out, I bike, I travel. Unless I get hit by a bus on Second Avenue, I think I’m going to be around for a while,” said Eliopoulos, who currently volunteers at an orphanage in Haiti, teaching college-bound students.
“I enjoy working,” he said. “Being self-employed for a greater part of my life, it creates a mindset that you never really retire. I never had a thing like, ‘Oh, when I’m 62, I’m going to retire.’ I never had that mindset.”
As living costs increase and people live longer, healthier lives, stopping work altogether may not even be an option.
“Very few people can retire at age 62,” said Galia Gichon, a Westport, Conn.-based independent financial planner and co-host of the “Fiscal Firecrackers” podcast. “Most are [between] 67 and 70. With inflation and the current lower stock market, it has affirmed that they can’t retire as early as they’d like.”
Getting a new job at retirement age may be daunting, but New Yorkers have a new free resource to tap into. This October, Greenwich House in the Village is launching programs in areas such as work readiness classes, résumé building and job searching. It’s geared toward adults 60-plus, although New Yorkers of any age can tap into its resources.
“A lot of the programming is a space for opportunity that feels limitless,” said Jessica Ramos Cuttone, workforce director for Greenwich House. “It’s exciting for adults who are older and have been left out of these conversations, because people look at you and say, ‘You’re done.’ We say, ‘No, what do you want to do next beyond the second act?’ We’re looking to go beyond that.”
“It’s never too late. You always want to be learning. Contrary to widespread prejudice, [the] scholarly evidence and accumulated anecdotes are convincing that creativity and inventiveness doesn’t fade with the accumulation of birthdays.”