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Shades of Gray

A New Role : For Many, Retirement Means a Change, Not a Withdrawal

July 26, 1990|Agnes Herman

Recently, at a convention in Seattle, I ran into a friend who was clearly agitated, eagerly seeking a listening ear. She had just emerged from a meeting titled, "Preparing for Retirement" and was mumbling, "There is no such thing as retirement; women never retire, they simply change hats. . . ."

Since that encounter, I have been attempting to understand her rejection of "retirement" and to find more accurate, descriptive, realistic terminology. Webster's dictionary defines "retirement" as "withdrawing from office, active service" and "withdrawing into seclusion." No matter how you read it, Webster emphasizes "withdrawal" and it is that concept that angered my 70-year-old friend.

"Changing hats" is not "withdrawal." Leaping from one responsibility to another: from parent to spouse, from careerist to family chauffeur, from writer to chef. . . these are the antitheses of "withdrawal." We do not withdraw, we women and men who play musical chairs with our roles, switching jobs and obligations as interests and needs change.

Our vocational lives, along with our avocations, come and go, as we advance from one stage of life to another. In retirement, most of us move from one activity into another: a new job, a volunteer assignment, seclusion, athletics or a return to "housekeeping" (to build shelves in the garage, delve into gourmet cooking or finally straighten out the closets).

Perhaps "recycling" is more descriptive than retiring. We recycle our talents and interests as we retire from a recent responsibility to engage in a more challenging one.

My friend, Jim Kennedy of San Marcos, 23 years in the Navy, retired three years ago. There is not a speck of gray in his hair; he is not yet 50. Jim could have withdrawn into seclusion, voluntarism, or golf. Instead, he went to school. He took a variety of courses at a local community college, passed the real estate licensing exam and went to work.

Jim is not alone. For a multitude of reasons that include a need for increased income, a fear of boredom, a continuing desire to be occupied and fulfilled through work, many who are forced to retire seek employment in allied or completely different fields.

Some folks have little patience for taking courses, but possess a great eagerness to work.

Evelyn Leff lives in Carlsbad. She returned to the San Diego area about 12 years ago, after operating a business with her husband in Los Angeles County for 35 years. The year of her return marked her first retirement. "I have worked since I was 13," reports this vivacious woman, now 75. At retirement, she tried staying at home, but decided it was "not for me."

She has since held a variety of positions, from staffing and publicizing grooming classes to running the media center at an Encinitas public school, to buying and selling for a local community center gift shop. At this time, she is beginning a brand new position as an office worker at Temple Solel of Encinitas.

Constantly recycling her business skills to meet different job challenges, she never seems to lose her warmth and her fervor for what she is doing.

Not everyone is able to leave a position of many years, then be enthusiastic and eager to take on a new and, particularly different responsibility. Some are threatened by this, others, confused and at loose ends.

The California Employment Development Department offers some answers. It sponsors Professional Networking Group, a chapter of Experience Unlimited, a national agency interested in the older professional worker who is thinking about a change in job or career.

The North County Professional Networking Group office is at 1301 Simpson Way in Escondido. (Phone: 432-9560.)

There is no age limitation and there are no fees. According to Janet Jolly in the Escondido office, there are workshops in goal setting, resume writing, consulting and skill development. Experience Unlimited matches employers and employees throughout the country.

The agency also provides desks and phones for clients' use. Those availing themselves of the agency's services, are required to provide four hours a week of volunteer work, answering phones or speaking with applicants.

For the non-professional retiree who is, for example, struggling with a low income, and thinking about returning to the job market, there is a federally funded program called Workforce 55.

According to Joy Arner, pre-employment specialist at Mira Mesa College in Cardiff, the Workforce program at the college provides training in job-hunting skills. Other North County colleges also participate in this program. Arner can be reached at 757-0121, Ext. 373. Information concerning other schools in the area is available at 238-1445.

Some large companies--such as Travelers Insurance, Aetna, Kelly (temporary) Services, Wells Fargo and Cigna--have developed retiree job banks, specific programs for recruitment of retirees and contract work that enables a retiree to serve a former employer or a comparable company as a consultant.

Those interested in working should study both Social Security rules and their own pension plan. For some, volunteerism is better than working for pay, if the dollars earned mean losing a big bite out of retirement benefits.

For others, the fulfillment of work cannot be measured in dollars.

Fortunately, for the "shades of gray" generation, employers are learning that older Americans who return to work are among the most dependable workers. Anytime anyone does a job because he or she wants to, not because he or she has to, he or she does a better job.

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