How to Plan Your ‘Second Act’

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How to Plan Your ‘Second Act’

Tips for preparing a new career or volunteer path for retirement.

Americans’ idea of “retirement” is changing, and many people today are looking to spend their latter years of life doing meaningful and engaging activities—whether that involves income-generating work, volunteering, or both.

In fact, an AARP survey found that 37 percent of working Americans ages 50 to 64 plan to keep working after retiring from their current job. Of those, 44 percent plan to change fields.

“If you think the best is yet to come, that will likely end up being the case,” says Nick Synko, founder and principal partner of Synko Associates LLC, a career transition and executive coaching firm. “I always tell people, don’t plan for retirement like it’s the downslope.”

It’s important, Synko says, to put some serious thought into planning for your second act to make sure it becomes what you want it to be. Here are three key questions to ask yourself:

What do you love to do?

Some retirees automatically return to the industry or type of job they were in previously, because that’s the easiest option and they already have experience and valuable professional connections. But it’s not always most fulfilling. In fact, many people feel burned out after working in the same profession for years and are ready for a wholesale career change. 

“Unfortunately, many people operate in fear and think that what job they’ve done in the past is all they can do in the future,” Synko says. “This isn’t the time in life to revert to a job that you don’t love.”

Instead, your second act should be seen as an opportunity to reinvent yourself, he says. So, take time to really consider what you love doing or what you’re passionate about. For example, some people end up going back to careers or jobs they wanted to pursue as children or young adults. Others may leverage the skills they developed in their career—whether communications, counseling, sales or project management—but put them toward another job they’re excited about pursuing.

If you’ve saved enough for retirement and are simply looking for stimulating and meaningful activities, you might consider volunteering or a lower-paying service-oriented job, whether that’s tutoring schoolchildren or guiding tours at a local landmark.

How much income do you need to generate?

A top consideration for many retirees is income. After all, 68 percent of people age 55 to 64 have equal or less than one year’s worth of their income saved in their 401(k) plan, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security. So many retirees today look  to supplement their Social Security and any pension or investment income they have by working at least part-time.

If you need to generate work income, you’ll want to focus on industries and jobs that can offer that. It may mean using the skills you developed in a previous career or finding a job with a strong employment outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers an Occupational Outlook Handbook for hundreds of different occupations. Once you identify a promising industry or job, you may take any required courses affordably at a local community college.

Volunteering can also lead to great job opportunities, Synko adds. For example, many hospitals offer a wide range of volunteer positions that may make you a prime candidate for job openings.

What does your ideal retirement look like?

While having work during retirement may be important, you may also be balancing that with other retirement goals, such as traveling, pursuing a hobby or spending time with loved ones.

So think about how you want to divide your time and then find work that can support that schedule. For example, if you want to travel three or six months out of the year, you need work that offers that kind of scheduling flexibility or one that you can do remotely. 

Retirement is a chance to reinvent your life, and potentially start a new career path. Make sure you put some planning and thought into it.


Prepared by WSJ Custom Studios.

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