'Retiring' to a second career

Workplace: To many in their 50s and 60s, creating a dream job appeals more than not working at all.

Life After 50

May 07, 2000|By Deborah Stoudt | Deborah Stoudt,Special to the Sun

Just because you're in your early 50s or mid-60s and you can retire doesn't mean you're ready to mothball your work clothes and sprint off to Florida.

OK, it sounds good. But how long until you'd be bored? Instead, you choose to lasso your dream job, one that's fun, satisfying and meaningful.

That's what's happening across the country. Many would-be retirees are returning to school, getting retrained and launching second careers. They're swapping fancy offices and executive desks for construction sites and tool belts, opening a bed and breakfast or teaching. These trendsetters are helping reinvent the word retirement.

The work force is aging as 76 million baby boomers are ensconced in their careers, with the oldest turning 54 this year. Many boomers plan to work beyond retirement, according to a 1998 American Association of Retired Persons survey. Eight in 10 say they will work at least part time, while only 16 percent say they won't work at all.

"It's the very beginning of the end of retirement as we know it," says trend analyst Joyce Gioia of the Herman Group, a management consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C. "What's happening as people leave high-pressure, high-powered jobs is they don't want to have to hassle with things the way they have been."

They want jobs that offer a better quality of life, Gioia says. As their new careers become gratifying, they won't want to retire, she says.

Robert Blouin, 50, of Monkton, retired at age 48 after 25 years with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Resolution Trust Corp., which handled the failed savings and loan crisis. Although given an excellent retirement benefits package, he needed financially and emotionally to keep working.

"I didn't know what I was going to do," he says. "I didn't want to go back into corporate America. It was time for a change. Carpentry was something I'd done as a hobby. It was something I thought I could do and I wanted to learn how to do it right."

But he never acted on his desire until he was driving one afternoon and happened to see the Carpenters' Joint Apprenticeship Committee school in Carney.

He stopped in just for an application but was interviewed and tested on the spot. His outstanding test scores shaved 18 months off the four-year program. "It was meant to be," says Blouin, who has three teen-age children. Now the former executive works as a carpenter's apprentice and attends carpentry classes two nights a week.

"It's very rewarding," he says. "I can see what I did at the end of the day. ... I don't have to take anything home. I'm not management so I don't have to worry about other people's problems.

"This is physically exhausting. I go to bed real early," he concedes, adding that he has lost 22 pounds.

Although Blouin found the apprenticeship himself, other apprenticeships from mortician to registered nurse are available through the Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Program in Baltimore. Electrician and machinist apprenticeships are popular, says program director Ann Edwards. Labor unions and associations offer the apprenticeships and training, which are open to anyone who meets the employer's requirements.

For workers who need a paycheck, the apprenticeships provide a chance to earn while they learn, Edwards says.

Others see retirement on the horizon and have time to prepare for a second career. After years of working in business, Maureen Plummer, 56, of Turner Station, was thrilled about retiring last year from Piedmont Airlines at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. She liked being a customer-service supervisor, but she wanted a job "where I could give back and contribute my years of experience and knowledge," she says.

As her retirement neared, she talked with a counselor at the Department of Aging in Baltimore. Within six months she began teaching young adults life skills in a welfare-to-work program at Morgan State University.

Says Plummer, who has a degree in business administration from Morgan State, "Now I'm doing what I want to do. I'm here because I want to be here. I'm giving back information they can use. I'm using my knowledge and experience to help them get on a path that will better serve them."

Bruce and Lynn Bartlett, 58 and 59 respectively, experienced a bumpier ride. When Bruce, a director of sales support for Wisconsin Physicians Service, an insurance company in Madison, was laid off in 1995 after 27 years, their lives became filled with uncertainty.

Then serendipity stepped in. During a visit to Lynn Bartlett's sister in Olney, they saw a historic 19th-century Georgian Colonial mansion in nearby Brookeville that "did something to us. We decided if we wanted to live in the house, we had to make it a business," Lynn says.

After redoing the entire house, the couple, who have two grown children, opened Longwood Manor Bed and Breakfast in 1998. Novices at such a venture, they faced a steep learning curve.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.