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By Sandra Cohen and Roger Cormier

  Many people, starting in their fifties, feel challenged by not just whether or not or when to retire, but with the very concept of retirement.

Starting in the twentieth century, Americans began to have the luxury of retirement, meaning working for one company for a very long time and then stopping work completely. For the majority of that century many Americans had employer and government income and medical coverage to fall back on, but the average retiree lived only a few years after retiring at 65.

That’s changing fast. The average retirement today is more than 20 years, because many are retiring earlier and living much longer. While some people don’t choose to retire until their seventies, many are completely retiring, retiring in stages, or cycling between full, part-time and no employment in whatever order they choose. Leisure is becoming more a choice than an automatic occurrence at a certain age.

Ken Dychtwald, internationally recognized aging specialist and founder of the Age Wave in the San Francisco Bay Area, found in a survey that Baby Boomers want to cycle between work and leisure (48%), never work for pay again (17%), work part time (16%), start a business (13%) or work full time (6%). Keeping mentally and physically active and connecting with others drives the 83 percent who want to work even more than having health benefits or more money.

If you are in the second half of your life, you may be asking yourself not so much whether you want to work but how you want to balance work and leisure. Work for you may mean some combination of paid employment, volunteering and hobbies. Leisure may mean travel and learning as well as time with family and friends and entertainment.

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This picture can sound rosy but, like all things in life, we’re faced with mixed blessings. As we live longer, more of us face chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By the middle of this century fourteen million Americans are expected to suffer from Alzheimer’s and tens of millions of older adults, including debt-ridden Boomers, may live in poverty. Right now millions of retirees spend as much as 40 or more hours a week just watching television.

Medical breakthroughs, resolution of the impending Social Security and Medicare crises and other impossible to predict changes can improve the outlook for a vibrant, secure and choice-filled second half of life. However, in these changing, challenging times, each of us needs to discern what we want, what is realistic and how to achieve our work and leisure dreams as individuals and people in community.

If you discover and go for what will enliven you in your mature decades, you will need support from people who are close to you and from kindred spirits. Don’t just envision your future. Share it and commit yourself to working for change to make your and others’ “retirement” dreams come true. Here are some resources to help your envisioning and connecting:

“The Longevity Revolution: As Boomers Become Elders” by Theodore Roszak (Berkeley Hills Books, 2001), “Too Young To Retire: 101 Ways To Start the Rest of Your Life” by Marika and Howard Stone (Plume, 2004), and http://www.2young2retire.com.

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