'Winging it' after retirement

Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2007

For some people, retirement means moving to Florida and spending their days in a rocking chair, occasionally getting out to play shuffleboard. For others, retiring is simply the next step in the journey of life.

This is especially true for Ron Johnson, a former Marine and entrepreneur. Now the founder of Feathered Friends Forever, a bird rescue based in Harlem, Ga., Johnson made the decision to devote his time completely to the rescue and retire from the business world in the fall of 2005. But that certainly doesn't mean he's not busy.

With 500 varieties of parrots at this location, Johnson's day begins at 5 a.m. and ends after 10 p.m. While the foundation is run entirely by volunteers, they can sometimes be inconsistent, he says. That means feeding time, which can take up to six hours, is left up to him.

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"I was working eight hours with my job and 12 hours with the birds," he says of life prior to retirement. "It was easier to give up the job rather than the birds."

Second wind

Though some jobs may not be as unique as the Bird Whisperer, as Johnson is sometimes called, there is an increasing trend of working after retirement. In fact, a recent survey by Allstate Insurance Co. found that 22 percent of those polled said they would retire at age 65, while 16 percent said they realistically expect to retire when they are 70 or older.

"I give retired candidates about 120 days of down time, and then my phone usually rings," says Steve Swanson, managing partner of the Princeton Search Group, a professional staffing firm in Oakland, Calif. "When you have been going 100 miles an hour for 30 years, it is difficult to make the adjustment to a snail's pace. Most of the time, it's not about the money but a sense of identity and purpose."

Whether it's a feeling of identity, financial reasons or simply boredom, the baby boomer generation is heading into retirement - whether they stay that way is up to them.

"I have seen many so-called retired people work well into their seventies," says Swanson.

For many baby boomers, retirement - in all its relaxing splendor - may have come too soon. Many are providing care for their children or grandchildren in addition to their elderly parents. This creates a financial need to keep working past the retirement age.

"Many have not saved enough money and need to continue working," explains Terry Sawchuk, chairman and CEO of the Michigan Senior Society, a retirement advisory board based in Troy, Mich. "People are also living longer. The latest actuarial charts have women living until 90 and men until nearly 80. This may be considerably longer than they had planned for."

While some may agree that working is hard and a vacation would be nice, at the same time, they may not know what else to do.

"That's what they know," explains Peter Shankman, whose parents both retired and quickly went back to work as adjunct professors at New York University. "They spent their entire lives teaching, working and raising me. I'm single, so no grandkids for them to watch. They're not golfers. What else would they do?"

Runs in the family

Shankman jokes that his parents, who are also on several boards and committees within the New York public school system, were retired for "all of about an hour and 12 minutes." Sure, that's an exaggeration, but it's not always far from the truth.

For some, working is about staying active and doing what you love. For the Bird Whisperer, it was all about fulfilling a promise he made years ago when he had to give up his two parrots to go into the military.

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