By Gayvin Powers
Why did you decide to help others find work after retiring from Duke?
After retirement from Duke University, I needed to find an activity, beyond my part-time teaching and consulting work, that would give me a purpose and a sense of helping those in need. I learned of the Soldier for Life program at Fort Bragg, formerly known as the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and networked myself into the head of the program. He thought my background of career planning would be very useful with the program. Besides volunteering with the workshops, I collaborated with a couple of MBAs from Duke to help create a program called Five Star Transitions (FST). Essentially, this was tapping into a great resource of MBA students at Duke who also wanted to give back, in some way, to exiting military personnel.”
Did you encounter many people in their second retirement at Duke?
Not a lot since most faculty have the unique ability to scale back their teaching to a level that will keep them engaged but also enjoy a more leisurely pace. A number of my friends and colleagues at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Department of Chemistry, Medical School are in their 70s and even 80s and still teaching and conducting research.
Who, in his or her second retirement, do you look up to as a role model?
Strange as it may sound, my first landlord was a fellow in his late 80s, who wrote a book on how to stay active in retirement. We had long discussions on how “full retirement” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and that most folks can only play so much golf or bridge before getting bored. I thought he was a great man and mentor to me, but I also thought that his philosophy was way off base, as my goal was to hit full retirement as soon as I could (target date 59 years old). As I reached that date I realized how prophetic his words were. I pushed off full retirement off to 67 but quickly became bored after five months.
Why do you think that people are going back to work after they retire?
Good question! From talking with my friends, what I read in the media and my own personal experience I think there are three reasons:
Need for money. Because of downsizing, the removal of many vested and defined benefit plans and the great stock market crash of 2008 affecting many retirees. Many retirees went back to work or delayed retirement due to finances.
Need to stay active. If you were fully engaged in your preretirement work, and for the most part enjoyed it, you find a real void when you leave that setting. Many feel a loss of purpose to get up every day. While volunteer work can fill some of this void, it cannot replace it entirely.
24/7 rule. Many retirees find it difficult adjusting to being with their spouse or partner 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They think this transition will be easy but after living it for a while (especially if they have downsized into a smaller home or condo) the walls start to close in.
What is the biggest challenge retirees are facing when re-entering the work force?
Probably not wanting to go back full-time, not being in charge or reporting to a much younger boss. Probably in some cases employers are probably looking for younger, more career-oriented workers who will stay for a while. My guess is some employers or bosses view retired workers as too transient or not committed to a long tenure.
How do they overcome that challenge?
Look for employers (and there are many) who will embrace your experience, knowledge and work ethic that you bring to the party. You have to be able to sell these factors to a potential employer as not all of them get it right off the bat. You also have to sell (and this is crucial) that you are not necessarily after a full time position, that you are comfortable in a temporary, part-time or contract role.
What is your motto in life?
Haven’t really thought about this but I suppose if I had to construct one it is “stay as active as you can.” Whether this means engaging in post-retirement work, volunteer activity or some form of relaxation activity, just do it. Sitting on a couch watching TV all day is not good for the spirit, mental psyche or physical wellbeing.
What is your motto for people transitioning?
Talk with people you admire who have preceded you into the “retirement” world. Ask how they made the transition, what difficulties did they face and how did they overcome them.
What draws you toward helping transitioning service members?
I just love working with them because I admire them so much for what they did for this country and the sacrifices they have made. I also love the attitude they bring into our discussions about transitioning and job search.
What is the biggest challenge you see for retiring service members getting a job in the civilian sector?
They don’t know what they don’t know! Most have never looked for a job in the civilian world so in some respects they are “flying blind.” The Soldier for Life program will help overcome this to a certain extent, but since they have not had any real-world lessons in the civilian world to fall back on (networking experience, being rejected in the civilian sector, transitioning to another job outside the military, etc.) they will use life lessons on the fly. Sometimes this will be traumatic and set them back a step but they will eventually learn, move on and be successful. The problem is they just don’t know this yet.
If you were your 20-year-old self, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Probably do what the younger folks are doing. Use all your vacation time, take trips (especially internationally) and do some exciting things before you retire. Career-wise, I would say seek out and find a good mentor.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer anyone who is seeking a new career after retirement?
First, sit down and write down what you liked most from previous jobs and what you liked least. Do this for three or four of your last positions. Then look at the things you like most and try to think of positions that might offer these attributes. Finally, once you have the list, start networking yourself into positions or companies you have identified. Much like networking for real jobs; the same skills apply. In fact, using the “What Color Is Your Parachute” technique of telling a person you have networked into (start with friends or colleagues first), telling the person what you are interested in, what you think you can bring to the party full- or part-time and is there any company, job or individual they recommend you should pursue. This system really does work whether for full-time jobs or post-retirement work.