Better Than Golf

Kathleen M. Rehl

FOR ME AND MANY other older baby boomers, the traditional retirement model doesn’t work. We’re healthier and living longer than prior generations. Most of us don’t want to sit in a rocking chair, gaze at the sunset, play golf continuously, eat boring lunches at the senior center or live like we’re on vacation every single day.

Instead, we want to remain relevant, with meaning and purpose in our lives, and we want to continue to learn and grow. Indeed, many studies, including one at Oregon State University, have found that people who retire early, and don’t remain active and engaged, tend to die sooner.

Years ago, I thought I’d retire in my mid-60s from my financial planning business and, together with my husband, spend my remaining decades focusing on family, volunteering and travel. But my plan was turned upside down when my husband died two months after being diagnosed with cancer. That was right after my 60th birthday. His passing was the start of my journey into the wilderness of grief and transformation—and ultimately led to my encore career.

Soon after I lost my husband, I started focusing my financial planning practice on helping other widows, including writing articles about their financial concerns. I was asked to contribute a regular column to Investment Newsa publication for professionals. That, in turn, spurred me to write a personal finance book for widows, which garnered yet more attention.

Many invitations to speak followed. I agreed to talk at events across the country. I wanted to help other widows, while also advising financial professionals about the special challenges facing women who suddenly find themselves on their own. Problem is, I was losing money on every event I did, because I was paying my own travel expenses. Sure, I was selling books at these events. But that income was paltry compared to the travel costs and the revenue I lost while I was away from my primary job.

I decided to go back to school, enrolling in the local Speakers Academy of the National Speakers Association. There, I honed my presentation skills and learned how to make a business from my speaking. Six years ago, I sold my financial planning business, so I could spend more time on speaking, writing, mentoring and research. Now age 72, I love my encore career. Here are seven of the benefits, financial and otherwise:

  1. I get to help others, while receiving income for work I love.
  2. I was able to delay Social Security until age 70, increasing my monthly income by 32% compared to the benefit I would have received at age 66.
  3. I continue to add to my financial net worth. Even though I’m over age 70½, I’m still contributing to both a solo 401(k) and a Roth IRA, and I’ve increased my ability to help my children and grandchildren financially.
  4. I get to travel to fun cities, where I meet interesting people—and, these days, my sponsor pays most expenses.
  5. I work as much or as little as I want. Today, I only take on projects that I’m interested in.
  6. I get to use skills honed over a lifetime, but in a new creative way.
  7. My encore career keeps my brain active and feeds my soul. I feel I’m doing meaningful, fulfilling work.

That said, there are two drawbacks. First, I have a bit less flexibility. I try to monitor my calendar carefully and not overcommit. Second, the travel can be taxing. Flights are frequently canceled, rescheduled or delayed. I’ve learned the solution is to allow extra time, just in case.

Interested in an encore career? Think about transitioning over time, rather than jumping right in after leaving your job. Perhaps you can downshift from a fulltime professional position to a part-time role, maybe staying on as a consultant or working on special projects. That way, you can remain engaged with your current work and earn a partial paycheck, while gaining free time to pursue your new career.

Kathleen M. Rehl authored the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. She walks an hour or more most days, practices gentle yoga, and enjoys art and music festivals. You can learn more about Kathleen and her work at

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