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Not Wired to Retire

Kathleen M. Rehl

MY HUSBAND SAYS I’LL never retire. He’s right. Now in my 78th year, I have no intention of stopping work altogether to devote myself to round-the-clock leisure. That sounds unappealing, especially since I plan to live well into my 90s, just like my great-grandmother.

Most of my friends opted to retire in their 60s. That includes my husband, Charlie. He retired at age 61 after 38 years as a nuclear engineer, all that time with the same company. Following the death of his first wife, Charlie continued to work at his challenging job for several more years, and then decided he was ready to go. Doing the math, he was confident that his pension and substantial savings would be more than enough to sustain his retirement. That was the right decision for Charlie.

What about me? I continued my financial planning practice until age 67. But after selling that business, I wasn’t ready to retire. Rather, I shifted to an encore career that involved writing, speaking and doing research on widows, including the financial issues they face and what advisors can do to help them.

That soon became a full-time commitment, including giving almost 300 presentations nationwide. I wrote for or was featured in more than 150 related publications. During this six-year phase, I maxed out my retirement savings. I also increased my charitable contributions to my “Moving Forward on Your Own” personal-giving fund, which is managed by the Community Foundation Tampa Bay. I was having too much fun to consider traditional retirement.

But as the seasons changed, so did my priorities. It was time for another shift. My stamina decreased, and the allure of constant travel and hotel living waned. I wanted to spend more time with my new husband and the activities I enjoyed in our community. So, at the end of 2019, two weeks before I turned age 73, I resigned from this encore career. It was perfect timing—because, in early 2020, the pandemic shut down the world.

It was a time of reflection, not only on the past but also on exciting possibilities that could lie ahead. Looking back on my life, the one thing that remained constant was change. I had shifted occupations several times, picking up new skills and credentials along the way, repackaging existing abilities, and reinventing myself many times.

My life started as a farmgirl. My first career was teaching in public schools for five years, while earning my PhD. Next, I became a university professor for five years, earning tenure. After that, I entered the nonprofit sector and worked as a development and communications director for a dozen years. Along the way, I earned the Certified Fund Raising Executive credential and, after further rigorous education, I added the Certified Financial Planner designation.

With yet more training and mentoring, I launched Rehl Financial Advisors at age 49. It remained a specialized practice by design, focused on philanthropic planning and assisting surviving spouses. There was always a waiting list for prospective clients, and the firm was often featured in the media. But I didn’t want to do that work forever. That’s why, a few years after my late husband’s death and after writing a financial guidebook for widows, I shifted to my six-year encore career focused on widows.

Amid these professional changes, I also experienced many personal changes, including divorce, being a single parent, remarrying, the premature death of that spouse, death by suicide of my stepdaughter, death of my ex, death of my parents, and several moves across the country.

After ending my encore career, what awaited me wasn’t a conventional retirement marked by withdrawal from life and a retreat into restful oblivion. Instead, I stepped into “refirement.” The authors of The ReFirement Workbook coined the term as an invitation to explore who one wants to be and do in later years. I identified five “F” words and phrases that were vital to me and continue to be so today: family, fun, focused-purpose, friends and fitness—including fitness of body, mind, spirit and money.

I continue to enjoy growing, learning and working part-time. According to Harvard Business Review, two-thirds of older Americans share my view that retirement is another chapter in life, with new ambitions and purposes. Today, I’m adjunct faculty at The American College of Financial Services, teaching in its Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy program. I write and speak about legacy and longevity planning at a few select conferences, mentor surviving spouses, and help nonprofits strengthen their endowments.

Hubby is right. I’ll never retire—because this new chapter continues to bring me great joy.

Kathleen M. Rehl owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years, followed by an encore career empowering widows financially. She authored the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. Today, Kathleen helps nonprofits with their endowments, pens legacy stories and is an adjunct at The American College of Financial Services. You can learn more at www.KathleenRehl.com. Check out Kathleen’s earlier articles.

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