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Back to Work

James Kerr

CALL IT THE GREAT unretirement. Hit by rising living costs and unexpected feelings of boredom, one out of eight retirees plan to return to work this year, according to a recent survey.

I’m one of them. Two and a half years after retiring from the corporate world, I’m headed back to work. I’ve accepted a position as lead writer for the CEO of a Fortune 200 technology company. I’ll be writing the CEO’s speeches, board letters, and internal and external communications, while working with the firm’s marketing team to shape her public image.

You may ask why, at age 64, I’d want to give up my newfound freedom to jump back on the corporate hamster wheel. Well, it should be noted that my new gig is part-time and also a contract role, which should give me the flexibility to continue doing the things I love, like blogging, writing books and fly fishing. I’ll also be a sole contributor, and not managing a global team of professionals, as I did during my 30-plus-year career.

Still, I recognize that there will be some weeks when I need to drop everything to take on a pressing project. It comes with the territory. Are things really that bad for me financially that I need to go back to work?

Not really. Yes, inflation is taking a big bite out of my budget, as it is with other retirees. I’m also getting remarried in October and am being hit by a lot of big wedding-related expenses. But with the stock market at all-time highs, my investment portfolio is doing fine and I still have a decent-size cash position, despite drawing from it over the past two and a half years.

The bigger reasons I’m going back to work are personal in nature. They’re things I’ve learned about myself since I stepped away from my corporate management job in 2021.

1. I like to work. I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve missed work. I’m not talking about the meetings, the politics or those useless performance evaluations—sorry, HR—but rather the actual work of setting an important objective and going about accomplishing it. I estimate that, during my corporate management career, I spent upward of 80% of my time doing stuff in the former category. Now, as a contractor, I can focus on the actual work, which is the stuff that gets me energized and, I suspect, most other people as well.

What can I say? I’m not one to sit around. I’m not a golfer. I’m not much of a joiner. My fiancée is 12 years younger than me and still working, which means that most of the week I’m on my own. I don’t have an interest in traveling by myself, and there’s only so much fishing and personal writing I can do. Why not do meaningful work and get paid for it?

2. I like a challenge. As a results-driven person, I have a deep psychological need to achieve and make good use of my God-given talents, such as they are. As much as I’ve tried to temper my type-A tendencies over the past couple of years, I haven’t been able to do it. I feel like I still have a lot to offer the world and I’m not ready to be put out to pasture.

This new position offers me that kind of challenge. I’ll be working with a young, incredibly smart CEO who is leading a turnaround at one of the biggest fintech companies in the world. My job will be to help her tell her story in a way that energizes employees and differentiates the company in the minds of customers and Wall Street. It’s a job that, if done well, could have a tangible impact on the company’s stock price. That’s pretty exciting.

3. I like having money coming in. I’ve been living a rather minimalist lifestyle over the past two-plus years, doing my best to subsist on my savings and a small monthly pension, while holding off on withdrawing from my retirement funds or taking Social Security until I reach my full retirement age of 66 and 10 months. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it overall—witness the relatively minimal drain on my cash savings—which is satisfying at a certain level.

But even minimalism can get old after a while. I miss the ability to splurge on things the way I could when I was working full-time. For instance, I’ve always wanted to have a hot tub at my mountain house to soak my aging joints. I would also like to help my adult kids with some of their financial needs and ratchet up my charitable contributions. This part-time contract role will allow me to do that, with—I hope—minimal sacrifice of my freedom.

Life is short. There’s no sense scrimping if we don’t have to.

4. I miss the work world’s camaraderie. This was also a big revelation to me in the time I’ve been away from the corporate world. Blogging and writing books are, by their nature, a solitary business. I spend the bulk of my days in front of the computer, creating story worlds from the contents of my head.

As much as I like my solitude, it can get old after a while. I miss the day-to-day connections of working with people and collaborating with them toward a common goal. As one of my first tasks in my new job, I flew out to the company’s headquarters for a week-long set of meetings to help the team craft communications for an upcoming event. It was a lot of fun to be sitting at the table with super-smart corporate professionals, talking business and helping them tackle a big challenge.

5. I enjoy the dopamine rush of seeing things come to fruition. The rewards of being an author are few and far between. First, writing a book takes a long time. I’ve been researching and writing my multigenerational novel, Unto the Mountain, for three years, and it’s only now getting to the point where it’s good enough to send to agents and publishers. What’s more, for all the work that goes into a book, there’s no guarantee it’ll get published or, if it does, ever make any money.

Writing for the corporate world, on the other hand, has instant rewards. There’s the money, of course, but there’s also the dopamine rush of seeing a project come to completion and getting positive feedback from executives and colleagues. That’s important—to me, at least.

And so, hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go. How long will I do it for? Who knows? Life’s a journey and I’m looking at this as another adventure. I’m taking it one day at a time, while making sure I thoroughly enjoy the ride.

Author and blogger James Kerr is a former corporate public relations and investor relations officer who now runs his own agency, Boy Blue Communications. His debut book, “The Long Walk Home: How I Lost My Job as a Corporate Remora Fish and Rediscovered My Life’s Purpose,” was published in 2022 by Blydyn Square Books. Jim blogs at PeaceableMan.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBKerr and check out his previous articles.

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