Working at a hobby

Retirement age triggers some to start anew, doing jobs they especially enjoy


When Bill Donahue opened his boat business in Annapolis three years ago, he joined a growing trend among retiring baby boomers. He turned a part-time hobby into a full-time job.

Protirement, a term coined during the early 1990s, in part describes the secondary careers taken on by many workers who find their savings and Social Security won’t be enough to sustain their lifestyles after they reach the traditional retirement age of 65.

Those without financial concerns simply want to have something different to do in their later years.

But it’s a time of life that experts say workers need to start planning for as early as their mid-40s.

After a successful career in banking, Donahue, 57, figured he was lucky enough to choose a new career he was so passionate about. He launched Annapolis Classic Watercraft to design and restore the boats. And the work keeps him busy seven days a week and 10 hours a day.

“This is my retirement,” Donahue said. “I see no end for this.”

Career experts predict more people like Donahue will find second careers as they get closer to their retirement ages. For that reason, the word “retirement” often is being replaced by words like “protirement” and “rewire” by career counselors and workers. Recent surveys show that most employees expect to work past retirement in some capacity.

“[Protirement] means to become proactively engaged [in the next stage] instead of sitting back and seeing it as a final chapter,” said Pamela McLean, co-founder of the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara in California, a training center for professionals. McLean’s husband, Frederic Hudson, is credited with coining the protirement tag.

When Social Security was enacted in 1935, it set the retirement age at 65, which most people thought was great, said Carleen MacKay, co-author of Boom Or Bust – New Career Strategies In a New America for Baby Boomers and Beyond, and a specialist in emergent work force issues at Spherion, an international recruiting firm.

Almost no one made it to 65 and those who did lived only a few years more, MacKay said. “Now we’re living to 81 and beyond.”

McLean said that since people are living longer than they have in the past, “we are actually creating a new stage in adult development.” McLean explained that, “The 60s, 70s and 80s are a time of life we’ve never had the way we have today. Because we’re living longer, we may not have as big a nest egg as we need. This is a perfect time to find your passion and live out some unfulfilled dreams.”

But doing that requires planning, experts said. “You need a retirement roadmap,” said Diane Piktialis, a work-life product director for Ceridian Corp., an international information services company that specializes in human resources. “It is not something you start thinking about three months out.”

With 76 million baby boomers approaching retirement starting in 2010, experts are urging workers to prepare for the future by devising a plan for how they want to spend their lives after they finish their current careers.

Besides considering how much money will be needed, experts suggest that workers expand their education and enhance their skills in areas they would like to pursue later. Many workers are like Donahue and expect to start businesses on their own, experts say.

According to a 2004 AARP study, 80 percent of baby boomers plan on working beyond age 65.

Experts point to a variety of factors: Higher health care costs that could make retirement unaffordable; dwindling pension plans; and a desire to stay active. The baby boomers also are expected to be wanted: Many employers are concerned about losing too much talent all at once, and they are instituting plans to persuade workers to stay on through flexible and part-time schedules.

Some workers expect to be fine financially but want to focus on something they’re more passionate about as they close out their career.

“Protirement means intentional living that is so important in leading the kind of life we want to lead,” McLean said. “Retirement is less intentional. It is acquiescing to the old view. Be proactive instead of reactive in how we plan the next chapter of our lives.”

Experts advise workers to think now about how they would like to spend their later years.

“Focus on, `What am I doing now professionally that is rewarding to me?” said Joseph DeMattos Jr., AARP Maryland director. “`How will I provide for the future while at the same time nourishing my soul? What can I do to maintain my skill set? What do my skills need to be in five or 10 years?’ Dream about what works for you and what’s going to make you jump out of bed in the morning. Take into consideration the reality of your current spending patterns and your quality of life.”

Many people move from full-time work to consulting. Others are able to combine their interests.

Tom Pollack, 62, has been a partner at Irell & Manella, a Santa Monica, Calif., law firm, for 35 years. He specialized in white-collar criminal defense and business litigation. But he always had a passion for architecture.

“Whenever I bought a house, I was interested in fixing it up,” Pollack said. “I always liked different styles of architecture. I always had a good eye for it. I took an architectural drawing class in high school, and I loved it. I never thought of pursuing it.”

He attended a Hudson Institute workshop, which brought clarity to his passion but it didn’t mean giving up the law. He dropped the business litigation portion of his practice and used the time that it freed up to buy homes that needed work. He teamed with an architect to remodel the homes and sold them for a profit.

He plans to continue both careers.

“I don’t see myself retiring,” he said. “I always see myself working.”

It’s not too early for workers in their mid-40s to explore options so they can schedule their retirement years, Piktialis said.

And those who enjoy their current careers are likely to have some advantages, since many companies are considering plans to allow older workers to stay on the job part-time and receive partial retirement benefits, said David DeLong, author of Lost Knowledge, Confronting the Threat of An Aging Workforce. Many companies are concerned about losing the expertise of their more seasoned workers because so many baby boomers will be eligible to retire during the same time span.

“There will be an effort made to retain or recruit them back,” DeLong said.

And several workers will choose to spend their second careers as entrepreneurs.

“Currently, 10 percent of older workers say they expect to start a new business,” DeMattos said. “And it is upwardly trending.”

That’s the case with Donahue, who started the boating business after life as a banker and owning a consulting firm. But in his off hours, he always was restoring boats in a workshop in his basement. To hone his skills, he took home-study courses in yacht survey and naval architecture. Donahue, who began building boats with his father when just 10 years old, knew the time was right when he decided to start the business.

“I’ve always been enamored with wooden boats,” Donahue said. “I thought, `If not now, when?’ “

Dana Klosner