“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S. Lewis
“Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes had not grown dim, nor his vitality fled” Deuteronomy 34:7.
Moses has come to the end of his life. He died at age 120, working up to his final day. In this verse, we are told that he never lost his vitality. However, if his eyes were still sharp and had not lost his vitality, how can we reconcile this with Moses’s statement back in Chapter 31, speaking to the people: ‘‘I am 120 years old today, I cannot any longer go forth and return; for God has said to me, ‘You will not cross over this Jordan [River]. Some have interpreted Moses’s statement as meaning that if it were up to him, he would continue. Thus, saying ‘I cannot…’ may not mean ‘I do not have the capacity,’ but rather, ‘I am not authorized’ to lead the people to the Promised Land.  Another view holds that Moses was referring to the future, meaning that ‘even if I’m healthy today, it’s inevitable that in the future, I will suffer the limitations characterizing the elderly, so we need to be realistic.
The Five Books of Moses does not offer much guidance for retirement, a concept born in the modern era. However, there is mention of the Levites leaving their core assignments when they reached 50, as their tasks involved physical exertion and sharp eyesight. The over-50 Levites may have been respected as elders, but professionally, they were demoted to assist their younger brethren in their tabernacle-related duties. A similar format was likely the norm for humankind for millennia but without the prescribed cut-off age. When a person became less efficient in farming or crafts, they reduced the intensity or character of their activity and sought other ways to benefit their extended family.
Retirement is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon, as are most work-related phenomena in this era. Retirement is impacted by multiple variables, such as health, finances, social connections, family dynamics, workplace regulations, and, no less critically, post-retirement options. For many, retirement may end a chapter in an individual’s work history, but it opens up a new career stage requiring decisions on how to spend newly discretionary time. Due to increased longevity, many countries have advanced their retirement age for employed men and women. However, individuals with a say on the timing of their retirement may choose to advance or delay it, often based primarily on health and financial considerations.
Indeed, much of the retirement literature focuses on responsible financial planning and management; however, the content of these years is not given nearly the attention it deserves. How will you want to spend your time? Would you relish the freedom of having no schedule and no responsibilities or obligations, or would you thrive best in a structured framework with defined goals among people who appreciate what you do? Will you need to cultivate time management skills to help structure your days?
Merrill-Lynch and Age Wave conducted a seminal survey delineating the New Retirement Workscape in 2014. They projected that more and more people would choose to work during their retirement years. This growing rejection of total “free” time and embracing some work derives from many motivations. Among these are supplementing inadequate pensions, but a no less critical need is for a later-life career to include “greater purpose, stimulation, social engagement, and fulfillment in retirement” (p. 3). This survey of U.S. workers of all age groups notes that the outdated conceptualization of retirement comprised two stages: pre-retirement (retirement planning) and leisure. The new retirement landscape has four stages: pre-retirement (5 years), career intermission (relax, recharge, retool; 2.5 years), reengagement (work at varying levels of intensity; 9 years), and leisure.
Reengagement in paid employment after retirement––also called bridge employment––has been shown to alleviate the negative consequences of involuntary retirement on life satisfaction and well-being over time. Bridge employees typically report that their newly found work satisfaction derives more from its content (intrinsic aspects) than its remuneration (extrinsic aspects).
Reviewing the historical highlights of the American Association of Retired Persons underscores how retirement has morphed over the years in the U.S.: Founded in 1958, it sought to enhance the quality of life of older people and improve their image. In 1963, they established the Institute of Lifetime Learning, stressing how lifelong learning should play a critical role among older adults. In 1984, they dropped the membership age from 55 to 50, acknowledging the blurring age boundaries of members’ career stages. And in 1999, they changed their official name to AARP, eliminating “retired persons,” as many continued to work post-retirement.
Thus, as more people seek purpose and meaning in their post-retirement years, we will begin to view the later years of life less as a time of decline and more as an opportunity to create a new path that is more fulfilling, stimulating, engaging, and financially feasible. Moses did not have the opportunity to actualize his post-leadership career (mostly due to his Boss’s discretion), but thankfully, many of us do.
Three retired career coaching clients illustrate critical aspects of this career transition. All were blessed with good health and sought coaching due to their frustration in their new status:
Ken was compelled to retire from his bank at age 67. He told me that he always used retirement as his excuse for putting off various chores that had accumulated around the house: “When I retire, I’ll organize all our photo albums, clear out the basement,” and so on. Well, now that he was retired, he didn’t feel like doing these chores because they lacked the interactions and challenges he appreciated at his former job. We spent some time researching and profiling non-profit organizations that could benefit from his expertise in a part-time volunteer position or as an employee.
Janet, aged 68, was another bank retiree who immersed herself in various formal and informal study frameworks after retiring but found them lacking. She missed the structure of her workday and the opportunity to measure her accomplishments. After a year and a half of drifting, Janet accepted an offer to return to full-time work for another bank through an outsourcing company. She now enjoys the challenge of integrating into a staff whose average age is 35.
Jeff, a third client, aged 64, a professional in the helping professions (whom you may remember from a previous post when we discussed passion), was the one who received a financially attractive offer for early retirement but regretted his move shortly after signing on the dotted line. After a year of self-flagellation (“I liked my job, why did I quit?”), he joined an entrepreneur’s venture, enjoying leading workshops and helping a steady stream of new clientele.
- The pre-retirement phase (approximately five years before retirement) can best be spent discussing your tentative plans with your spouse, family, and financial advisor and investigating enrichment or training courses. I once worked with a colleague who refused to be lured into early retirement––“My daughter will always be on the line asking me to help out with her children, and I know I won’t be able to say no—so I’m staying at work!”
- The career intermission stage is the time to try out different work or volunteer settings to see what works for you—a kind of moratorium to experiment with various options––including relaxing. Don’t expect your first post-retirement endeavor to be a long-term occupation. Also, make it your business to gather ideas by asking colleagues and other retirees how they spend their time (you may hear: “I don’t know, the day somehow just fills up”;” I’ve never been busier!”; “I began planning our next cruise on the deck of our last one!” “I wish I’d started this new job 10 years ago!”). Not surprisingly, though, I’ve found that many retirees prefer to change the subject!
- Try this: Reengaging in a younger working world can be facilitated in many ways: Keeping in good physical shape, revamping your resume and upgrading your LinkedIn profile, and enrolling in classes or training with younger people. However, the game-changer for older workers seems to be keeping up with technology (especially computer skills). Two more pieces of advice from working retirees in the Merrill-Lynch survey: “Be open to trying something new” and “Be willing to earn less to do something you really enjoy.”
For more Tora-Career insights, please visit The Bible at Work: Career Wisdom from the Five Books of Moses.
 Deuteronomy 31:2.  Rashi  Abarbanel  Numbers 8:25–26  Merrill-Lynch (2014). Work in retirement: Myths and motivations: Career reinventions and the new retirement workscape. A Merrill-Lynch retirement study conducted in partnership with Age Wave.  Dingemans, E. (2015). How do retirement dynamics influence mental well-being in later life? A 10-year panel study, Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 41(1), 16–23.  Mazumdar, B., Warren, A. M., & Brown, T. C. (2020). Bridge employment: Understanding the expectations and experiences of bridge employees, Human Resource Management Journal, 31(2), 575–591.  AARP Press Room (n.d.). Key dates in AARP history. AARP.org.