Unretiring to Consulting


Are you planning a post-retirement or unretirement career? The number of people who are considering it grows each year. The old standard of retiring at 65 is gone. Not only do more people work beyond 65, but many people retire well before 65 to an unretirement.

There is a growing trend towards shifting employment to consulting and coaching.  Harvard Business Review says that this desire to stay employed is about personal and professional fulfillment. You may be surprised that the wealthiest people were the most likely to want to keep working. 80% of retirees who work say they are doing so because they want to, rather than because they have to.

I made this move in 2013 well before my still-to-come-65th birthday. (The majority of consultant/coaches are 50+.)Like many of those in the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, the majority of senior professionals don’t want to “retire.” They like what they are doing, but don’t like the pace and amount of work required at a corporate job. Clearly some of the appeal is  more flexible hours, possibly higher rates, working virtually and from your own location.

But you would not be the only person to have come to this decision. Another HBR article discusses some things to consider and I agree with most of them.

One tip is to “Give yourself sufficient runway. ” They suggest 1-2 years to prepare. Circumstances pushed me to make my decision in less than a year and at the start of my unretirement I didn’t have clients waiting. You also need to be sure you can handle the financial changes that occur with going independent.

It is recommended that you give your company plenty of time for succession planning. You don’t want to burn a bridge behind you, especially since you will probably be building this new career off your experiences, reputation and possibly even your past clients. As long as it is done in a legitimate and ethical way, you want to start lining up clients early. This doesn’t mean pilfering current clients but it does mean using a network you’ve built over the years. I had many colleagues in education at all levels and I used those contacts as entry point into new clients.

I spoke with small business counselors at my bank, opened business accounts, obtained a business/vendor number (rather than using my own Social Security number) and formed an LLC.

Dorie Clark, who writes about this topic, suggests that you do a skills self- analysis to evaluate your  entrepreneurial abilities along with your subject matter expertise. She even offers a tool to do that analysis. I picked up her book Reinventing You which got me thinking a lot more about personal branding.

If you do an honest skill analysis, you may determine that this new venture requires some new skills or updating existing skills. Examples might be social media, technical communications, online training or web services, digital marketing and design skills. You may not need another degree, but many colleges offer certifications and targeted courses on these and other topics. There are also hundreds of free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that can sometimes serve the same goals. Some of these courses are offered by the world’s leading universities and may also offer certificates of successful completion.

I have taught, and continue to teach, in several graduate certificate programs at New Jersey Institute of Technology. The majority of my students have been people either working in a field and seeking to upgrade skills for advancement, or people hoping to shift careers. A few have been moving towards consulting, but most are still hoping to work for their employer or another company in a new capacity. Don’t feel bad if you turn out to have a skills gap, because that is very much the norm in business today.

You will need a web presence. Business cards alone won’t cut it. A website and a social media presence for you and for your company should be on your To Do list early on. You will need to market yourself and your brand. I would add to that list – but much further down – things like creating a logo.

If social media hasn’t been your thing professionally, you could begin with having a personal and company presence on LinkedIn and even using that as a “blogging” platform. It is one way to connect your professional contacts with what you are doing.

On the  upside, consulting and coaching offer flexible, interesting, and sometimes well paid opportunities for second careers for active or retired professionals. On the downside, the competition is definitely out there, so be prepared.


A Year of Being Unretired

In January 2016, I wrote about my retirement and about a conference presentation I was prepping on “The Disconnected” segment of the population. Those people are not disconnected in a detached or unengaged sense, but are disconnected from traditional modes and sources of information and learning. I had also discovered a short-lived podcast called Unretirement

In the past year, I have become a bit more disconnected, and I have moved more into unretirement. I read Chris Farrell’s book Unretirement and listened to all the podcast episodes about people rethinking and reimagining their retirement years and perhaps the entire second half of life when it comes to work.

I have become more involved in volunteer “work”  this past year. I started last year doing that with the Montclair Film group and their film festival and especially their education efforts with young people. I continue to work with the endangered species program in my state.

This past week, I was approached by a college to work part time the next six months.

In my definition of retirement or unretirement you work because you want to work and because you think that work benefits both yourself and others. It has purpose. Getting paid is not a real concern. My volunteer work doesn’t pay me anything, and I often spend money to volunteer (materials, travel, parking).

My wife isn’t a big fan of me getting too busy or even earning too much money. She likes the freedom of no commitments in planning trips and vacations. She is the house accountant and warns me that at a point earning money in addition to pensions, social security and investments will negatively affect our state and federal taxes. “You’re working for the government,” she tells me.

This college project involves designing courses that use OER, Open Educational Resources, which are free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching.  Using these materials can reduce student costs for textbooks and materials and allow faculty to really design their curriculum rather than follow what a textbook offers.

I have worked with OER before and I support its use.  The college is an urban community college and I know OER is of financial benefit to those students. If that wasn’t the situation, I would pass on the opportunity without hesitation. That is one of the best parts of unretirement.

I suppose that if unretirement means working again we could call it by the older term “semi-retirement.” But it is different. Making your full-time job a part-time job is semi-retired. Leaving your job to do whatever you want is unretirement. Plan for it.

Celestial Observations


On another of my sites, Weekends in Paradelle, I write weekly essays on things that interest me. Looking over the stats for that site recently, I realized that I have written quite a number about celestial observations. In this category you will find observations about each month’s Full Moon, equinoxes, solstices, meteor showers, stars, planets and other things out in the huge universe.

I suppose I always had some interest in those topics. I loved going to planetariums. I bought a few decent telescopes. But I can’t say that I am very knowledgeable or “educated” on these topics. I will watch Brian Greene or Neil deGrasse Tyson and other scientists and I am fascinated and I learn new things. But ask me about them the next day and I seem to have forgotten it all. I have written about the equinoxes twice a year for the past few years, and yet when I start a piece on the next one, I find myself going back to check the facts on what the equinox means and the science behind it.

So, why make these celestial observations? It started when my sons were quite young. I wanted them to know the names of the plants, trees, fish, birds and animals that we see around us. I also wanted them to know what was above us in the heavens. I know that I lay back in the summer grass as a child and looked at stars and sometimes saw a falling one. I think I knew that was a meteor, but I definitely didn’t know it was the Perseids or why it was happening. I wanted my sons to know.

It also probably was motivated by a period of Zen study and trying harder to “live in the moment” and be more aware of things. I don’t think people pay very much attention to the natural world above and below them – certainly not as much attention as they pay to their smartphone or television. That’s saddens me.


I think I might be retired. In the least, I am no longer looking for full-time employment. But I am not completely finished “working.” For the past ten years, I have taken on consulting and part-time jobs and I fell into what is usually called freelance work.

I read an article about a study of freelance workers that predicted that 40% of the workforce will be freelance by 2020. That’s more than 60 million people.

Some people dream about the idea of  being able to leverage their skills, creativity and talents without answering to a boss. Of course, freelancers still have a boss. You might say that you become your own boss, but in some ways your boss just keeps changing.

I was warned by others before I headed down this road that it can be a scary proposition. Some freelancers work long hours and without any of the traditional perks (benefits, paid vacations etc.) and protections of regular employment.

What is a freelancer anyway? It is defined as a person who acts independently without being affiliated with or authorized by an organization and without a long-term commitment to any one employer.

Going back in history, it was a mercenary soldier, especially in the Middle Ages. A soldier with a lance who was free to use it for whoever was ready to pay.

I’m not a fan of the mercenary part of the definition, but all of that fits.

So, why did I go freelance after many years as a regular employee?

I thought it would afford me more of a work/life balance now that I am able to collect a pension from teaching and with less need t earn. Though some freelancers actually make more money on their own, I don’t see that happening for me, but I have no intention to work enough to make more.

I do like being selective about what work I take on, and I like the possibility of taking on interesting work across multiple industries.  I will miss the community aspect of a workplace since now working on a course or website is a very solitary kind of work.

Why do companies and institutions like to hire freelancers? (I will include “consultants” and “independent contractors” in this group.  They certainly like not having to pay for expensive benefit packages. They like having on-demand talent and access to expertise only when it’s needed.

Since I have been both a full-time teacher and employee and, for the past decade, and also a part-time worker, grant employee and adjunct faculty member, I have seen both sides.

Being an adjunct is a very tough way to make a career life. People who do it as their job (and not as a supplement) work hard with crazy hours and schedules and usually without a lot of support from the institutions that employ them. Of course, they teach the majority of college students these days at many institutions, so they are very important.

Will 40% of the workforce be this way in a decade? Sounds like a high number, but in 2006 (the last time the federal government counted) the number of independent and contingent workers—contractors, temps, and the self-employed—stood at 42.6 million, or about 30% of the workforce.

In the years since then, there has been an economic downturn and the employment rate has recovered at a very slow pace. Exceptions? Temporary, contingent, and independent workers. Between 2009 and 2012, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of temporary employees rose by 29%.

Forbes magazine suggested that we should forget about the jobs reports are regularly issues and focus on the freelance economy.

The Paradelle

paradelle cover

It has been more than two decades since I encountered the paradelle. It is a modern poetic form which was invented by poet Billy Collins. I first heard about it when I spent a week with Billy in a writing workshop held on Long Island, NY.

Billy had invented it as a parody of the villanelle, which is a well-established and complicated form. He told me that he fully intended to get the form into very official The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.

He first published his own paradelle, “Paradelle for Susan”, in The American Scholar where it garnered some angry letters to the editor from readers who missed the parody aspect and just thought it was a terrible poem that never should have been published. His favorite letter was from a mother who included her young daughter’s own attempt at the form that she thought was better than Collins’ poem.

Billy Collins claimed in his book, Picnic, Lighting, that the paradelle was invented in eleventh century France.

“The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in the langue d’oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only these words.”

In trying to follow those rules, Collins ended up with a final stanza containing the line “Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to.”

Well, the form did take on a life. Some poets, including myself, acknowledged the parody but took the form seriously, writing their own paradelles.

I took the word as an imaginary place of escape and the home of one of my blogs where I escape to and write on weekends.

Billy wrote later about the form that he “considered using an already existing form, but I figured enough bad sonnets and bad sestinas are already being written these days without me adding to the pile. . . . The paradelle invites you in with its offer of nursery-rhyme repetition, then suddenly confronts you with an extreme verbal challenge. It lurches from the comfort of repetition to the crossword-puzzle anxiety of fitting a specific vocabulary into a tightly bounded space. While the level of difficulty in most verse forms remains fairly consistent throughout, the paradelle accelerates from kindergarten to college and back to kindergarten several times and ends in a think-tank called the Institute for Advanced Word Play. Thus the jumpy double nature of the paradelle, so unsteady, so schizo, so right for our times.”

I wrote the paradelle below about the two years before and after I had lost someone close to me. It is included in an anthology of paradelles, The Paradelle, from Red Hen Press.



The heart softens with winter,
the heart softens with winter.
Time strengthens your thin body,
time strengthens your thin body.
Your thin body strengthens.
Winter time softens the heart.
Oak and sage edges the river,
oak and sage edges the river.
Rock breaks the water, its rings survive,
rock breaks the water, its rings survive.
Sage, oak and rock survive the breaks.
The river water rings its edges.
From a year without you beside me with the pain,
from a year without you beside me with the pain.
These selected moments surface,
these selected moments surface.
You beside me without the pain,
surface from a year with these selected moments.
The river rock softens its edges with time.
Oak at the heart strengthens as the rings thin.
Sage survives the winter pain.
Your body breaks the water surface beside me.
These moments selected from a year with
and without you.

Kenneth Ronkowitz

The ABD Club

ABD stands for “all but dissertation,” which is a description of a student who has finished coursework and perhaps also passed comprehensive exams, but has yet to complete and defend the doctoral thesis. It is a kind of club, though you don’t really see people putting the ABD bumper sticker on their car.

Last weekend, I wrote about “The Art of Procrastination” and rethinking what is and isn’t true procrastination. That led me to think about why so many doctoral students, myself included, give up on that degree.

I had read an article by Rebecca Schuman  about the Ph.D. Completion Project. It estimates the ten-year completion rate for the degree. For STEM disciplines, it is 55–64 percent. It’s 56 percent in the social sciences, and 49 percent in the humanities.  So about half of those in these doctoral programs don’t make it after a decade of working at it. Some of those people don’t even make it all the way to the dissertation phase. I am in that particular club.

David D. Perlmutter wrote a series that focused on the “getting it done” aspects of the document accepts that there may be factors beyond your control but pushes the completion agenda.

The Ph.D. Completion Project graphs start leveling out around year 8 and since the dissertation begins in Year 3 or 4), we can assume a lot of these folks are into the dissertation phase before they bail out.

ABDs live in an odd parallel universe of academia. They clock up years of research and tuition bills, but come away with nothing to show but three scarlet letters they can wear.

Some of them can get teaching jobs at 2-year colleges, or with some impressive job experiences or big publications might get a position (non-tenure, probably) at a 4-year school.  It has been suggested that a new kind of degree between an M.A. and a doctorate might be offered — an “MFA” in other areas.

I attended a party for a friend last summer who has finally completed the dissertation and degree. He is in his late 50s. He started late and plowed ahead because he enjoyed learning. He is an adjunct professor at a nearby university and I doubt that he expects to pick up a full-time position at this stage of his life. That’s a good place to be because the odds are against him.

I have written about procrastination on another blog of mine, and it’s not that I don’t get things done. Part of my problem has always been putting too many things on that never-ending “To Do” list.

The things undone on those lists are a constant cause of stress and a sense of failure. I lay a lot of guilt on myself about all the things I do to avoid doing the things I really need to do – like making and drinking a few cups of coffee while staring at the sky on the deck, taking the dirty laundry downstairs, writing a blog post, watering the plants, taking a walk.

But of late, I have been rethinking procrastination, and I’m not the only one doing that. Scientists who study procrastination find that most of us are lousy at weighing costs and benefits across time. For example, we might avoid doctor and dental appointments, exercising, dieting, or saving for retirement. We know they have benefits, but the rewards seem distant and we may even question those benefits. What if that money is not there when I retire? What if we don’t live long enough to retire?

Most of us prefer to do things with short-term and small rewards. The benefits of that coffee break, watering the plants or writing a blog post may be small or even dubious, but we see an immediate result. I like the coffee and it might give me some energy. The plants need me to survive, and I enjoy looking at them, I like completing things, even if it’s a post that take me only an hour to finish. It is finished. Checking things off the To Do list. gives me a wonderful feeling

Friends tell me I am very productive. And some articles I have read say that productive people sometimes are very poor at distinguishing between reasonable delay and true procrastination.
Reasonable delay can be useful. I will respond to the request for information from my colleague tomorrow after I talk to someone about it and gather more information. But true procrastination – not responding to the colleague for no reason, or watering the plants and making coffee just to avoid the inevitable – is self-defeating.

It is a way to rethink blaming yourself. I don’t mean that you’re off the hook. I’m not giving myself a free pass on procrastinating in all cases. I’m rethinking the why of the delay.

Do I regret not finishing that doctorate? the time when it would have benefited me is now past, so I don’t regret it now. I found alternate paths to what I wanted to do and I really did not enjoy the work required to get the degree.

Now if I can just find out when the next meeting of the ABD Club occurs. I have a lot to talk about with that crew.