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.

Freelance

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.

Learning to Unretire

connect2 sistineI have been working on a conference presentation the past two month that I have titled “The Disconnected.”  That is my name for a segment of the population that is not disconnected in a detached or unengaged sense, but are instead disconnecting from traditional modes and sources of information and learning.

In doing my research, I found the organization Encore.org that has a Higher Education Initiative which is looking at the impact of an aging population on higher education.

I also found a podcast that is called Unretirement.

I realized early on that I am becoming one of “the disconnected” but only recently did I know that I am also entering unretirement.

Chris Farrell, who wrote the book Unretirement and hosts the podcast, defines unretirement as a “grassroots movement rethinking and reimagining the second half of life.”

I believe (but I’m not certain) that I am done with my full-time work in education which has been my career for 40 years. Friends and colleagues tell me that they don’t believe it. “You’re too young to retire. You will go crazy with nothing to do.” I disagree. There is so much that I want to do. Some of that is typical of the age – travel, spend more time with loved ones – some of it includes the things that were often deferred because of work – writing and painting, for example. And some of it is unknown at this point.

Farrell’s book is subtitled “How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life” and in one podcast episode he talked with a woman, Sandra, who felt the need to get out of the house and start doing something to help deal with her unhappiness. She signed up for a quilt making class. It lit up a passion in her. At age 58, she’s gone back to “school” to move into a new career and is getting certified to become a professional quilting instructor. That may not sound like a typical “major” or even a viable unretirement career choice, but…

Quilting in America market is worth $3.76 billion annually” according to a trade survey trying to get at the size of the quilting economy. Sandra is not going to her local college to learn. She is not interested in credits or a degree. Quiltworx is the company from which she is getting her certification. The podcast covered why she decided to get this certification and how her family helped her figure whether the certificate was worth the cost. She has a business plan, and expects her certificate will pay off in 18 months.

The “Baby Boomers” are just one age segment of those I am finding to be part of “The Disconnected.” The largest age group is much younger and includes the traditional potential students for undergraduate and graduate programs. And even younger people are being born into and growing up in a society where the disconnects will be so common that they will probably not be seen as disconnects.

Here is one example of that disconnect. I came of age in the 1960s and viewed television as a wireless (via antenna) service that was free if you owned a set and supported by advertising. If you grew up in the 1980s, you saw television as a service that came to your home via a cable service that you paid for (even paying for the formerly free networks that had advertising support) and could add additional premium services if you wanted them. You learned to supplement and control that content (starting to call it video rather than TV) using a VCR and videotapes and later DVDs and then a DVR. A child of today is likely to be using multiple networks via multiple devices and may be growing up in a household that has already cut the cord to those 1980s services and devices and hard media formats.

So, grandparents and their grandchildren may find some connectiveness in being disconnected in their media consumption and even in how they both are learning and preparing for a working life.

Here are some resources about how older adults are connecting to learning and unretirement using both traditional schools and alternatives.

Improving Education and Training for Older Workers a survey from the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees from Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University

How many students graduate outside the normal age?” an international study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development

The Plus 50 Initiative at community colleges for learners age 50+ and a Lumina Foundation report on Plus 50

A state by state rundown of education opportunities for seniors

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career

The 40-Year-Old Graduates

4 Ways Older Students Can Avoid Student Debt

How to Make the Most of Longer Lives

Craft Artists, Income, and the U.S. Economy