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Rethinking Retirement

Get In on a Stellar Second Act

Start your search for post-retirement activities six to 12 months before you leave your job.

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When I retired as editor of Kiplinger’s, I was asked to continue writing my Money Smart Women column and to launch this new column on retirement living. One year later, I’m happy doing both. But I sometimes wonder if I should be doing something completely different from my previous profession—say, learning how to tap dance (which I’ve actually looked into).

SEE ALSO: 50 Best Places to Retire in the U.S.

I put that question to Abby Donnelly, founder of The Leadership & Legacy Group, who counsels retiring executives on how to transition to their next phase of life. Donnelly responded by asking me a question: “Do you still feel you’re connecting with readers and helping them make good financial decisions?” Definitely, I replied. Then don’t worry, she said. “You’ve retired to something you find meaningful and rewarding.”

Donnelly draws a distinction between interests—in my case, tap dancing—and activities that deliver purpose and meaning, the holy grail of a fulfilling retirement. And there’s no one route to that goal. “Some people just want to do what they did before, but less of it and with more control, while others want to try something they never knew existed,” says Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook. Alboher is also vice president of Encore.org, which sponsors fellowships that encourage baby boomers to use their skills to help their communities (see an interview with her in the February Ahead).

Judging by the e-mails I’ve received, Kiplinger’s readers have followed numerous paths. After retiring from executive director roles at mental health organizations, Virgil Stucker started a therapeutic consulting practice to help baby boomers plan for the care of an adult child with mental illness. Arlene Robbins retired as a technical writer and editor in 2015—and went back to work part-time four months later, when she got a call from her former boss. “I LOVE doing what I do,” writes Robbins.

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Some of you switched to entirely new lines of work. Mike Purdy, a former procurement and contracting manager, reinvented himself as a U.S. presidential historian and was a media commentator during the 2016 presidential campaign. Registered nurse Denise Volpe Sullivan became a massage therapist at age 60 and a certified yoga instructor at 62.

Finding balance. Many of you have focused your interests and energies in areas that are unpaid but no less meaningful. James Temple has served as a camp counselor for his church and gone on five medical missions. Craig Thompson is organizing more than 100 boxes of material into a family history. Jim Turner is a traveler with purpose: His goal is to visit all 50 states, every national park and every presidential library. Like most of you, Alan Rak finds balance and fulfillment through a number of activities: “exercising four or five days a week, reading, fairly extensive travel, golf once a week and volunteering for three different causes.”

Volunteering ranks high with Kiplinger’s readers, but finding the right niche is not without its challenges. Kathy Moore discovered that traveling to reconnect with old friends has “interfered with my goal of volunteering.”

To smooth the way, Donnelly recommends starting your search for post-retirement activities six to 12 months before you leave your job. And when sizing up volunteer opportunities, “clarify before you go which of your strengths you want to use,” she advises. Otherwise you could be assigned to whatever position is open and “feel taken advantage of.”

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Reader Sue Wabeke went on church-sponsored tours of local charities before she retired and eventually found “the perfect spot,” where she has been volunteering for 15 years. “I can set my own time and I’ve met lots of interesting people, not to mention making a difference.”

SEE ALSO: 27 Cheapest Places Where You'll Really Want to Retire

As long as I feel I’m making a difference with this column, I’ll forgo the stage and stick with tapping the keys on my laptop.