We may get older, but we don’t have to lose our freedom to dream about what we can become when we “grow up.”
The airwaves are flooded with aspirational investment and financial services ads depicting empty nesters starting their own wineries, traveling the globe or whiling away on the golf course. However, the reality for many older Philadelphians is that you don’t have to go too far to become what you feel you were meant to be.
Beyond the Madison Avenue dream factory, there are people making their new life count, adding depth, dimension and excitement. According to three working seniors in Philadelphia, as well as a couple of authors and a financial planner versed in the topic, life can begin again when you put yourself in a new vocation that keeps the brain working.
While some people will continue to work out of financial necessity, the potential in one’s “Life 2.0” can be the adventure of a lifetime.
When you talk with longtime friends and colleagues Dr. Richard Goldberg and Dr. Joseph Markoff, it becomes clear that a sound prescription for a successful second act after 50 is to nourish your passions and interests well in advance.
“If you don’t have a plan to figure out your life beyond a certain point, you’re in trouble,” warned Markoff. “I planned my future very carefully. I set goals for myself, I got myself into the best physical shape of my life, losing 40 pounds. With colleagues in medicine who told me they couldn’t wait to retire, I warned them that they may have gone into medicine for the wrong reasons. Once they retired, because they did not plan their life after retirement, some felt they lost direction.”
Even with responsibilities and financial concerns you happen to be nursing at the moment, the good doctors also strongly suggested keeping the mind open to new opportunities and offshoots and start finding links between what you do for a living now and interests you may have now or have had in the past.
“During my 30-year-career as a vitreo-retinal surgeon, I never forgot my childhood interests in painting and drawing,” said Goldberg, who has made a name for himself in recent years as a painter, notably for his collaborative work in helping pull together the Creative Spirit Symposium at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, uniting medical, scientific and fine arts communities to explore how the merging of these three areas of study ultimately benefit patients with a variety of health issues.
He is involved, he said, because “we need to put the humanities back into medicine. There are definite similarities between art and medicine. Both the artist and the physician have to be keen observers, and they also have to pay steady attention to details.”
Goldberg added that “the physician spends a good deal of time away from a patient but still thinking about the patient. The artist spends a good deal of time away from his canvas, but still thinks about the painting. It was an easy progression and seamless transition, going from medicine to art. Just as a physician leaves a part of himself with each patient, the artist leaves a part of himself with each painting.”
While some people Goldberg meets are astounded with all he’s accomplished as an artist and with the Creative Spirit Symposium, others comment “this is a lot of work” and ask him why he has not retired. He pointed out that his wife Arlene, a former special education teacher working as a docent at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, feels the exact same way about keeping her mind and body vigorously active.
“What other people may not grasp is that I am the ultimate beneficiary by giving something special to others, and it’s been a good thing for my wife as well,” Goldberg continued.
“Furthermore, the emotional connection between paintings and patients is a big reason why so many physicians and health-related professionals also moved on to work in the arts.”
During his 35-year medical career, Markoff, like his friend, Goldberg, has sustained a concurrent professional trumpet-playing career, performing with groups in Philadelphia and other cities. What makes his dual-career path compelling is that although he’s no longer in a practice, he’s still involved with medicine as a consultant.
At age 65, when some of his peers traded in their lab coats for golf attire, he was hired as global director for scientific affairs in ophthalmology at Merck, Inc., to head up their ophthalmology department. Today, he consults for Philadelphia Eye Associates.
“I feel it’s very important to stay active throughout your life, and for this, I had great role models in my parents,” Markoff noted.
“My mother is 97, has a radio show, writes newspaper columns and drives a car. She is the personification of how staying active can keep you young. My father remained active until he passed away at 90.”
As Markoff sees it, acting on your desire to work and stay busy with activities you love will keep you in the swing: His work as a trumpeter keeps him busier and sharper than ever.
“You need a real set of goals to plan to handle this phase of your life, physically and mentally,” he stated. “This is not a time to catch up, but a time to continue to pursue your passion, or to pursue it if you did not have an opportunity to do so before.”
Veteran entertainer/band leader Eddie Bruce, 60, said that rather than retiring or scaling back, he simply looked to branch out into other areas of his field that would allow him to continue to fulfill his financial and artistic needs.
“Retiring from either band leading or performing was not an option for me, so I changed my focus over the course of my career,” Bruce said. “I experienced a definite second wind when I moved from strictly being a band leader at various parties, to a parallel cabaret and concert career. Even with the way I have expanded my horizons, I still do parties as my band is better than ever and there’s a demand for what we do.”
Although both lines of work involve similar musical skill sets and an ability to connect with the audience, he found cabaret was a creative outlet that enriched his soul.
A regular cabaret performer at the SugarHouse Casino here who has also been signed for concert dates at New York clubs, Bruce said that to be the most successful you can be, you need to find outlets that will fulfill you on different levels.
If you follow the love, then the money will follow, he concluded.
And speaking of money…
According to PNC Wealth Management senior wealth planner Meaghan Hogan, as more Americans are living longer, it is inevitable that many of them will seek meaningful engagement in their older years. Her clients have also expressed an interest in leaving a legacy to their families that reflects their values, not just the realities of tax laws.
Furthermore, when Social Security was first passed, the average American male life expectancy was 65. Today, 90 and up is no longer out of reach.
“Defined contribution plans, subject to market risk, replaced the promised and reliable pensions that our parents and grandparents relied on in retirement,” Hogan affirmed. “For personal and practical reasons, Americans are far more involved in planning their retirement years than ever. Our savings must last far longer than most of us ever thought.
“With the noted change from company and government pensions to personal retirement plans, and the ongoing discussion about Social Security benefits, people must be sure to save enough for a long, long life.”
She added that the “passion- driven” careers many people create for themselves after leaving corporate jobs may not offer the same benefits or salary to which they are accustomed. “If you’re considering making a career move to do something you love, you should work with a wealth management group to be sure you’ve taken the right steps, financially and personally.”
“What happens to many people after 50 is that they experience a major shift or several major shifts,” observed former Bank of America executive George Schofield, dedicating his second career to enlightening others via his book. After 50 It’s Up to Us: Developing the Skills and Agility We’ll Need.
What are they needed for? To face children moving out of the house, the “relationship” with one’s first career changing, aging parents and divorce. Instead of these events triggering a mid-life crisis, however, he said they can be treated as opportunities.
“These are wake-up calls for us to organize and reorganize our lives for the next phase,” Schofield said. “At some point,” those affected “are going to realize that to move forward, they may have to leave some old things behind that are no longer serving them.”
One apt observation Schofield made during his own transition phase (starting his second life in Sarasota, Fla., after a successful first career in San Francisco), is that the concept of “The Golden Years” can turn out to be a rude awakening. This is partially rooted in the fact that many people can now expect to live well into their 80s and 90s. This means you have to account for 15-20 additional years’ worth of income. From there, how do you make ends meet and feel fulfilled in the process?
“The most important thing I learned when my wife and I relocated was the importance of bringing the best and most useful aspects of my past relationships, skills, personal interests and hobbies into my present and future,” said Schofield. “We had to let go things that no longer served us so we could create open spaces for new opportunities to fall into our lives.”
In her consulting practice and her book, The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life, Boston-based Allison Rimm addresses the reality that life after 55, 60 or 65 should be approached much like starting one’s own business by keeping finances and personal fulfillment balanced.
“A lot of problems” her senior clients “experience is that as they get to the end of their careers, they are finding that the structure they got used to is now gone from their lives,” said Rimm.
“This can be a loss, as people may find they don’t feel relevant or have that ready-made social structure. I encourage them to take a step back and look at what they accomplished during the course of their career so they can identify, appreciate and articulate their strengths and gifts. Once you do that and appreciate your strengths, you can move forward.”
Rimm said that once people determine their personal definition of success, they then can assess what is needed to bring that second act to life.
She recalled one client, an accountant, telling her, “I cannot die with the music still inside me,” when he voiced his intentions to pursue a musical career. Indeed, there are many examples of those who were bound and determined to get that song out.
Elyse Glickman is a writer based on the West Coast. This article originally appeared in The Good Life, a Jewish Exponent supplement.