Welcome to the new retirement. It’s about having the freedom to decide when and how you want to take a break from work — to rest, recharge or start a new adventure — no matter your age. In our Redefining Retirement series, you’ll learn how real people are living their lives to the fullest, and the steps they took to get there.
Here, one man describes how his work with veterans has made retirement one of the most meaningful times in his life.
After a long career working as a consultant at a large Chicago accounting firm, I decided to retire in 2006. I was just about to turn 61 and felt like it was time to do something different. I wasn’t ready to give up working altogether, so using my own savings, I decided to start my own project management and business development consulting company. I figured being my own boss was a good way to give myself more flexibility while also continuing to do the work I loved.
I started by working with the service industry, but when the recession hit, most of that work dried up. Right around that time, I was asked by a client to do some research into businesses in Chicago who were hiring veterans.
I am a former first lieutenant in the Army Reserve and fought in the Vietnam War, so I was passionate about this project. I devoted way more time to it than was necessary, and my research ended up being included in a business publication about veterans in the workplace.
Through this experience, I realized I wanted to do more for veterans. I learned there were a lot of national business accelerator and incubator programs to support veteran entrepreneurs, but there weren’t any local programs. Chicago had a thriving startup scene, but veterans weren’t a part of it.
A SHIFT IN FOCUS
Because this issue was important to me, I spoke publicly on several occasions about the concept of a veteran-focused startup incubator and called on Chicago’s business leaders to take note. My advocacy helped aid the launch of Bunker Labs in Chicago, an incubator that helps military veterans with everything from developing business ideas to growing and raising capital.
I also decided to shift the focus of my own consulting business to helping vets. I remember how difficult it was for myself and my fellow veterans when we came home from the Vietnam War. There was no support and it was very difficult to get a job — even for an officer like me with a master’s degree.
Retirement doesn’t have to be about taking off on trips around the world. It can also be about doing important work you care about and helping groups of people that matter to you. It fills me with pride to help veterans integrate back into civilian life and build a career outside the military. My job doesn’t feel like work and I don’t want to retire from what I’m doing, even though I’m 73.
FINDING PURPOSE IN A SECOND ACT
I couldn’t ask for a better second career, but I also think it’s important to note that my second career found me. It didn’t occur to me to create a company where I would work with veterans, because I didn’t know there was a market for that. But when the opportunity arose to do something that aligned with my own history, I jumped at the opportunity. Now, I love watching the veterans I work with launch their businesses and become successful.
I truly think this is the best time of my life.
If you’re thinking about embarking on a second career in retirement, spend a lot of time thinking through what you want to do and making sure it’s the right move for you. Consider: What are your goals? What are your values? You want to create a life and a business that is a good fit so it won’t feel like a job. You should also be willing to pivot if you find something new you’re passionate about. And ultimately, what you do with your life can’t just be about the money — there has to be something more.
Going forward, I want to seek out more speaking engagements to encourage veterans to become entrepreneurs and to get people to invest in veteran-owned businesses. In late 2013, I relocated to North Carolina, where I started working with an organization called EntreDot to help veteran entrepreneurs here. Working to improve veterans’ mental health is also another issue I care deeply about.
These are the things that matter in my life right now and that give me a sense of purpose. I truly think this is the best time of my life.