Seniors | Not ready for next phase Lifestyle planning can help

At age 68, Sam B., a corporate attorney for 35 years, decided it was time to retire and do something else. The only problem: He didn’t know what exactly to do. Sure, he had a few hobbies, but Sam couldn’t imagine making an occupation out of any of them. But the idea of retirement in sunny idleness didn’t appeal to him at all.

Fortunately, Sam came across an opportunity to do some guided self-assessment in a facilitated small-group setting. Using analytical tools, imaginative thinking and peer feedback, Sam found a great volunteer activity helping fledgling entrepreneurs understand the realities of running a business.

If you’re a later-life adult like Sam, advances in science have given you many “bonus” years beyond the life expectancy of your parents and grandparents. However, it’s up to you to add “life” to these years and use this time to pursue what you truly want.

This requires self-examination. By picking up threads, desires or dreams that may have been put aside in the interest of other obligations, you can identify activities that are rewarding and fulfilling.

You can start with a “gap analysis,” an exercise that lets you evaluate 10 key areas of life, including vocational work or volunteering; family and community; recreation, health and fitness; spiritual; and cultural activities. By examining each area and determining how involved you would like to be later in life — versus how active and satisfied you are now — you can see where changes can be made.

Gene G. was able to make that change. Gene revived a life-long dream when, at 67, she resumed an acting career begun in her 20s. Raising four children and working as a nurse had caused her to put acting aside. After taking “brush-up” courses, Gene created a successful voiceover practice. Then, proving it’s never too late, in her late 70s and 80s she developed a solo performance piece called “Cheesecake and Demoral” that had popular runs at three Bay Area theaters.

Barbara L. didn’t have a burning desire to resume an unfulfilled dream. She had enjoyed a long and successful career in the burgeoning days of the tech industry. But at age 66, she a strong urge to help people. Using online tools, Barbara compiled a list of volunteer work she could do with isolated older adults, and became a volunteer driver, taking elders to appointments. Today, Barbara feels rewarded by the gratitude of those she assists. Also, knowing that isolation in seniors can lead to illness, she is further gratified with the knowledge that she is helping her “friends” enjoy healthier lifestyles.

Yet while many adults over 65 are seeking meaningful ways to “give back,” volunteering may not always be possible, especially when you need to continue working for financial reasons. In this case, a later-life career change may be the answer.

For example, Jim worked in corporate middle management for many years. When he retired, he needed to continue earning an income to help with bills and obligations. Meanwhile, his longtime hobby of amateur photography was so good that he was often asked by friends and family to serve as the photographer at their celebrations. When Jim shared his portfolio with classmates at his career-change workshop, he was encouraged to turn his hobby into a business. Today, Jim enjoys a successful career as a freelance wedding photographer.

Through workshops such as the one Jim attended, or other resources, assessment tools are available to help launch your re-evaluation process. Here’s one simple exercise: Create a figure of three interlocking circles in the following order: Circle 1: your skills and experience; Circle 2: items you want to keep or add; Circle 3: needs of the current marketplace. Where these circles intersect indicates the direction you should pursue. (Free online resources are also available at and, among others.)

With self-assessment and planning, you can enjoy a successful later-life career change.

Betty Burr has a master’s in gerontology and is a certified mid- and later-life coach specializing in senior lifestyle planning at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City.