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Rethinking retirement: More boomers choosing to work

  • Story Highlights
  • Survey: Six in 10 boomers want greater purpose in retirement
  • Many people find the idea of retiring terrifying
  • Author: Don't say I'll never work again
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By Taylor Gandossy
CNN
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(CNN) -- As a high tech executive, Jean Dibner managed people and money. Now, instead of supervising employees, she controls clay and bronze, drawing in details instead of dollars.

Dibner

Jean Dibner, a former high tech executive, is now an award-winning sculptor.

"I had accidentally stumbled upon sculpture when I was taking a pottery class," Dibner said, explaining her leap from the high tech world to art. "It didn't matter if I was good at it or not, I really did want to try it."

A decade later, after voluntarily retiring from the high-tech world, her sculptures are award-winning and mostly commissioned.

As companies pare away pension plans and the future of Social Security seems increasingly precarious, more and more baby boomers are choosing to work beyond the age of traditional retirement.

But others, like Dibner, see a prolonged career as a way to explore new interests or test untried talents.

Nearly six in 10 baby boomers who intend to work after retirement say they want a job that gives them a greater sense of purpose, according to a 2005 MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures New Face of Work Survey.

"The baby boomers were the first generation to have a lot more career freedom, but it seems like [for] at least some of them, that ended up not being the case," Randall Hansen, a career advice writer for the Web site Quintessential Careers, said.

"They fell into a job that they kind of hated or didn't get as much satisfaction from but stayed in because of first mortgages, and then college tuitions, and now that their kids are out of college, now they finally feel like they have the freedom to change careers."

For Bob Shipley, retiring was a step toward freedom. "I decided I didn't want to do that anymore," he said of his 30-year career as a general manager in the laundry business.

Marrying his business savvy to an interest in wine, he and business partner Craig Ciciarri established a New Jersey-based company that allows people to make their own customized wine, picking everything from the grapes to the bottle's label.

"If you take your passion and take what you know, you probably have a pretty good business idea," he said. His 5-year-old company, California Wine Works, brings in about 150 student-customers each year, who in turn make about 12,000 bottles of wine, he said.

Planning for retirement has always been focused on money, Marika Stone and Howard Stone, authors of "Too Young to Retire," said.

But after people nail down their financial need -- their IRAs, and their 401(k) plans -- the next thing that comes up is: "What am I going to do with the time?" Marika said.

"And it can be a very terrifying thing to people who haven't given it any thought at all."

Sheila and Letty Sustrin, twin sisters who taught kindergarten and first grade side by side for 38 years, said retirement was not only terrifying, it was unimaginable. "We'd been fighting it for many years," Letty said.

But a financially appealing retirement package convinced them to leave their classrooms in 1998, and they said they had to find a way to pass the time. "We'd always wanted to write," Letty said. So they did, spinning out in 2002 "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire," a children's tale not so far from their experiences. Surprised by the book's success, they wrote "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp," which was released three years later.

"We go to children's groups and private and parochial schools," Sheila said. They read to young children, and teach about retirement. Their second careers are as fulfilling as their first, the sisters said.

Although some employees sitting in cubicles may long for the end to their work lives, sun-drenched days with tee-times, knitting and visiting the grandchildren, Howard Stone said retirees shouldn't retire, at least in the traditional sense of the word.

"Those who say 'I'll never work again' are making a major, major mistake. Because they're going to find themselves adrift, away from a community purpose and a sense," he said.

Dibner, who spends her days coaxing life from stone -- forming the bump of a pregnant belly, a man's folded forehead, a boy's unruly curls -- said work is how she's found herself.

"Once you begin doing this sort of thing, I think there's not a way of turning it off," Dibner said. "Sculpture is not something I do, it's really who I am." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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