Perhaps you once dreamt about an early retirement, but now that dream is no longer a financial reality. Or perhaps you’re happy to be working until 65 or beyond, but find elements of the same ol’ job growing stale. With 60 percent of us 65 and older still working full-time jobs, many of us will work longer than our parents and be happy to be do so. For many of us, retiring and playing endless rounds of golf is just not as enticing. But how do you stay energized by your career and excited about heading out of your Golden Girls home and to work every morning? We spoke to two midlife career coaches, Candy Spitz and Diane Howell Topkis, to get some expert advice on loving your job past 55.
1. Feel unhappy? Take your unhappiness in hand.
Candy Spitz recommends starting with simply starting the process of brainstorming solutions to job dissatisfaction, as it can provide empowerment and mitigate feelings of being “trapped.” Candy is a member of the Life Planning Network, a group of professionals who espouse positive aging and who help people navigate and optimize the second half of their lives. A principal philosophy of LPN is “purposeful and proactive” planning, so she encourages proactively addressing job unhappiness and working toward making the most of the “bonus” years.
2. Define the meaning of your job.
Many people at our age wonder, “What am I working for?” said Diane Howell Topkis. The meaning inherent in making a paycheck when a person was younger – such as paying off a mortgage and supporting a family – may no longer be there. So Diane recommends defining your goals, values, and mission statements to understand why you’re working and what you’re working toward. If the principal driving factor of your job is putting away money for retirement, there can be clarity – and happiness – in figuring that out. “Sometimes, when you understand that, it makes the job more meaningful. You can tweak your perception of it.”
3. Be healthy.
"It’s difficult to be happy in your job if you’re physically, emotionally, or mentally unhealthy," said Candy. So take advantage of whatever support systems your workplace has to be your best self, and listen to your body. Everyone does have a tipping point. “If work is so stressful that it’s making you sick, it may be time for a change,” she said.
4. Create the right mindset.
"Once you’ve discovered the meaning of your job, it can require an attitude adjustment to change your perception of it," said Diane. That doesn’t mean you’re required to re-jigger your brain and be excited about going into work the very next day. Instead, go through the process of studying what energizes you and drains you of energy in your job, and then work to bring more of the positive aspects into your workplace.
5. Understand your values, strengths, talents, and skills.
Understanding what you bring to the table in your workplace can help you focus your energies so you’re contributing more of the positive. Diane recommends a simple exercise: Ask 3-5 people what they admire about you. “We never get enough affirmation,” she said. “We start believing in our strengths when we hear about them from someone else.” Take that positive portrait of yourself and use it to define you as you go into a meeting. You probably have been contributing all along, but now you can ensure you’re contributing the best aspects of what you have to offer.
6. Develop a rich personal life.
It’s an often-repeated reminder but one that is always true, no matter the age: All of your joy and purpose does not have to come from your job. “Sometimes we have to develop our curiosity again,” said Candy. “We have to remember to ask ourselves, ‘What am I interested in? What am I curious about?’” Exploring the opportunities as a volunteer, hobbyist, or student outside of work can help divert the pressure from the job as the place that must be the end-all, be-all of your mental and emotional well-being. Your Golden Girls roommates can be great partners in these activities!
7. Be open to redefining your role.
There are many opportunities in the workplace to take on new roles or learn from those around if you are open to them. Offer yourself as a mentor at your workplace so others can learn from your institutional knowledge. And Candy advocates “midternships,” when older employees shadow those younger in the company to learn a new skill. “Stick your neck out and ask what opportunities are out there for you.”