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Retirement's revolving door: Why some workers can't call it quits

From News Medical - December 11, 2017

In his view, Tim Franson utterly failed at retirement.

After 20 years as a high-ranking vice president at drugmaker Eli Lilly, Franson and his wife, Chris, a successful real estate agent, thought they were quietly retiring nearly a decade ago to Bonita Springs, Fla.

For the first month or so, Franson said, he mostly slept. He was not depressed, just mentally and physically exhausted.

Then, "I went crazy," said Franson. "I am not very good at sitting around."

He quickly found himself back at work part time after a friend at a small pharmaceutical company asked him for strategic advice. "Things snowballed from there."

Today, Franson, 66, consults and works about four days a week, while serving on two for-profit boards and two nonprofit boards.

Welcome to the land of the un-retiredfolks who thought they were leaving the work world only to return because they sorely missed something about it, besides the money. These people in their 50s through 80s retired on pensions or savingsor bothbut ultimately woke up to the fact there's more to life than watching Florida sunsets.

This "un-retirement" trend continues to build, according to a 2017 Rand Corp. study showing that 39 percent of Americans 65 and older who are currently employed had previously retired. And more than half of those 50 and older who are not working and not searching for work said they would work if the "right opportunity came along," the study found.

"We have a mistaken image of life, that you go to school, work for 40 years, then say goodbye to colleagues for the last time and embrace the leisure life," said Chris Farrell, author of "Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life." "That's not turning out to be the arc of most people's lives."

This is not about older folks returning to work because they need the dough. This is about older folks returning to work because they miss the challenges, the accomplishments and, most important, the collegiality.

When retirees are asked what they miss most about pre-retirement life, the No. 1 answer is typically colleagues, said Farrell. "What's constantly underestimated is that work is really a community. It turns out it's much healthier and more satisfying to work for a bad boss than to sit on the couch and watch TV," he said.

Franson gets that. Not that it did not make perfect sense for him to retire when he did, at age 58. Lilly offered him a year's pay and a full pension to take early retirement. Franson had prostate cancer while at Lillyand though the surgery was successful, he said, "that experience makes you sit back and revisit how you want to experience your remaining days." At the time, his kids were out of college, and he did not have any grandkids yet.

Then, life derailed him when his wife, Chris, took ill and died within a few years. Four years ago, he accepted another consulting job in the Indianapolis area to be closer to his children and grandchildren. Franson has no plans to retire from his un-retirement anytime soon.

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