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Retirement Re-Visited

by Juanita Hennessey

What if you worked your whole life at a job you disliked? What if you never figured out what you wanted to do with your life? What if you knew, but circumstances prevented you from realizing your dream? Are there opportunities in later life to undo the regrets of your past?

Canada is poised to become a nation of retirees. In 2011, the first of the baby boom generation will turn 65 years old – the age most often associated with retirement. In truth, this generation has already begun to retire, or redefine retirement as it suits its lifestyle.

Retirement is no longer the clichéd notion of leaving work for a simple life of relaxation. Individuals re-enter the workforce, embark on second careers, return to school, commit to caring for elderly family members and/or grandchildren, and contribute to the community through volunteering. For many, imbedded within this phase of life are regrets. Career-related regrets (occupation, education, etc.) are consistently those most often cited by individuals who, looking back over their lives, imagine a better alternative.

Clearly, the mainstays of leisure and financial counselling are not adequate when working with the baby boom generation. Its members face the likelihood that retirement will be long – for some it may form their longest career stage. With increased life expectancies and people living healthier for longer, there are unprecedented opportunities for this generation when it reaches retirement. In order to remain relevant for the baby boom generation, career counselling must respond to the complexities of life for this population as it makes the transition.

The benefits of a concerted study of the retirement of the baby boom generation are twofold.

  1. Counsellors can work with clients to revisit aspects of their careers they regret with a view to helping them relinquish these regrets or transform them into viable options for their retirement.
  2. The retirement of the baby boom generation will present counsellors with information about the spans of entire careers that were chosen in the post-war era. Unlike the members of prior generations, the “boomer-retirees” were largely able to choose careers based on factors other than economic exigency.

By studying the experiences of this generation – the transitions and sacrifices they have had to make at different points of their careers, as well as the ‘alternative lives’ they have had to turn their backs on – counsellors will certainly benefit members of succeeding generations looking for guidance about the career choices they have to make.

Juanita Hennessey is an International Student Advisor and part-time graduate student in the M.Ed. (Counselling Psychology) program at Memorial University. She presented at Cannexus in January 2011 on “What Might Have Been: Coming to Terms with Career Regret” and is a participant of CERIC’s Graduate Student Engagement Program.

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