Leverage Your Skillsets to Find Your Next Career Act with “Unretirement” Author Chris Farrell

Reading Time: 22 Minutes

About Chris Farrell

Chris Farrell is a marketplace senior economics contributor at American Public Media Group, a columnist at PBS Next Avenue and the Star Tribune, and the author of Unretirement. He earned a BA in History at Stanford and a MSC in Sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. His new book, Purpose and a Paycheck is available now.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


Good afternoon. My name is Alison Dunn. I am the host of this Deliberate Directions podcast. Our guest today is Chris Farrell. He’s joining us from St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a market place’s senior economist contributor at the American Public Media Group. He is the author of unpaid retirements and the new frugality. I’m glad I could say that word. And then just published a brand new book called The purpose and a paycheck, which is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Chris, thanks so much for joining us here today. Well, thank you for having me. Absolutely. How’s the weather in St. Paul today? Beautiful, it looks as good as I can see it behind you. Excellent. So, I have I have an awesome, very moment, multigenerational, coaching clientele and the topic that You kind of have a specialty in is very near and dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And so what sparked your interest in the topic of boomers coming back to work?


So for me journalists/journalistic career and there have been two strands in my journalistic career. One is covering personal finance, anything about personal finance over the past 25 years, a major theme has been the aging of the baby boomer population, are they going to have enough money when they retire? They haven’t saved enough. And the sort of demographics are aging. This is going to be really bad when the boomers get older because they just don’t have enough money. They’re my other strand is economics. And the economics has been the demographics of aging, we’re going to end up with too many of these dependent elderly being supported by too few young people. And therefore the underlying dynamism of the US economy is going to grow and so basically, population getting older is a bad thing. That has been sort of the common perspective. And if you think about it, when people think about older people, what do they think, you know, they’re stuck in their ways. They can’t learn these things they don’t want to do what technology? You know. And of course, a lot of organizations to question has been maybe unstated is when you’re going to retire. There’s a part of me that just rebelled against this whole perspective. And I started doing some research. And there’s a whole body of scholarly research out there about how people work, as they get older, about how people get more productive, as they get older, the rewards to experience and then, you know, then you think about this thing that people haven’t saved enough, but they keep working, and they keep earning money and they keep paying taxes. That gives them an opportunity to say more or their savings will go longer. So I started going deep looking deeper into it, and what has really become is an older population in the workplace and starting their own businesses is the most underappreciated asset in the United States. Think about rapid growth, you want to think about robust growth, and inclusive inclusiveness and community. And you have to start looking at people 15 over 16 over very differently, and they have a lot to contribute to our economy in our society. So in a sense, this was start out as thinking offer a lot to our economy. They can just really help our economy grow faster, but it’s also become so much to offer society. Are we pushing people to the sidelines, just because they’ve hit some kind of logical date? Right. I feel really


Right. I feel really grateful that my father took a His Father’s business and he is in, you know, certainly the baby boomer generation, well into his late 70s at this point and still, he goes to the office two, three, sometimes five days a week, depending on you know how much I don’t know project work he has, but he has been the most innovative in his entire basically entrepreneurial career in the last decade. By far, he’s created more designs. He is a designer of birding enthusiast products, so he creates designs for bird feeders, birdhouses and anything that brings our feathered friends into our backyard. And I think that his level of skews the retail products that he’s produced has been thousands as opposed to maybe a couple of hundred in the first four decades of his of the business itself, which is, you know, crazy.


Several years ago, I went out to get on an airplane flew to New York City, Museum, modern art exhibit of all religions. And it was about as cutouts. These are those things, they’re large swimming pools, the Blue Series, the ones that we all kind of that we think about what was done later his life is certainly before he died in a plane with your father. last decade of his life is his most creative. He was created throughout his life. But he kept building on his experience and was willing to try new things and connect the dots. And the thing is your father in the case, these are not exceptional people. And they are exceptional, of course, but it’s not like we can always find somebody to highlight, you know, isn’t that remarkable? But he is. It’s really about being given the opportunity to exercise your creative So one of the things when you’re talking with your clients and your what your clients is creating their 20s and 30s, to be creative, you’re not creating opportunities to be creative. And then there’s research that I cite in the book. And we’re going to go to a Mercedes Benz factory in Germany. And there are these German scholars that complete access to and they were studying productivity, productivity is about the way they measured, it was making mistakes, the errors. This is a big deal on the assembly line. And what they found is a productivity peak around the age that they retired about age 65. Because, yes, some of their physical abilities deteriorated their experience and their ability to connect the dots and their ability to judgments under stress, and truth. And if you think about it, how many people know that their judgment gets better Connect the dots. There’s a wonderful commencement address, please believe Steve Jobs of Stanford University in 2005. When he highlights Importance of Being to connect the dots to creativity, but you can’t connect the dots until you can look back and check the one word, one way of describing wisdom.


With experience, a lot of people do. Absolutely. You, you use a term you use the term undetermined, which I love. And I’m going to give you a term which you probably have already heard, but I have a client who is refusing to call it retirement. He’s calling it requirements. Just so restructuring to be able to connect the dots in a different way than maybe he has spent his entire career working for someone else doing so starting his own business. So I love that so what is on retirement to you?


So unreturned is part of it is how do we signal what we’re talking about? Right? So if I’m talking about a certain, you know, say seniors, you know, older age, or elderly, right? So we’re gonna use unreturned signals to kind of place that we’re talking about, but it also sort of says, you’re still working. And you may be working part time, full time starting your business self employed. So that’s what I like to turn on. The British oscillators turn 30, which is not picked up in United States, but that’s a very common term United States, the term the Third Age.


So that’s very popular in Britain, this requirement that you mentioned in these requirements, sort of, you know, playing on this notion, so you’re sort of signaling, we’re talking about, you know, the latter stages of life, but we don’t want that image. Anytime people automatically assume you’re not working, and they automatically have this image, it’s a very powerful image. Being on the golf course, or walking through the national parks or, you know, embracing full time leisure, nothing wrong with being on the golf course or going to national parks, but this notion that you said goodbye to your colleagues last time, and all this skill and all this knowledge that you’ve accumulated over the years you just walked away from, to just sort of embrace leisure. And so that’s why I don’t want to use the term retirement, I want to say on retirement.


That is a good lead in because we’re talking about not necessarily retirement we’re talking about actually continuing to work and contribute in some way. One of the statistics that we pulled up was that about a quarter of all new businesses started are started by people who are in their late 50s and early 60s. They retirement age is what I would consider it. And that’s twice the rate of like, you know, 20 year olds who are starting businesses.


Yes. And this is probably the most surprising aspect of this whole spiel, but I’m thinking about reimagining rethinking what it means to get older. And when I started this research, I wouldn’t have thought about starting a business and part of what I would have thought, is this too risky. You’re tapping into your 401k to start a business, we know what the failure rate is, to really have that good idea.


And there are a couple things that are going on. First of all, the real value would people have is the jargon term or human capital, their knowledge and your skills. And so they’ve been in business organizations, they have a knowledge they have a skill to sell that knowledge and skills a lot of this is self employment. The office is ruined or join me work.


You know, this might want to be around some people, but it can be huge outlay of money. Technology has lowered the cost of starting a business, manage the business, doing your invoicing, doing your billing, your accounting, all that kind of stuff.


But it has, but it’s not like you’re having to buy a building all this money on this physical space. It’s hire all these people. And so it’s really an exciting moment to think about.


Many people take their passion. They take something that they’ve done over the years, and they turn that passion into a business. And the thing is there used to be a device, well don’t do that. You’re gonna ruin your passion. But the other way of looking at it is when you do like it, and the second thing is, you really know the market. Because you and you have learned about this market, know who the customer is and you know what the Customer likes. So actually, a passion can be a competitive advantage when you’re starting a business. And most of the businesses, depending on whose numbers you’re looking at, you’re starting with 5000, or less, or 1000 or less. And but you’re not tapping the 412. And by the way, don’t have 401k. Don’t take out a home equity loan to start your business. This is about leveraging your knowledge, leveraging your skill and a little bit of money to get that business started, tested out in the marketplace, get much of a reaction, and then start building your business. And for many people, it’s self employment, media, they work in partnerships with you know, some people that they like so if there’s a project that comes along, you know, graphic designer, you know, who’s really good over the years, you bring them in for that project, so fun to work with. And you have the formal paperwork, you just trust each other and you do job together. And so it’s a really fascinating time to be thinking about starting your own business. We always think about you, and this is nothing against you.


If you go to what is kosher and workspaces, a lot of times what it is, is the ads will be some young person and you know, incredible ads running through the mountains of Colorado. And actually when you look around, right?


That’s funny. You’ve mentioned, starting something based around a passion, which I definitely I’ve seen. I’ve seen people do our pivot at some point to do that. What would you say? Is that the most common motivator for someone to start a business at that stage?


So, you know, who knows what their procedures are? There’s one group of people, they lose a job. You’re 69 years old. It’s your job. It’s hard to get another job and So you start your own business. So there, there are people that are pushed into it. There are also people who are pulled into it, you’re getting older, you have an idea. You thought about it, and you do realize time has passed. If you’re gonna do this, you might as well do it now. And so there’s also that sort. So it’s a push or pull. So, a lot of times I get asked this question, you know, do people work because they want to, or because they have to wait for the need to answer is for most people, it’s both need to, and they want to feel good about the you know that they are contributing to society that they get up in the morning and they like to colleagues, I like what they’re doing. And I think with entrepreneurship, a lot of it is you’re doing something that you really do want to do, but at the same time, for most people need the data.


Right. I get it. worked with a lot of people and I connected a lot of people who have started businesses. And it almost makes you, for me sometimes wonder, are they just doing a hobby? Or are they doing a business? And sometimes they’re the same thing. What steps do you recommend as setting a solid foundation for someone who doesn’t want to create a business?


So there’s a couple of ways one, there’s a group of people that are just because serial entrepreneurs, what they do, and if you’re a serial entrepreneur, it doesn’t matter what your age is, you’re going to start a business and that’s what you always find out, they sell their business, and then they sit around for a little while, and then they start talking to people and they start thinking before you know, they’re going to start their own business. That’s the serial entrepreneur. Then there’s a group of people which I think is the most fascinating aspect of this starting a business later in life, which is starting multi generational business. And that is it’s very humbling the artists and and craft businesses. start going into business with your adult children, millennial children, Gen X or children. And what is exciting about this is that the older adult, the boomers bring us some capital, some knowledge, some experience, younger person is bringing some energy and new ideas. And the thing is, it’s also an exit strategy for the older adult because at some point, they’re going to turn the business over, or the younger adults are going to buy the business, whatever the arrangement is, they’re going to continue to do the business as the older adult retires or moves to more into the background. And this is a really exciting trend is going everywhere I go around the country, I run into it, because here’s one of the really positive things that’s happening in our society, generations going along. And I love my father, father was a wonderful man. If he had come into my room and said, Chris, let’s go into business together. I would have run He wouldn’t want to there would never even occurred. You know, my kids came in to my room and said, Dad, you’d like to go into business. I dropped everything in a heartbeat. I know so many people. It’s true. They don’t want to do it because they’re all going their own careers, which is this positive generational shift. Finally, I would say for most people, what you want to do is, I’d mentioned time earlier evenings, on the weekends, you want to develop your idea. You want to test your idea in the marketplace. You want to join organizations, you want to go to a kosher workspace, if there’s a trade group, meeting in your in your town that does something along the lines of you’re building your business, go to those meetings, and talk to people to think about entrepreneurs. And this is very, very important. Everyone thinks entrepreneurs, grumpy people who can’t work in an organization we have to be the boss.


And that’s not true. It’s simply not true.


Among the most general shares of knowledge. The people that are that you are going to end up with in some form or fashion will give you good information by thinking about pricing your product and developing a marketing strategy. they impart their knowledge to you. So I think that is a big part of it. Reach out, go to the incubators, go to the kosher workspaces. Go to the industry meetings, test your idea out, you know, one advantage of the internet is you can do a little bit of selling, find out is this gonna work? Is there a marketplace that we all have that experience of an absolutely great idea? until you actually put it out there? And what you get back is silence. And you realize, yeah, right. So I do think testing, researching, working with other entrepreneurs. And then at that moment, if you’re lucky that you could grow this business.


And that’s a perfectly reasonable choice. And I think a lot of people by choice, some people are going to say why not?


This goes, for sure. I have, I hope I can share in love on a couple of clients that I have. It’s a father and son team. Dad worked for decades for NFL seed manufacturer. And the seven comes with son agricultural, you know, you know, their farming family. And he came with the sales and kind of visionary side of it. And so, they’ve teamed up and they are doing some of the most innovative brands like they’re just completely disrupting how to code seeds so that it can be more easily planted and start faster and capitalise on maximizing the agricultural industry and even some of these, you know, newer types of farming that you can do now, you know, with marijuana, and you know, all the things that go along with that. And so and it’s, it is so cool to see them kind of bring their two areas of expertise together. And just I mean, they’re going gangbusters. I couldn’t be happier for them, but they needed each other to make it work. And it’s just, it’s really incredible, frankly. And so that was off topic a little bit, but like, I can see how you take someone who’s worked inside of the business for years, and what they can bring to market once you give them some white space to think about it and think it through and it’s so exciting for them. All right, so my next question is we’ve, talked a lot about boomers who have kind of done the transitional into retirement, to start a new business. So what are some of the typical entrepreneurs ventures, you’ve seen them create meaning, like, whatever that may be.


So, as you know, it is actually remarkable how many ideas people come up with a business that you would never thought of. But I just think a lot of it is in the craft and partisan sectors of our economy. One, the changes in our economy is that, you know, the craft businesses, you’re kind of on the tributaries of our economy sidelines. And it’s really moved into the mainstream. And there is definitely a market of people who are willing, really want to buy something that has been crafted something that is reflected in pharmacy sensibility, whether that’s, you know, in terms of organic farming, or restaurant or whatever it is that people are doing. And so, this cross side of the economy, is really where I see a lot of activity going on. And I think that’s important. The other is on the other end.


People who resell their skills back to their previous organization. So you quote unquote, retired, right. And you’re gone. And you say, you know, I have the skill. And you know what, if I go back to my old company, that could be my first customer. And I was just talking to someone the other day, and this has been her experience. And then she has other customers also. But what got her going was going back to her old company, they know her, she knows what they need in terms of skills, and we’re solving problems for them. And so I think that’s another place where you see, so that can be all across the board. Doesn’t matter what’s for profit, not for profit, you know, all across the board in terms of having that skill, knowledge, and then becoming self employed or joining up with a group of people and creating a business where you start selling back to the world. Used to work. And that can be a really lucrative route to go. And the other kind of a broader category. So social entrepreneurship does seem to be a very strong drive, that the reason why I call it purpose is that people do need that paycheck, but they also want that purpose. And many people from professionals who work in the for profit sector, to start thinking about working for a nonprofit sector or starting your own little social enterprise. And so again, that can be a really fascinating business to get into your budget to learn about fundraising, and all kinds of things can be a very different world. But again, a lot of activity there. There I think it’s actually the trouble that people run into, it’s not that hard to start the social enterprise. Great, hard to grow. That’s where you can run shoes and we’ll difficulties. But again, I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying to start your own social enterprise. Because you’re giving back society, you’re trying to make society a better place. And you’re trying to do some good and at the same time.


I love I love both the ideas of the craft and a social enterprising. And I can see elements of that even in my I mean, it’s everywhere in my community for sure. I also have a segment of clients that are in their early 60s and they are completing masters certifications, power level education, opening their own consulting or counseling practices and just blowing it up. Have you found that additional next level education is a theme of going back to school and kind of getting that degree?


Yeah, so a couple of points. One is as people are thinking about making this transition, one of the steps that everyone needs to take is have put your job title to the side, and actually think very seriously about what are your skills. And there’s a very big difference between the skills. Skills, you know, and once you have a sense in your skills, that’s when you can say, you know what, I need some additional education. I think for most people, they’re looking for certificates, or legitimate certificates, but something that maybe a couple of months, as opposed to a couple of years, colleges and universities are starting to recognize this market, depending on where you are. There’s some really good resources. A lot of places are still moving fairly slowly. Community Colleges tend to be one of the rich resources to tap into a particular skill or certificate, but ongoing education, one of the things that we’re also talking about Is the people who are starting their own business for the work they want to pay for they want to continue to learn and learning in their organization. They’re learning starting their own business learning and curiosity is sort of like a sub theme to this whole discussion about working longer. And it’s a really important one. But yes, I do think one of the people that she’d been a nanny for most of her life, and physically, it’s got to be difficult and also grandchildren, and she wants to spend time with grandchildren. And so she was a quilter. And that’s what she did on the on the side. And so she got a certificate as a quilter to teach a particular type of cooking. And the numbers worked. Her daughter in law had an MBA ran the numbers in terms of the cost of the education In terms of training, and so that worked, so yeah necessary to get some additional education that you wanted to do. And the other advantage of it was that she could travel up to town and write up the travel and calculate destination.


Exactly. Everyone is thinking about education, but you also write in colleges and universities. Yes, we all want to take that class, physics, Renaissance Italy that we never took. But more and moreover, people want a class for classes that give them some skills, because they’re continuing to work colleges and universities too much aussolas. If you’re older, retired, and they want your money. Think about your alumni, your older alumni. They want to continue working. They want to get some skills You provide those skills for them?


For sure. So you’ve just highlighted, you know, that idea of being able to travel the flexible hours the, you know, great opportunities with starting a business. In any of your interviews, what do you think is the number one challenge that they face?


So I think there’s a couple of challenges. One is, okay, is this really a good idea?


This is what every entrepreneur faces. every age is and you don’t know until you you’re out there in the market. The other thing is, you want to encourage people is there’s a sense of making this big stuff. Here’s the thing, you only make one step you’re gonna make money. every entrepreneur ever talked to is going to, here’s your plan. You thought it through now for the 45 degrees, because this is what the market is telling you in that, in that mindset, The other thing is a caution. Make sure you pay your taxes along the way. Because if you’ve been an employee all your life, and your employer has handled that for you, and now all of a sudden you’re on your own no one’s withholding taxes, which is paying you what they owe you, it’s your responsibility, it’s a very easy way to fall into trouble. In fact, there are a number of programs now recognizing this, that are out there to try and help people to start your own business, not fall into that trap. And I think probably the final thing is you really do have to not too much money, and then you do have to come up with an idea that you’re not going to be putting either you’re paying for your home, or paying for your apartment, or doing something. You don’t want to be putting down. Time for planning that word that we always hear. word that we always haven’t really done because life is busy and you’re raising kids. And you’re managing the home. And yes, I know I’m supposed to plan for retirement. But you know, come on, you know, that’s, that’s years away. Well, now you’re living those years. Now you want to start a business, you want to be self employed, you really do have to think it through, it’s worth the time to put into it. Because once you start, and you put the planning in there, I think you end up in a very difficult situation when I’m sure you’ve seen that, and then all sudden, you’re really scrambling, you’re really scrambling behind the eight ball. So I would say, planning is a real challenge for everybody.


But we all have to do it as a as a coach. That’s the number one thing that I insist and I mean, I don’t mean that lightly. Everyone has a plan. Everyone’s working to plan towards a bigger goal. And I think it’s one of the talents that I get to bring to the table. Clients as most people don’t know how to plan, and especially when you’re talking about businesses and outside their skill sets. So that part and the taxes being probably, I’d say one of the number one challenges as businesses at every level. And especially with businesses who have been employees, for however long they’ve been an employee for, I can’t say it’s a new part of your mindset. You don’t even think of your taxes and maybe get some additional income on the side, but you don’t. It’s not like when you get that dollar, which you work pretty hard for, and you probably you know, and then you look at the dollar, actually dividing this dollar up right away.


I truly do believe that what I’m doing, at least in my career at this point in my life is something that I would never retire. I love it that much. And I know that kind of affects us. population we expect to retire by age mid 60s. What do you think? Do you think we’re thinking about that the wrong way, as a society?


And as to what you look at the numbers now, excuse me, you’re looking at numbers now, which already people don’t retire, right in the traditional sense. And it’s part time work. It’s flexible work. It’s bridge jobs. There’s a number of different things that people do. Some people who retire actually go back to work after a year or two. And I think that’s becoming increasingly common. So we have this image of the life lifespan. You go to school, you work really hard. you retire, and you’re embracing leisure. But if you actually look at what’s going on, people lose their jobs along the way, that period of time, they’re working hard, people lose their jobs, and have a medical and they have to take some time off to care about You know, for aging parents or a young child who’s gotten sick, whatever it is that life intervenes with. And now we have this image that once you hit 65, of course, you’re supposed to not be working. And then people are working. And so I think we have the wrong image.


There’s John Kenneth Galbraith, who is a great economist. And he wrote this essay as Encyclopedia Britannica. He called it the stillson because he’s being afflicted by people who are nearing retirement to come up to him and they would say, they’re still working out. You’re still drinking. You’re still working, and David was still alive. He wrote for another seven years, respectively. If I were to take a step back and say, You’re really young people graduating today 60 to 70 year career a long time. Therefore, you want to build for 60 to 70 years.


And so sometimes maybe you don’t want to work that hard. A child is going to be going off to college next year, or maybe you want to downshift or stop working for that period of time. So because once they leave, that’s, that’s the beginning, they’re out the door. And other times you may want to go back to school because you’re going to work, not for profit. So you got retirement, whatever you want to do next. What I want to do next isn’t about the promotion isn’t about how much money can I make?


It’s about what do I want to do?


For my family, for my community. I think it’s worthwhile The time and I may do this for five 610 years. Something else and put my energy elsewhere. It’s not about school, work, retirement, mix them all together throughout a lifetime. Embrace leisure when you’re younger. That’s actually


That’s the wisdom of your brain when you’re younger, and brace work.


Excellent advice. I reflect on thinking about like, we have some major and industry businesses here. So like we have Hewlett Packard and micron and you hear even in schools and universities, you get incentivized for taking early retirement or getting, you know the giveaway package Right. Which I know that that does launch a lot of new businesses. Because they’re at a point where they go, You know what? I could do something different. But you still incentivize, I feel like, I feel like there’s a missed opportunity. And sometimes it’s needed for people to move on. But why do you? Why do you think deserves?


The fact that we’re better educated, that we’re healthier than previous generations that, you know, 65 year old today, on average is the same health as a 65 year old was a generation. We just haven’t caught up with that. And if you think about the people who are in their mid 50s, early 60s and the companies that you talked about, by and large, on average, they’re healthy, they’re well educated, they still have a lot to offer many, many more years. And so I think with the tight labor market we have these days, more and more companies are looking at people in their late 50s, early 60s, and one During when you did retire, the kind of thing is, how can I keep you around for a little while longer because you have skill and I’m having trouble finding workers that I need. And so there is a shift in society somewhat.


But what I reach for those workers, they have a lot of opportunity. So here’s my thing that I would that I would say is a good 401k back to some sort of good retirement package, spend a couple of years thinking about what you want to do. Because when you get that retirement package, you want to walk out the door, you want to know, or have a pretty good idea. Here’s what I mean. does not do anything for you to kind of have an idea of where you’re going to be going, and they walk up that door and say, I’m going to the nonprofit sector because this really bothers me.


And I have nurtured relationships, this nonprofit, they can’t wait for me to retire because they know exactly what I do. Do the planning. Think about what it is you want to do next. And the turns out that you were retiring or involuntary retiring? Isn’t gone through the exercise, what do I want to do next?


Can you tell us about your new book purpose with a paycheck? And who did you write that?


So, I wrote that for two groups of people.

Unknown Speaker  38:28 

So one group of people is anybody who’s 15 over thinking about, you know, where’s this all going?


What am I going to be doing, you know, retirement, which was an abstract thing, it’s actually becoming a little bit real. So what I’m hoping with this book does a lot of opportunities here. There’s a lot of options here. You have a lot to offer society. So think about it and and figure out what it is really going to do.


Well by you. Part of this also talking to Management organizations, these experienced workers, they have a lot to offer you a lot. And the third is younger people. So my 20 my youngest is 27 years old. So when he’s 0 have a very different in the second half of life than I did when I was 15 years, it’s going to be very, very different to see a lot more opportunities, a lot more options. You know, right now, when you retire from a company, most companies a part of the package, but here’s the thing for younger people my suspicion is they’re gonna have you want an encore career, just a package. So hope you have an encore. Here’s a package that’s going to help you start your own business. Company benefits. You know what, what will pay for you to go to this country better.

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