After a 40-year career in public relations, Wendy Townsend was ready to retire. But she wasn't ready to stop working.
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Instead, she parlayed her love of yoga into a blossoming career as a yoga instructor. Now 68, she teaches six gentle yoga classes a week, in which she earns a fraction of her old pay as a marketing vice president of a local bank.
But she reaps the benefits of staying active, doing what she loves and connecting with others.
"A woman at church suggested teaching yoga might be my ministry," said Townsend, of Seattle. "And I think now she is right. I love teaching yoga and making a contribution to each individual's sense of well-being."
In developing a new career, Townsend is part of a growing trend of retirees finding "encore careers." As more people live longer, seek out meaningful work and still need a paycheck, many workers are finishing one career only to start another later in life.
A report by the nonpartisan Families and Work Institute and Boston College's Sloan Center on Aging & Work recently found that 75 percent of workers age 50 and over expect to have a retirement job in the future. And the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the number of workers age 55 and over will increase by a third from 2006 to 2016.
"I think people are really looking for intellectual stimulation and making a difference, and things that are socially gratifying," said Cheryl Weber, community outreach director for AARP Washington. She said popular fields for encore careers include education, health care and social work.
"People are doing things they love and using their skills and experience," she said.
For 62-year-old Bruce McDowell, a former adult-education teacher, retirement allowed him time to pursue something fun and different: helping people with disabilities ski. He's helped a woman with multiple sclerosis and a paralyzed teenage snowboarder.
"I feel like I am just getting into the rhythm of this new part of life," said McDowell, of Tacoma. "And there are lots of possibilities I have yet to explore."
For other people, a new career is a consequence of the economy, in which learning new skills is essential.
"Professional networking is the single biggest thing people need to learn how to do," said Paul Valenti, a job counselor in the Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens in Seattle, which has seen increasing numbers of laid-off older workers, who are generally out of work about 10 weeks longer than those under 55.
"They have to believe the single greatest asset they have is their age and experience," Valenti said.