Members of the baby boom generation — now in their late 60s and early 70s — are upending the traditional concepts of retirement, says Woodside resident Richard Haiduck, who spent months prior to the pandemic interviewing dozens of retired people for his new self-published book, "Shifting Gears: 50 Baby Boomers Share Their Meaningful Journeys in Retirement."
With longer lives and greater affluence than their parents' generation — plus a history of political activism — boomers are reinventing this stage of life with more activity, more passion and more experimentation, Haiduck said.
In his book, which was released in November, Haiduck offers 50 brief retirement stories from those whom he interviewed.
"Over time, I recognized a generational trend that couldn't be ignored," he wrote in the prologue to the book, "Active, engaged retirement is a driving force for this generation."
A boomer himself, Haiduck was easing into retirement from a business career when he decided to dig more deeply into the subject.
"I stumbled into several people telling me retirement stories that I just thought were amazing," he said in a recent interview. "I thought of seeking out more stories, and all of a sudden, I had a project."
The retirement choices of Haiduck's subjects range from the traditional — RV life, gardening, leisure, travel and tennis — to the less expected: A retired U.S. diplomat becomes a cowboy conservationist; a couple retires from medicine and teaching to offer weekly Buddhist mindfulness classes in a maximum-security prison.
One retiree described a passion for daily fly-fishing, another for surfing.
While some of the stories are mundane recitations of daily activities, others offer degrees of thoughtfulness and introspections on how the retiree arrived at his or her choices and what creates meaning at this stage of life.
A common theme is the struggle to balance serious commitments with flexibility and free time.
Dan, a retired fire chief still under 60 who continues to teach EMT classes at the College of San Mateo, said he doesn't want to "overcommit." At the same time, he doesn't want to become "the guy sitting on the recliner watching TV."
Marla, 78, said she struggles with "wanting to be involved in things but not wanting to be fully committed to a time schedule."
Other retirees mention the challenge of reinventing themselves after losing the identities they'd gained through long and fulfilling careers.
The 24/7 job of representing the U.S. overseas "was my whole persona," said Chuck, the retired diplomat. "When I retired, that whole persona flew away."
After running a South Africa-based birdwatching tour company for four years, Chuck became a volunteer backcountry ranger in Colorado for the U.S. Forest Service.
Once, while blocking traffic to help a rancher move his cattle, Chuck overheard some parents pointing him out to their child and saying, "Look, there's a real cowboy."
"My thought was, 'You should have seen me four or five years ago when I was riding in a black limousine with the American flag on the fender,'" Chuck said.
Some of Haiduck's subjects said they'd been surprised to find retirement life so enjoyable.
"I never thought life in one's 60s could be so much fun," said Dave, a retired CEO who has repurposed his business skills to contribute on several nonprofit boards. "I would say this is probably the happiest stage of my life."
Noting he has fewer deadlines as well as the time and money to travel, a retiree named Ken said. "I am enjoying myself about as much as when I was in college," he said.
At the same time, many mentioned a heightened awareness of the ticking clock.
"We all think we're going to live forever in our 20s," said Dan, the retired CEO. "Somewhere along the line, you realize that's probably not going to happen, but it's hard to internalize that."
After seeing his father and grandfather die at 63 and 60 — before they'd had a chance to retire — Dan determined at 51 that he would retire early, which he did, at 61. "I wanted to make sure I was around to have some fun," he said. "You never know, so enjoy it while you can."
Nancy, who travels the world with her husband and also volunteers as a tutor and on the board of her homeowners association, said they travel because "We want to do it while we can."
After a heart attack, James, a multi-sport competitor in the Senior Olympics and the Chinese Olympics, said, "I realize we're all living on borrowed time. I've got to make a point of spending more quality time with my wife and friends."
Though several retirees felt they'd gained wisdom and perspective as they aged, Don, a 76-year-old marathon runner who retired from the insurance business, stressed he's still got plenty to learn.
"I don't have the answers, especially the older I get," Don said. "I thought I'd have it figured out a little bit better by now."
For more information about "Shifting Gears: 50 Baby Boomers Share Their Meaningful Journeys in Retirement," go to richardhaiduck.com.