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Rick Atkinson, former human resources consultant and author of the book Don’t Just Retire – Live It, Love It!

Manulife Financial

Canadian seniors might not be the retiring types. Roughly 70 per cent of people plan to keep working after their formal retirement, recent polls have found.

Remaining socially and mentally active is the main reason people cite for planning to continue to work, whether part-time, full-time, consulting, or starting a business, the survey showed. While travel, volunteering, taking up new hobbies and going back to school are high on the agenda for new retirees, financial necessity is a factor for many who intend to keep working.

Retirement as a life stage is in flux, says Rick Atkinson, 70, of Toronto. A former human resources consultant, he now runs workshops for people 55-65 about planning a successful retirement, and is the author of the book Don't Just Retire – Live It, Love It!

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Retirement has traditionally been seen as the end of something, he says. His own father retired at 65, dreading it. "He loved his job, and his whole social circle was around work. He felt his purpose was over," Mr. Atkinson says. His father died of a heart attack 18 months later. "When work ended, he went downhill fast."

Many of today's seniors increasingly view retirement not as an end but as a beginning of a new stage.

Seniors are living longer and are healthier, but for many their aspirations are also balanced by obligations. Some seniors may have parents in their 90s to keep an eye on, children in university to support and a mortgage to pay, Mr. Atkinson says.

The trends of continued paid work and financial obligations, past the age of 65, have enormous social and economic implications for the country, as seniors make up the fastest-growing age group in Canada, and probably will for the next several decades, say federal government demographers. But for seniors themselves, those trends mean that retirement planning becomes all the more important.

Financially, the new generation of seniors needs to plan for more varied lifestyles than previous generations, and more onerous demands. In a personal sense, retirement planning should include consideration of a new purpose and focus in life, for a period that could last decades, Mr. Atkinson says.

He asked one senior what he planned to do in retirement. "Golf," he said. "And when it rains?" Mr. Atkinson asked. "Read golf magazines." That's not practical, and gets boring fast, Mr. Atkinson says.

He suggests that people start non-financial retirement planning in their fifties. Retirement has three stages: the go-go years, the slow-go years, and the no-go years (when physical limitations catch up), he says. "You have to plan for each, and have a realistic vision."

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Mr. Atkinson is still in the go-go years. He conducts his retirement workshops, is at the gym at 6:30 a.m. several times a week, curls, and flies north once or twice a year to Iqaluit to serve as a volunteer mentor with the Canadian Executive Service Organization for people in supervisory or managerial positions within Government of Nunavut. "I've always had a desire to help First Nations people," he says. Life is just as busy as when he worked full-time, and most important is fulfilling, too.

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