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No one wants to work forever, but that doesn’t mean retirement is easy for everyone. In fact, according to one recent survey, it scares 40% of Americans more than death. Of course, lack of income and insurance topped their lists of why, but also among the main responses were a desire to stay mentally and physically active and to maintain valued networks of colleagues and friends.

However, people who fear retirement because they imagine facing their days without professional fulfillment should know that enriching experiences still await them — often because of retirement, not despite it. No one has to retire to an empty void of solitude unless that is the kind of retirement they desire. Instead, retirement can and should be whatever you need so that you can continue to grow and thrive, even if that means working.

Related: 6 Reasons to Pursue Entrepreneurship in Retirement

Retirement lite

“Retire” doesn’t have to mean “no longer working.” It can be less scary to leave our old professional lives behind and retire because, if we want, we can choose to start another, and with a new purpose. At its core, retirement is a chance to stop working in a way that depletes us, but not everyone is interested in stopping all work entirely. Especially for leaders, when we have a job to do and see the end goal in sight, it’s only natural to want to work toward it. If that is what brings us fulfillment, it should be a welcome part of retirement.

In 2017, researchers concluded that many people who work into retirement do so to bring purpose to their lives. Many older Americans are returning to work for money, but one 2020 survey found that more than half of workers said they planned to keep working into retirement for the sake of their mental well-being. A study that year also found that one-third of retirees eventually reverse retirement, especially leaders with skills and qualifications. When someone calls with an offer to take on a compelling role in a relevant industry without the same level of stress involved in running a business, most retired leaders would rather take it than spend the rest of their days on a golf course, and that’s okay.

Related: A Modern Retirement Mindset: Elevate Meaning and Purpose By Becoming ‘Job Optional’

Live experiences in new ways

If retirement without professional enrichment sounds boring, treat it as an opportunity to explore new ways of approaching the world. Before retiring, my position was largely managing people and building a positive culture, but now I can explore areas I never had time to consider and engage in the day-to-day work I missed while running a large organization. Even setting up my new office, which I decided I needed after months of unsuccessfully trying to function working from home, is more fun because I can make it exactly what I want it to be. It’s a charming space on the water in an old historic village in Miami with five offices, a kitchen, a conference room and enough space to accommodate three dog beds.

My kind of retirement was laying down the heavy weight of leading a large company and shifting to a working environment that allowed for more mobility and independence. More of my everyday choices can be shaped around my interests, and I only have to meet the expectations I set for myself. Even if I decide to keep working, I have much more latitude to take risks or explore new options. I don’t want a vacation from work; I want a chance to celebrate what I’ve gained in my experience by doing with it what I truly want. Instead of viewing retirement as an end to professional development, we can fill it with growth and new experiences to develop ourselves.

Related: 15 Ways to Reduce Stress During Retirement

Keep doing what you love

As business keeps up with consumer needs, running one grows increasingly complex. We are all so determined to improve quality and safety in all the moving pieces of a business, and people need help in many different areas. While I may not be looking for these opportunities, when some great person doing interesting work calls me looking for help, I definitely want to say yes. Retiring gives me the freedom to offer my years of industry expertise to the next generation and shape them to take the lead.

I also love seeing products being made, and I am invariably excited about the direction in which manufacturing is headed. Recently, I visited a new paper plant that produces sustainable packaging items. People are paying attention to the trend, and consumer demand is making sustainability less expensive and easier to participate in and scale. I’ve been in the industry long enough to have witnessed the evolution from plastic toward more sustainable solutions. As we move into a new day and an exciting new direction for the industries that matter to us, we can make retirement a part of that fun.

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