Working at 70+ | Psychology Today

Source: Rigo Liberato, CC 2.0

Advice abounds for job seekers over 50, most of it over-optimistic. Pollyanna would be proud.

But there’s little job-seeking advice for people 70 or older. I’ve had a few such clients, and my dad worked happily into his mid-80s and I hope to do the same. I’m embedding my thoughts in this composite story, with takeaways offered afterwards:

Richard was a lawyer at a university, defending lawsuits— from students claiming racism to researchers wanting to keep profits from their research. At age 70, while it’s not legal to have a mandatory retirement age, the university used informal ways to push people out. Although Richard still felt quite competent and continued to get good performance evaluations, he succumbed.

He tried to rationalize that it was for the best: He’d have time to pursue hobbies and volunteer work, and he thought, “I had a good run. It’s time for young people to have their shot.” But after just a few weeks, even trying pickling and canning!, he was champing to get back to productive work: “I’m too young for arts and crafts.”

So he capitalized on a strength of older job seekers: his network. Even though he was never much of a schmoozer, over the decades, he did get to know many people. So he made a list of people who liked him, even those he hadn’t spoken with in years, and pitched them on the phone or in-person:

The university “encourages” older people to leave. So I did, despite continuing good performance reviews. I wouldn’t mind teaching what I’ve learned as a lawyer or doing some fee-based or pro-bono work, but I’m open to anything that would use a good mind. Do you know anyone I might speak with, or even someone with whom you’d set up a three-way meeting of introduction?

Richard got a few leads, but leads typically require time before bearing fruit, so he volunteered at a public library, answering people’s legal questions. And in a few weeks, one of his connections recommended him for a pro-bono legal panel, helping low-income kids.

But those ended up requiring only a few hours a week and he had more bandwidth. So he perused ads on Craiglist and responded to a few. The one he was most excited about was as assistant to a semi-famous writer. He was confident he’d get the job: He was overqualified and he hit it off in the interview, but all he got was an effusive rejection letter. He thought, “Few people want to hire even a highly qualified 70-year-old.”

Then Richard learned about ReServe, a nonprofit that matches older people with government and nonprofit entities for part-time work, often that pays. That yielded him a 10-hour a week job as a tutor/mentor for college-bound foster teens.

At 78, Richard had a minor stroke, which affected his cognitive functioning enough that he decided to forgo the above activities. But after a few-week recovery, one of his friends, who had called to find out how he’s doing, offered him a job as a clerk in his small clothing store, which catered to older men. (By the way, my father, at 82 and still healthy, after he closed his small store, got an offer like that, and he held that job until right before his death at 86.

Of course, it was difficult for Richard, who had been a high flyer, to come to accept life’s inevitable decline. There were periods of anger and tears but he finally came to calm acceptance that something, sooner than later, would end it.

Richard reached 80, longer than the average life expectancy for men though much shorter than for women. He then had a severe stroke, and rather than put his wife through an indeterminate time nursing him, and because California’s right-to-die law only allows assisted suicide if the person clearly has six months or less to live, he pulled out the pistol that he had hidden under his bed, crept to the backyard, and shot himself.

Thus Richard died quickly and with but momentary pain.

(While little publicized, men commit suicide 354% as often as do women, with white males accounting for 70% of suicide deaths.)


Often, a new retiree’s feeling s/he’ll fill the time with hobbies, friends, family, and so on, turn out to be overly optimistic. Especially for a person who had a rich worklife and for whom work provided core meaning to life, the desire to continue to do productive work can be powerful.

In addition to possessing a lifetime of experience, an older job seeker’s major advantage is having had decades to get to know many people. And they are the most likely source of paid or quality volunteer work.

Also, websites such as ReServe, Idealist, and VolunteerMatch are good sources of volunteer and even (modest) paying work.

Acceptance of one’s decline is one of life’s major challenges. That acceptance, surprisingly often, comes at the end of a pistol.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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