People are redefining retirement, leaving long-standing careers to focus on new goals and aspirations.

In August, world-renowned athlete and tennis star Serena Williams announced that she was stepping away from the sport after this year to focus on her family and other business ventures. “I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition,” Williams shared in a cover story for Vogue, where she shared her decision in her own words. “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

Williams isn’t the only one turning life on its heels and finding new direction. In August, The New York Times published a feature about retirees taking on part-time work in the travel industry for its travel-perks and flight advantages. As airlines and hotels struggle to maintain enough employees to keep up with the industry’s demand, some savvy travelers are taking on as little as 15 hours of work per week doing anything from unloading baggage to working as a front desk concierge for flight and hotel perks, saving money and spending their time traveling instead of taking a more traditional retirement at home.

Wunderman Thompson Intelligence spoke with two rewirees: one, retired and one, semi-retired—both of whom have truly rewired their careers, their homes, and their lives. Their accounts show first-hand the thrill that retirement is out, “rewirement” is in.

A photo of a woman with blonde hair leaning up against a beige brick wall. She stands with her arms crossed wearing glasses, a black mesh quarter-sleeve shirt and jeans.
Jackie Crosby. Photo by Stephan Faerber.

Jackie Crosby, 61 years old, retired almost one year ago from her role as a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A two-time Pulitzer prize winner, Jackie is redefining herself, transitioning from full-time writer to part-time bassist split between three bands, one of which is called “Chemistry Set.”

You’ve used the term “rewirement” in conversation. How have you “rewired” your life since your retirement late last year?

I heard the term “rewirement” from a friend, and of course I pounced on it, because retirement just feels so stodgy. It's taken a while just to realize that I'm still not going back to work, even though I know I'm not going to, or at least not in the same way.

After I've left a lifetime of working for somebody else, I try to think: what is it that I want to do? What is it that I want to write about? I don't want to put that pressure on myself just yet.

How have colleagues, friends, and family reacted to your “rewirement” plans?

I was actually surprised by the response from people when I told them I was rewiring. Some people thought that it was some euphemism that I had a really good job and that I wouldn't really say what it was yet. Other people were like, “well, what are you going to do?”

I'm just going to be, that was sort of my first response. I'm not retiring, I’m rewiring. My future's unfolding still, and I don't really want to put the guard rails on it.

A blonde woman wearing glasses smiles at the camera holding and playing a tan bass guitar. She wears a green jacket, jeans, and an orange scarf.
Jackie Crosby playing her bass guitar. Photo by Gary Eckhart.

What has been the best part of your “rewirement” so far?

It's that I have the gift of time. It’s the first time that I really felt the gift of that. Two months after I left the Star Tribune, my aunt Jackie died. I had just been [to see her] two weeks earlier and had this wonderful time with her. She was in hospice, but we had a little picnic in her room with cheese sandwiches and these really messy cupcakes. She was really lucid, and it was just this wonderful time with her. Had I been working, two weeks after this really great time with her, I would've really, truly felt fine not going to the funeral. I [couldn’t] just tell my editors: “no, I'm leaving. I'm going back.” Stress my colleagues out, sit on the plane, finish my Sunday story, all these things that I've done my whole life. Say, I’m getting on the plane and I'm just going to turn right back around and go back to her funeral.

But I did. To me, that was the gift of my new life: time to give and to show up for other people, to do something that was important to me.

When I was working, Saturdays were when I did all the stuff that I didn't get done during the week. I made a list of all the things I needed to do and people I needed to see. The difference now is that I can do it on my own time. I’m the boss of me now, so I get to say what my life is and what I do with my time and that’s really what I was going for [in retirement].

Photo of a man with blonde hair and a beard, looking into the camera. Behind him: a hilly field and storm clouds.
Chris Welsch

Chris Welsch uprooted his life in Paris as a semi-retired freelance photographer and reporter to live in the French countryside. Like Jackie, Chris is an alum of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, as well as the International New York Times, and now works full-time for Microsoft Communications in Europe.

What made you want to make such a large move—from the city to the countryside—when you did?

I'm 58 years old. I'm going to be 59 next month and I'm not ready to fully retire, but I'm thinking about it. I'm thinking about what kind of life I want to have when I retire.

I'd been living in Paris for 10 years. I love Paris, so don't get me wrong about it. But when I looked out my windows, from no vantage point could I see a tree. I really wanted to live in a place where, [when] I looked out the window, I could see a tree, and I really like having a garden, too. COVID was definitely also a part of it. I was feeling a bit confined in the urban atmosphere in a very small circumference. That just made me feel like, I gotta get outta here. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in a small Paris apartment and grow old in a place where I can't see a tree out the window.

I guess that kind of goes to the idea of quality of life. Now, I hope to get more and more involved in the community here in Burgundy where I live.

A tall man stands in an archway, with a stone house to the left. To the right, ivy covers a stone wall.
Chris Welsch in his garden in Northern Burgundy, France.

What made you want to take on a new position at a new company full-time?

I pictured myself working at home here part-time to support myself and having more time, rather than more money.

For me, it's exciting. Next week or the week after I'm going to Switzerland to a little town in the Alps to report on this company, that's doing hyper local weather forecasting for energy companies and vineyards and things like that. It’s exciting to go to a new place, meet people. I decided this was worth a try to see how it feels to be working full time again.

I don't envision doing it for more than four or five years at this point, but I don't think I'll ever stop working. I think whatever retirement looks like for me is going involve some work that I love doing, like the reporting and photography, and maybe even some editing when it's an interesting project. I'm willing to do it on my terms.

What you think of the term “rewirement” as it applies to your career or your life or your day to day, as opposed to retirement?

I love it. I think it's a great way to think about it, too. I think people need a purpose and need something to do when they wake up every morning.

I don't want to retire – my dream isn't to do nothing. My dream is to basically do what I'm doing now, which is to do what I want to do, what's fun and interesting, and what's useful for my skills in the world.

What would you tell someone just starting their career in anticipation of their post-career life, whether that's a true retirement or rewirement? Any advice?

I think that human beings by our nature need to have puzzles to solve. We need to have the next challenge to take on. To keep being curious and keep following what interests youto keep doing the next thing that catches your imaginationis important.

The Intelligence Take

Post-pandemic, people are shifting their priorities and creating new life paths, and “work” is taking on a whole new meaning in life in later decades. Rewired-retirees are reassessing their lives, reinventing themselves and dedicating time to their passions and their families, engaging in new-found purpose.

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