Author Interviews

Interview with Phil Burgess about his book,
Reboot! What to do when your career is over but your life isn’t

By Jim Zebora, Former Business Editor, Hearst Newspapers

The following is an interview with Reboot! author, Phil Burgess, by Jim Zebora on September 6, in New York City, prior to the nation-wide launch of the book on October 3, 2011.

Q: Reboot! is about to be launched.  Tell me, when did you get the idea for this book?  
A: The idea for Reboot! goes back to 2004, following my first failed retirement.  I retired early, when I was 60, in the year 2000, but I found the Golden Years to be a little like that old Peggy Lee song, "Is that all there is?"  I didn't take well to the life of leisure.  I found it boring.  I soon found myself looking for ways to get re-engaged in community – with what Justice Holmes called "the action and passions of life."  Before long, I was involved in all kinds of activities.  I began to say "yes" to anyone who asked me to do something.

After a few months, I found I was busier than ever.  I also found that most of what I was doing was a result of inertia, not intention, not a plan…and much of what I was doing was neither enjoyable nor consequential.  That's when I realized I had derailed.  So, I began thinking about how to get back on the track.  That's when I started working on the ideas and strategies found in Reboot!   Then, in the summer of 2005, I had an opportunity to go back to work, full time, in Australia, so I said yes.  It was on this unexpected journey – living in Sydney from July 2005 till October 2008 – that gave me a new perspective on my own life.  It was then that the essence of Reboot! took shape. 

When my wife and I returned to the US in the autumn of 2008, I began reading everything from the ancient Scriptures to the academic and clinical research, to try to glean some insights into "successful aging."  I also interviewed many of my peers – more than 100 of them from all walks of life – so I could better understand how others dealt with their own post-career years.  That's when we first encounter the realities of the unscripted life.

Q: What is the major theme of Reboot?
A: “It’s better to wear out than rust out.”  That is the major theme of Reboot!  I believe that retirement, for most people, is a deadly disease and that work after a life of work is the healthiest, most satisfying, and most preferred option for scripting your life in the post-career years.

Q: In Reboot! I was surprised to learn that retirement is a recent idea and has not kept up with the times.  For example, you write that if we indexed retirement to increasing longevity since the "retirement age" was established in 1935, we would be retiring at 82, not 65.  You seem to be saying that retirement is a bad idea.
A: I believe retirement has many ill-effects – both the idea and practice of retirement.  Both should be retired.

The practice of retirement, for too many, is debilitating – physically, mentally and spiritually – with too many days filled with busy-ness and boredom and a search for purpose and meaning.

The idea of retirement is misleading because, even today, most people do not, in fact, retire.  Most remain fully or partially engaged in some kind of work during some part of their post-career years.  Many do so till the end, and those who do are more likely, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, to pass on fulfilled, ending their time here with a bang, not a whimper.  

Q: What's the big idea in Reboot!?
A: Put simply, we should all strive to die with our boots on, fully engaged in helping others and improving the world, using our gifts and following our calling for as long as we are able.  Instead of retirement, it is better to work as long as you can.

I firmly believe that a transition to a post-career life that includes work, not retirement, is the best option for most later-life Americans.  I've written Reboot! to provide evidence and insights that I hope will encourage more Americans to become booters, not retirees.

Q. "Fully engaged…"  What is the best strategy for engagement by people in later-life?
A: Keep on working – I call it remaining "on the clock," as long as possible, at least until frailty, disability or weariness take their toll and you decide to go "off the clock."  For some, continuing to work will mean staying in your present job – though perhaps with a different job description or more flexible hours.  For others, continuing to work will mean taking up a whole new line of work…or perhaps a combination of different types of work.

Q: What do you mean, "different types of work?"
A: In Reboot!I outline five different types of work: in-kind, volunteer, Samaritan,enrichment, and paid work.  For example, my wife is now the main companion for my 95-year-old mother. She was encouraged to find herself in Reboot!– that she is doing what I call Samaritan workand that Samaritan work is as valued as the volunteer work which has always played a large role in her life.  These different types of work are spelled out in some detail in the book.

Q: Why is it important to work after your career is over?
A: According to research and experience cited in Reboot!,booterswho incorporate one or more types of work into their post-career lifestyle will live longer, live better, and die faster – avoiding boredom, aimless busy-ness, diminished self-worth, and the anguish (and cost) of lingering death. In other words people who choose work are making the healthy choice – physically, mentally, and spiritually – compared to those who choose the Golden Years of endless leisure and amusement, a dead-end vision promised by too many retirement communities, financial services firms, reverse mortgage schemes, and others advertising the Golden Years message on national TV every day of the year.   If people see the evidence, most, I believe, will choose active social engagement, including work, over a reserved seat in "God's waiting room."

Q: Does that mean you think later-life Americans should avoid retirement communities or different form of assisted living?
A: Not at all.  Reboot! embraces the very convincing findings from the social and medical sciences that continued social engagement is the best predictor of what is called "successful aging."  What are called "continuous care retirement communities" – which includes everything from independent living to nursing care – can be a life saver for many later-life Americans because they offer so many opportunities for social engagement, including work…especially Samaritan work, volunteer work, and enrichment work.  I just wish they didn't call them "retirement" communities.

Q: Is continuing to work the only way to stay engaged in later-life?
A: No, of course not.  There are other ways – such as book and garden clubs, hobbies, sports, pubs, and that old stand-by, golf.  If an individual takes full advantage of the social programs available in most retirement communities, they will find many opportunities for continued social engagement and participation in regular, purposeful activities.

But work is the best all-around way to remain creatively engaged with others in activities that are not just purposeful but also meaningful.  And, remember, the concept of work in Reboot! is very broad – including volunteer work, where you are helping others and improving the world, and enrichment work, where, in a methodical and disciplined way, you go about the business of self-improvement, such as learning a musical instrument or a new language or participating as a member of a golf team or Masters swimming team or learning the arts and craft of a master gardener.

Q: Who is Reboot! written for?
A: Reboot! is written for adults who want to look over the horizon – primarily for people who are thinking about and preparing for their post-career years, when they would normally be considering retirement.  So that would be people as young as their mid-40s, but as old as their mid-60s.  However, I have to say that the ideas in Reboot! are actually useful for anyone going through a transition – say, from an educational institution to a job, from the military to the civilian sector, from unemployed to employed.  Reboot! is fundamentally how to think about life's transitions – even though it focuses on later-life transitions.


What do you do when your career is over but your life isn't?

Phil Burgess

Making later-life work

It’s better to wear out than rust out.”  That is the message of Reboot!  While American culture glamorizes the “Golden Years” of endless leisure and amusement, Phil Burgess rejects retirement, as he makes the case for returning to work in the post-career years, a time he calls later life.