Lynne Kornblatt wouldn’t describe herself as retired. “More like repurposed,” she says.

Kornblatt is reinventing herself at age 63, a year after walking away from a senior position as vice president and chief human resources officer for a major Northwest cancer research center and hospital. Her passion today is setting up her own shop as a self-employed consultant, specializing in coaching, mediation and organizational leadership. At this time last year, she wasn’t even sure she could run a business by herself, she says.

Being her own boss is a profound change of landscape from the hierarchy and institutional culture Kornblatt left behind. Today, she works at her own pace, dealing with fewer crises and surprises.

Elizabeth Atcheson totally gets it. Her Seattle firm, Blue Bridge Career Coaching, has guided clients through all manner of professional transitions over the past 11 years. Many of her clients are people of retirement age in search of an Act 2 in their working lives.

According to the Hamilton Project, an economic studies arm of the Brookings Institution, life expectancy in the United States has increased by 25 years in the last century, to an average age of 76 for men and 81 for women. That longevity has redefined the meaning of the word retirement to the point where being of retirement age doesn’t mean one’s working days are necessarily over, Atcheson says.

“People who have been engaged actors in the economic landscape seldom want to just sit on their couch and watch the world go by,” she says. “As people grow older they ask themselves, ‘What will be my legacy? What footprint have I left on the world?’ Often these questions lead to a new path in their later years. Maybe it’s writing a book or a blog. Maybe it’s volunteering in their community. Maybe it’s securing a part-time job.”

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Part-time positions in the retail and service sectors have been landing spots for many older workers for decades, but the coronavirus outbreak muddied that picture somewhat.

“Retail has been pounded during the pandemic, and with more shopping moving online, these positions are more competitive than ever, and often go to younger workers who are seen as more energetic and tech-savvy,” says Atcheson, who works one-on-one with clients and also conducts monthly workshops such as “Level up your LinkedIn” and “Tools for Transition.”

Many senior professionals, like Kornblatt, strive to parlay their professional skills into a consulting role for their retirement gig.

After working 40 years at various levels in the health sciences sector on both the East Coast and West Coast, as well as practicing law, Kornblatt has a wealth of expertise and wisdom, and is now pouring it all into her new business, Lynne R. Kornblatt and Associates.

“The skills and competencies I bring owe themselves to years of working in organizations and truly understanding how each individual business works,” she says. “I learned how to be a coach and a mediator by accruing a tremendous amount of insight into human beings and their identities as employees, and what they value and can contribute to a thriving business.”

Kornblatt’s transition has been more of a process than an event — a journey rife with soul-searching, stock-taking, sacrifice, uncertainty, anxiety and exhilaration. She says it took her about six months to find her footing, including crossing “the final frontier” of scheduling her own time. It’s a process that strikes a familiar chord with Atcheson.

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“Most of my older clients are surprised to be in the job market at this stage of their lives, and can even feel some bitterness that their expectation of a ‘relaxed and worry-free retirement’ is not the reality,” Atcheson says. “But once they’ve gotten past that stage, they get excited about nourishing their curiosity and exploring options they have never even known existed. They eventually even feel proud of where they land and proud to still be a contributing actor in our economy.”

Kornblatt is loving her life today.

“I have more time to be with my family and attend to all aspects of my life. You can only cancel so many dentist appointments and still have a dentist,” she jokes. “I love making my own hours, and I have to be careful that that doesn’t become an opportunity that offers no boundaries between work and life.

“On the other hand, I sometimes miss the drama, urgency and feeling like everyone needs me for something right away. Tradeoffs, for sure. I need to remember that I’ve been there, done that, and that I choose my current work and schedule.”

Tip for combatting ageism during a job search

To combat ageism, Atcheson recommends that job seekers understand the stereotypes about older workers and actively counter them. Here are three common ones.

1. Older workers aren’t tech-savvy.

To combat this stereotype: When asked about strengths, proactively mention that your tech skills are always noticed by employers and that you pick up new software quickly. List your proficiency with specific technology and programs on your resume and find a way to mention examples of technology use in your interview responses.

2. Older workers’ workplace skills are outdated.

To combat this stereotype: Take courses on LinkedIn Learning and
pce.uw.edu to add the skills and expertise employers are looking for now, like data analysis and digital marketing. Spotlight those skills in interviews.

3. Older workers are less energetic and more likely to have health problems.

To combat this stereotype: When asked in an interview what you do when you’re not at work, mention active pursuits such as hiking rather than sedentary activities such as knitting or genealogical research.