My friend George worked for a Fortune 500 company for 30 years and “retired” in his early 50s. A year off and out was enough to recharge him, so he decided to start a new nonprofit to deal with racial tensions in our city. A decade later, he handed the reins to a new director and “retired” again. A year later (you guessed it), he began his third act with a foundation dealing with macro-level cultural problems.

What if, instead of drawing an end to your working life, you need only an intermission? 

A 2014 study by Age Wave for Merrill Lynch called Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations lends some interesting language to the discussion of the place of work in today’s retirement discussion. One term that caught my eye was the idea of a “career intermission.” For years, I have been cautioning retirees who think they want a “forever” break from work that what they really need is a decompression period. According to this study, 52% of retirees are doing just that.

Instead of leaving the workplace entirely, over half of today’s retirees are taking some time out to recharge and possibly retool for their next “act.” As we discussed in an earlier column this year, the highest percentage of entrepreneurs today are from the retirement age group. Roughly one-third of all retirees fall into three categories:

1. Those who cycle between work and leisure (33%);

2. Those who engage in part-time work (35%); and 

3. Those who never work for pay again (28%).

Individuals are becoming more comfortable with the idea of moving in and out of employment—or possibly just ratcheting down the intensity of their level of work without ever actually discontinuing completely. Not only do they want recharge, but also to test the waters of the workless lifestyle, to contemplate what other types of engagements might satisfy them, and to attend to other responsibilities in life (like caregiving and family).

Psychologist Nancy K. Schlossberg came up with the phrase “psychological portfolio” to help people think through the idea that not only are they leaving something when they retire but that they are beginning something new. In a study of 100 retirees, she found that retirement is not one but many transitions, and that people’s ability to cope with these depends on the following: 

1. The role of work and family in their lives;