WHY REFIREMENT?
by Dr. James V. Gambone


Helene served with me as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in 1968. After the Peace Corps, she married, raised five children, and worked in the public sector of a major Southern urban county. Helene was directly in charge of billing and collecting $100 billion annually in solid-waste fees. The system she managed was heavily dependent on computer interfaces linking the Solid Waste Department with the Building and Zoning, Tax Collection, and Tax Assessor files. As the Manager of Revenue Collections, she had three fulltime data-processing staff assigned to provide computer support.

Like others in public-sector positions, Helene was forced to take on more responsibilities with less staff support. For an honest, professional, dedicated public servant, she found the politics of this county government hard to accept. But the pay was good and steady, the benefits outstanding, and Helene was getting close to retiring with a comfortable pension.

She noticed she was getting less and less fulfillment out of her work. Helene didn’t want to wait until the job sapped more of her vital energy. She eventually asked herself, “Do I want to spend eight hours a day, five days a week, forty-eight weeks a year for the next twelve to fourteen years doing what I’ve been doing?” Helene decided she wanted more from life and she had some valuable skills to offer the world. She was ready to ReFire.

At the age of fifty-one, Helene quit her secure job, rejoined the Peace Corps. She worked in Slovakia for two years, helping that country build more democratic institutions. She was able to travel to Russia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Poland, France, and Italy. She came back to the U.S. refreshed and ReFired. She is not sure about the future but is positive she made the right decision. She is working temporary professional jobs until a more permanent job becomes available with the Peace Corps or some other international volunteer agency.


Donald is a new friend fifty-four years old—on the oldest edge of the Baby Boomer cohort. After spending twenty years in elementary education, Donald went through his first ReFirement at the age of forty-two. He quit teaching to help his wife develop one of the most successful temporary-staffing agencies in the upper Midwest.

Despite all his business successes, he kept asking the question, “Is this all there is?”

After a time, he met a wonderful older mentor who helped him identify his real passion—grandparenting. He decided, based on his Boomer values and experiences, that his generation needed a new definition of what it means to be a grandparent in the 21st century. His dream is to create a Grandparents Camp where kids and their grandparents can spend quality time together, develop support groups on the Web, work with outplacement programs of large corporations to teach the values of grandparenting, and become the leading source of education on grandparenting issues.

Don is also excited, renewed, dedicated, and just received a master’s degree in Human Development. Don is ReFiring.



Helene and Donald are the cutting edge of a new and dynamic social movement and lifestyle change that I call ReFirement. It is a lifestyle especially suited for the seventy-six million men and women of my generation, the Baby Boomers, who were born near or immediately after the end of World War Two, (1945-1963). While I am writing this book especially for Baby Boomers, I believe generations on either side of Boomers will find the idea of ReFirement exciting, challenging, and life-enhancing.

ReFirement began as a very small idea in 1994. Roy Fairfield and I were discussing the state of education. After he secured his Ph.D. from Harvard, Roy’s life and educational career was all about educational reform. He believed that many intelligent and capable adults were denied access to higher education because it did not value their work and life experiences as worthy of academic credit. Roy, along with others, created the concept of “University without Walls.” Following this idea, working men and women were taught how to translate their life experiences into college credit. Their goal was to produce educational portfolios that would be recognized by universities, colleges, and community colleges. Millions of working men and women now have undergraduate and even graduate degrees because of people like Roy Fairfield.

At the time Roy and I were talking about our lives, our work, and our passions, Roy was in his early seventies. He told me about one of his current assignments, developing an interdisciplinary program for a start-up Internet company that was creating a virtual university on the Web. During our conversation Roy mentioned something about “refiring” in his older years. I interrupted, “Excuse me Roy, but don’t you mean retiring?” He replied, “No, I said ReFiring!” He had long ago stopped using the word retiring because to him it literally meant to get tired twice!

The word “ReFiring” stuck in my mind. I’ve told the story about Roy and our conversation many times in speeches and workshops during the last six years, and it never ceases to make people first laugh, and then pause to think about its implications. People of all ages tell me how nice it is to have a different word that gives a different meaning to retirement. The idea of ReFiring has been appealing to me. After all, my own changing life and career path has always required getting “fired up” in order to learn new things.

So I ask, why not build onto Roy’s personal perspective of ReFirement and replace the word retirement completely? ReFiring and ReFirement can give us all a much larger vision for the future. ReFirement is a positive and optimistic vision of how to live a meaningful life. It has a beneficial impact on others as we grow older and leave a permanent legacy for future generations. Plus, it provides an exciting platform for Boomers facing the challenges and opportunities of midlife. ReFirement describes midlife changes in a more positive light than the currently espoused midlife terms such as “retreading,” “reinventing” or “redesigning.” ReFirement can also address both political and personal issues. It recognizes that, for any substantive change to be truly meaningful and long lasting, it must start and be rooted in the hearts and minds of individual men and women.

There is no more appropriate symbol for this new paradigm of aging than “fire.” To pass through fire is symbolic of transcending the human condition. The Dictionary of Symbols says that the ancient Chinese describe fire as connected to “life, health, and spiritual energy.” The alchemists, who believed all things derive from and return to fire, called fire “transforming and regenerative.” And early Christians connected fire with purification and victory over evil. The authors of Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, say fire embraces good and bad and “it implies the desire to annihilate time and bring all things to their end.” You may recall that every celebration of the new millennium, broadcast on television worldwide, used fire as its focal symbol for beginning a new century.

ReFirement transcends the traditional model of retirement. As Boomers continue our journey of self-discovery as aging members of a high-tech society, we will look to our own values to help us transform and regenerate ourselves. Imagine seventy-six million Americans in their late fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and even nineties, who value a meaningful life more than material possessions and are totally engaged in their communities. Imagine them appreciating every human asset and skill people possess. In ReFirement people will not be forced to quit working or be financially penalized for working because of their age. (This has already begun to happen with the unanimous Congressional repeal of the Social Security working penalty.) ReFirement promises to promote a nation of energetic and compassionate elders dedicated to community service. Under the common banner of service, we will celebrate our growing racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity. Think of the political impact aging and ReFiring Boomers will have when they engage in an honest dialogue with all living generations. Boomers can use their ReFirement to set a light under their passion for purposes such as how to distribute both abundant and scarce resources to promote human dignity and ensure a better world for future generations. These are a few of the exciting promises of ReFirement.


The Benefits of ReFirement
I am very excited about the future. I have dedicated myself to promoting the benefits of ReFirement for all living generations. The ReFirement lifestyle outlined in this book will enable you to create a good life with these essential skills:
• Understanding yourself and your values (Chapter 1)
• Accepting your own aging (Chapter 2)
• Saying no to retirement (Chapter 3)
• Getting your groove back (Chapter 4)
• Taking charge of your health and balancing your life (Chapter 5)
• Exploring better ways to live with gender differences (Chapter 6)
• Healing the divisions in our society (Chapter 7)
• Recovering your idealism as an Elder-in-Training (Chapter 8)
• Energizing yourself through what spirits you (Chapter 9)
• Developing your Individual ReFirement Plan (Chapter 10)
• Claiming your legacy (Chapter 11)
• Networking with others to build a worldwide ReFirement movement (Chapter 12)

Special note: This book is filled with Activities To ReFire Your Life. They will help you build a solid, personal ReFirement foundation. In some chapters, the activities will come at the end of the chapter. In other chapters they will be interspersed with the main body of the text to give you a break in reading or to emphasize a particular point. I suggest that you get a notebook in which to write your responses to the exercises. It will become your personal ReFirement Journal.

But before we begin to better understand ReFirement and its many benefits, we need to carefully look at ourselves as a generation. What are our values? What do we bring with us that will help or hinder our aging process? Who are we really?