The word “retirement” has never been part of my vocabulary.

Perhaps being raised on a Minnesota dairy farm has something to do with my view. Long before I left my work at Peak Vista Community Health Centers in 2014, I began to think about what would come next. To be sure, more flexibility to travel, visit family and play with grandchildren was a part of the plan.

But what about work? Is it an all-or-nothing proposition? An impromptu conversation with a professional acquaintance, who has since become a dear friend, ultimately fueled a desire to learn how Baby Boomers are approaching this life transition and in the process changing the paradigm of retirement.

My friend said, “BJ, you can’t retire. We need you in our community. We have to talk about your highest and best use.” And talk we did.

Since then, I have talked with numerous people about their goals. Most are at transition points in their lives and careers — whether by choice or not. Others were at or near an age that prompted them to think about leaving their primary jobs and figure out their next stage in life.

If a health challenge or the need for the same level of income wasn’t a factor, all expressed a desire for similar things — more flexibility, a bridge or encore career, integration in new and positive ways in our community and for our community — to name a few. None were planning to ride off into the sunset. Instead, continued significance was important.

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Said another way, they were seeking their highest and best use. Just as Baby Boomers have impacted U.S. society and culture at every stage of their lives, they seem to be rewriting the rules of engagement for life after their full-time careers.

In subsequent columns, I will dive deeper into the opportunities our community has to enhance its workforce by retaining the expertise, experience and knowledge of aging adults. I’ll provide some examples of how aging adults are approaching this time in their lives and how employers are responding.

This topic is especially timely given the recent launch of the “Age-Friendly Colorado Springs Initiative.” If you are not aware of this initiative, here is a little history of how it has come about.

In 2009, I engaged in conversations with a few local leaders about our community’s readiness to address the opportunities and challenges of the growing senior population in the Colorado Springs area, fueled by the Baby Boomer demographics.

As a result, I co-founded a nonprofit called Innovations in Aging Collaborative with my friend and mentor, Barbara Yalich. UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, Tucker Hart Adams, David Lord, Toby Gannett and Sara Qualls were just a few of the many people engaged in this launch.

Recently, Innovations in Aging partnered with the office of the mayor of Colorado Springs to launch the Age-Friendly Colorado Springs Initiative. The vision is to ensure that the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County will be an age-friendly community that is inclusive and accessible, where all residents may live a healthy, active and engaged life.

One of the focus areas of the Age-Friendly Initiative is civic participation and employment. Believing that work does not need to be an all-or-nothing experience, an age-friendly community provides ways aging adults can (if they choose) continue to work for pay or volunteer their skills and be actively engaged in community life. This fits tightly with my “highest and best use” interest.

To learn more about our growing
senior population, Innovations in Aging’s new report by Adams provides a detailed account of the increase in the number of people who are aged 65 and older in El Paso, Park and Teller counties we can expect to see in the coming years.

In addition to predicting the demographic shift of the Pikes Peak region, Adams also introduces a framework to allow Colorado Springs to become an Age-Friendly City. To view the report and learn more about the Age-Friendly Initiative, go to innovationsinaging.org.

I loved a simple statement on the cover page of Adams’ report: Aging begins at birth. That puts it all in perspective for me as I seek my highest and best use.

BJ Scott spent 18 years at Peak Vista Community Health Center, working for 10 years as its CEO and eight as executive director of its foundation. She has extensive experience in fundraising, community-relationship building, leadership development and strategic planning. She can be reached at bjscott2325@gmail.com.