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A few months back I had the chance to meet the new Executive Director at one of my clients, a small trade association in St Paul MN.  It was a brief encounter – maybe 30 to 40 seconds.  However, I was instantly struck by his enthusiasm for work.  He obviously had a great attitude and a strong sense of gratitude for his place in life.  I have encountered people throughout my life that project these qualities (and I am envious of them).

I was so impressed during our introduction that I wanted to learn a bit more about him and share his story.  I asked to interview him about the role of work in his life and his attitude about retirement.  He agreed.

His comments are inspiring!  His name is Robert Small and he is the Executive Director at the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association and he started his new job at the age of 70. (PlanVision provides advisory guidance on their retirement plan).

Hello Robert.  Thanks for taking a few moments to tell us a bit about yourself and your views on your career and retirement.

Can you briefly describe your work experience and your new job?

My work experience can be summed up as follows, with years rounded off:

  • Four years in the United States Marine Corps;
  • Ten years with the Veterans Administration working in the claims department, the medical center, and the legal counsel’s office;
  • Twenty Five years as an Assistant United States Attorney working in both the Civil Division and the Criminal Division. For more than half of those years I was a managing attorney;
  • Nine years as a Minnesota District Court Judge until I reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. (But for the mandatory retirement age, I would still be doing that work.)

My new job is serving as the Executive Director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. The Minnesota County Attorneys Association is an independent, voluntary organization of County Attorneys dedicated to improving the quality of justice in the State of Minnesota. The Association is a not-for-profit corporation governed by a Board of Directors elected annually by the membership. The members of the Association are dedicated to the accomplishment of this Mission by developing consensus on legal and public policy issues of statewide significance to County Attorneys.

What are your professional goals?

To take advantage of my experience so that I can genuinely offer something to my employer that will make my employer know that I was the right person for this position despite my age.

When you were in your 40’s and 50’s did you anticipate that you would feel this way about working at this stage of your life?

I really did not think about retirement when I was in either my 40’s or 50’s. I was loving the work that I was doing as an Assistant United States Attorney and did not give retirement a thought.

If you were not working, what would you be doing?

I am pretty sure that if I wasn’t working I’d be looking for work.

Any idea when you might retire full time?

Retirement holds very little appeal for me. I’m working because I want to, not because I have to. I like work. I have known it all my life. I think staying engaged by working leads me to have a better sense of well-being. I don’t have any hobbies. As a result, I simply do not want to spend any time “sitting around with nothing to do” that I fear that might be an outcome of retirement.  While I was very involved in volunteering throughout my life, I just don’t think it would offer the same structure that continuing work provides me. I enjoy the challenge of working with highly skilled people and making something happen. I feel I need to stay energized and continuing to work does that for me. In sum, I love what I do; I’m the oldest person in our association, but I’m going to keep working until I get up in the morning and say I don’t enjoy it anymore and I don’t anticipate that any time soon.

Can you comment on how your Family has reacted to or supports your interest in continuing to work?

There is an old saying that my wife and son think is true and that is “You’re only as old as you feel.” Neither was surprised that I “retired on November 30th and started my new job on December 1st. They both love the fact that I’m working and staying active. They tell me it keeps me young and they tease me that if I wasn’t working, I’d just sit in front of the TV until my mind turned to mush.

Thanks so much for your time Robert and your candor in sharing what motivates you to stay engaged with work!

Editor’s note:  I have learned over the years that we all have different expectations for our future.   (That is fine – there is no “right” way to live out your life).  These expectations develop from our experiences and values – the things that have shaped our lives and attitudes as we mature.  It is enjoyable to meet people that are fortunate enough to achieve what they want in life – whether or not it is full retirement or staying engaged in the workforce or a mixture of the two.  I am always impressed and drawn to people like Robert who have a strong sense of purpose and gratitude.  

Editor’s note 2:  While he is by no means a tycoon, Robert has elected not to participate in the association’s 401k plan so that they do not have to pay the cost of the match. Impressive!! And I had to ask him about this, he did not bring it up!!

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Thanks for sharing Robert.  What an impressive attitude.

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