Last Updated Jun 30, 2011 1:50 PM EDT
Let's start with a quiz.
"The Golden Years" refers to:
C) All of the above.
D) None of the above.
If you answered anything but D), sign up for remedial retirement training. For today's small business owner, retirement is such a slippery concept that there is very little point in trying to define it anyway. A recent survey on business owners and retirement that was conducted by Guardian Life Insurance made that clear.
Responses from 1,433 owners of companies with two to 99 employees revealed that their attitudes toward leaving the world of work are all over the map. Their plans range from doing only volunteer work, endorsed by 6 percent, to continuing to work full time, a program 10 percent expect to follow.
About the only thing most of them agreed on was that they were worried they'd outlive the money necessary to retire, a fear nearly two out of three cited. That's hardly surprising, considering that the survey was taken in December 2010, when we were less far along in recovery from a wrenching and lingering recession than we are now. But there were three findings I found remarkable:
1) Business owners don't plan to either retire or quit working. How can they do that? They can if they go back and forth between periods of work and periods of leisure, which 39 percent described as their preferred mode of retirement.
2) Only 9 percent say they will ever fully retire and not work for pay. That may be because they don't think they can afford to retire. In fact, that's what Guardian says was the biggest fear aging entrepreneurs have with regard to retirement.
3) And 4 percent say they'll start a new business after what has always been considered retirement age. It seems unlikely that experienced entrepreneurs will start new businesses purely in order to generate income to sustain them in their old age. More likely is the explanation advanced by Patricia G. Greene, an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College. "In many cases, small business owners keep working because they love what they are doing and don't see the point of retiring," Greene says.
There are more findings about weird ways to retire -- 10 percent plan to keep working work full-time, for instance -- but the bottom line is that these days there really is no single, normal way to retire. Instead, there are a multiplicity of approaches small business owners will take to later in their lives. Those years may still glitter, but they're no longer pure gold.
Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, freelance journalist whose reporting on business, technology and other topics has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and other leading publications. Learn more about him at The Article Authority. Follow him on Twitter @bizmyths.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Matlock-Photo, CC2.0