Who said work is a four-letter word?

With millions of Baby Boomers poised to leave the workforce within the next decade, many of us want to find ways to contribute from our vast wells of experience and knowledge. We want more freedom of expression in our lives instead of continuing what might be a lukewarm commitment to a full-time job.

Yet there are those like Andrew Yarrow, vice president and director of Public Agenda, who've characterized retiring early as "profoundly selfish and unpatriotic." However, we believe he is missing the mark completely, falling into painting a doom and gloom scenario instead of banking on the monumental range of creativity our age group has shown. After all, it was our generation who invented the life-changing personal computer and gave us rock and roll. We expect that we are quite capable of coming up with solutions to any difficult issues we may face in the future.

The Goldilocks scenario
Finding a satisfying middle ground between what Marc Freedman, the founder of Civic Ventures, calls "the fallacy of 30 years of R&R" and our significant need to find meaning through imparting our collective wisdom, the sheer numbers of 60-somethings are having an effect on how people actually live during retirement. Some would say they're creating a new stage of life by choosing an encore career.

If you find yourself in this position of wanting to retire without giving up entirely on being active, there are more options for you now than ever before in history. You may want to seek out opportunities for heartfelt jobs, artistic pursuits, spiritual quests, volunteer vacations, or job adventures abroad such as the Peace Corps.

Websites now abound with information on how to help adults in the second half of life set a course, connect with peers, and find pathways to significant service.

Groups like Experience Corps work to solve serious social problems here in the U.S. You can even use Craigslist to help you get involved in your community and find flexible jobs or volunteer opportunities. Boomers simply won’t go quietly into the good night.

Nor should they.

Work or volunteer?
It’s the American Way to be original and productive, and our generation illustrates both of these qualities. Yet if you fear that America isn't ready to deal with older workers, take heart -- there is growing evidence to the contrary.

Web sites like Retired Brains, Senior Job Resource, and AARP's Best Employers Program Honorees all provide information for those who are 50+ and want to work full or part time. And due to simple demographics, these positions are only going to become more plentiful.

Looking at complete retirement can seem overwhelming to some. The idea of having no structure to their days -- and the possible loss of ongoing relationships with patients or clients -- can be a large detraction. The notion of forfeiting the intellectual and social stimulation of interacting with colleagues may seem like a kink in the perfect lifestyle away from work.

For these people, mentoring at SCORE, helping at Learning for Life, or volunteering time at your local hospice, food banks, or community colleges can also bring rewards beyond expectation. Money is not the only measure of wealth in a society.

The aim, we believe, is to activate the freedom to choose how to live your life no matter what stage you find yourself in -- rather than letting someone else dictate your future ambitions. Once you’ve reached financial independence, you can easily move into a more rewarding position or challenge of your choice.

How you contribute to others in your retirement, and how you spend your time and your money is up to you and only you. Have confidence in yourself, know the value of your talents and endeavors, and build up your self worth. After all, you’ve earned it.

It is from here that you will make all the difference in your world and in the world around you.

This is what we have done, and our personal lives have expanded significantly because of it.

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Fool contributors Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired in 1991 from the brokerage and restaurant businesses to a life of international travel. Visit their website at RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, and check out their new CD book, The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement.