Something old, something new makes a portfolio

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday December 2, 2012

Unabridged from my Bonus Years column in the Lifestyle section of The Sunday Capital, Annapolis, Maryland

“On April 9, 1940, the very day that the Nazis invaded Norway, a young Swedish nurse received a life-changing letter.  It contained an improbable wedding proposal from the man she loved – a Norwegian living more than three thousand miles away across the Atlantic in the United States.”

So reads a teaser for a bonus years’ book penned by Erik Pettersen.  Erik’s book, “Leap of Faith” (Infinity Press, 2012) tells the enduring love story of his Norwegian father, Arne Pettersen, and his Swedish mother, Ingrid Sillén.  Arne’s letter to Ingrid and her daring wartime crossing through heavily-mined waters are just the beginning.  “Leap of Faith” then weaves an inspiring story of a young woman and her new husband as they make a new life and raise a family in a new country during and after WW II.  The story itself is based largely on fascinating letters of a young bride and then a young homemaker sent back to her relatives in neutral Sweden and German-occupied Norway.

Erik Pettersen, the author, is Ingrid’s son.  He was born in 1943 shortly after the immigrant couple had moved from Brooklyn to a New York suburb.  Erik and his wife, Linda, a former art teacher, now live in Annapolis. They moved here in 1998 after raising two children – and where, today, they enjoy a bonus years’ life that also includes four grandchildren.

Like many others in their bonus years, Erik has not retired in the traditional sense.  With a degree in chemical engineering from RPI and an MBA from Drexel, he took up writing as an avocation in 2001, when he was 58, after a career as a nuclear submarine officer, a chemical industry executive, entrepreneur and later a management consultant.

He has also enjoyed an active volunteer life – teaching ESL to Spanish-speaking students, mentoring midshipmen, participating in the work of the Christian Business Men’s Connection (CBMC) and supporting the Naval Academy Chapel where he and Linda worship.  In addition, Erik’s bonus years’ portfolio includes paid work, for he continues to take on management consulting jobs:  “I enjoy problem-solving, so I will always have my shingle out.  However, now I take projects that are challenging – those where more than money matters.”

Put another way, instead of going over the “retirement cliff,” where you are working one day and then wake up the next as a newly-minted “retiree” with no schedule, no purpose-driven activities and no accountabilities, increasing numbers of later-life Americans are seeing things differently.  What many once viewed as a “retirement cliff” more increasingly see a “climbing wall” – like you find at the local outdoor store, a place where you continue to use your old skills and develop new ones, in a different environment where you have more control and more flexibility.

In Erik’s case, he viewed the bonus years as a new stage of life where he would continue to do consulting work some of the time while devoting “bonus” hours, days and weeks to other pursuits that had been on the back burner, pursuits where you can use old gifts in new ways and for new purposes.

One of Erik’s lifelong interests has been his fascination with the many nuances of the English language, an interest he inherited from his immigrant parents.  Result: In addition to part-time consulting and volunteer work, his bonus years’ portfolio was expanded to include writing and story-telling.

In an earlier book, “Limericks for Polite Company” (Infinity Press, 2008), Erik used the introduction to spotlight the difficulty of learning and teaching English as a second language, writing, “When I taught English as a Second Language at a local Hispanic church several years ago, I became acutely aware of the inherent challenges in learning our language.”

Pettersen then treats the reader to examples of the many weird ways we English speakers pronounce words.  Consider: Cove/love/move; tow/how; far/war; weight/height and cinder/kinder.

Pettersen also recalls one of his high school English teachers maintaining there was at least one spelling rule you could count on: “I before E except after C, or when sounded like an A in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh.'”  Pettersen reports that he immediately raised his hand and asked, “What about weird?”

And his limericks, all Pettersen originals, are pretty good.  Some are odes to the culture of Annapolis: “On a typical early spring day/Midshipmen proceed toward the Bay/Their sculls fast and sleek/Glide down College Creek/While the Johnnies prepare for croquet.”

Some limericks touch aspects of everyday life, such as volunteerism:  “There was a young intern named Valerie/Who said of her job in a gallery/’The art is just great/But the one thing I hate/Is they don’t even pay me a salary.'”

Erik even penned limericks for those in their bonus years who are perplexed by computers, iPads, Kindles, touchscreens and the like: “It was said by an old man named Cyrus/ Whose computer contracted a virus/’Tho’ technology’s great/It’s these glitches I hate/I long for the days of papyrus!'”

Erik Pettersen, whose autographed books are available at, is a good example of so many now in their bonus years – people who would never think of retiring and, instead, transition from a focused career to a portfolio life of different kinds of work.  In Erik’s case that has included paid work (consulting), enrichment work (writing books and poetry), volunteer work that includes mentoring and participating in faith communities to which he has had a lifelong commitment.   It’s my bet that this profile of the purpose-driven post-career life of one man will soon be typical of most.  The old idea of Golden Years of endless leisure and amusement is on its last legs.

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