July 21, 2011 -- As a plastic surgeon for 30 years, James Apesos had some pretty nice laurels to rest on as he neared retirement. But Apesos felt another pull: a childhood dream of sirens, red trucks and saving lives.
"I'm one of those children that chased fire engines, liked fire engines," he said. "I liked the equipment, I like the helmets, I like the gear."
A patient who was a firefighter encouraged him to check out the station's volunteer program once he stepped down as head of his department.
In his late 50s, Apesos was skeptical, but the fire department welcomed him, and after tough training that included climbing into windows, pulling hoses and rappelling out of buildings, he was on the job at nights.
"The first call on the fire department was like my first day in the operating room alone," Apesos told ABC News. "I never thought I'd be doing this in a million years, actually."
Bruce Frankel, author of "What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life?" believes the traditional notion of retirement is becoming antiquated.
"People are reaching the age of 55 and 60, and looking ahead 30 years," Frankel said. "They are willing to go back and start at the beginning."
Today, 54 percent of baby boomers say retirement isn't about relaxing, but rather reinventing.
If surgeon-to-firefighter isn't inspiring enough, how about administrator-to-ballroom? To find that transformation, look no further than Apesos' better half, his wife Elizabeth Apesos.
Hooked on the magic of dance as a child, she rediscovered it in her 40s.
"We went to a party and this man danced with me, and he had me doing turns and spins and drops, and my husband sat there fuming," she said.
James Apesos got over it and his wife started lessons. She eventually quit her job and opened a profitable dance studio when she was in her 50s. Today, she dances in competitions around the country.
"Yes, there are second acts in life," she said. "Yes, they are possible."
Studies show working after retirement age lowers rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and depression.
Sandy Marwood, one of the leading voices on aging issues, said the movement is here to stay.
"It may not be the same job that they had for 30 years. It may be a job that they had always hoped for and imagined," Marwood said. "It's usually a much more purposeful job."
Anne Nolan spent years as a corporate executive, but felt something was missing. At the age of 55, she started working full time for the homeless.
"I look forward to Mondays," Nolan said. "I love the people I work with, I love what I do, and I often cry at my job ... for the right reasons, not for the bad ones."
Tips for a Happy Second Act:
1. Live forward: Don't dwell on past problems.
2. Look for positive reinforcement from friends and family as you make the transition.
3. No shortcuts: Relish the chance to work your way up again and be confident in your abilities.
4. Keep moving: Physical activity is critical.