Rethinking Retirement

An incandescent light bulb.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nothing that went before prepares you for retirement.  That light bulb has just clicked on in my brain.

From your first day of school through all the years of work, you’re taught to prepare, to strive, to advance, to make money and accumulate stuff. Always pushing on, always goal-oriented. Always another mountain to be climbed.

Nothing prepares you for retirement. (Except maybe golf. Should I have taken golf lessons?)   

You have to practice, then take a written test and a practical test to get a driver’s license. You have to endure four years of high school and four years of college, and then you’re qualified to search for a job. You work and gain experience and skills, and maybe it leads someplace.

You need a license to get married; a divorce might be a little more complicated. You need a down payment and a credit rating to buy a house. 

Then one day, late in life . . . retirement! The goal line is behind you — whether you scored a touchdown or even if you didn’t. Suddenly, nothing is in front of you.

I know that many people have goals in retirement, for new and different kinds of work or voluntary service. I’ve always expected that nothing would really change. I expected to keep on working, probably being even more productive, at something I actually wanted to do.

For some reason I hadn’t foreseen that energy and health (or at least vitality) would wane. I hadn’t expected my capacity for work to fall off sharply. I wasn’t prepared for my eyesight, dexterity, and balance to be less reliable. And my memory! Don’t get me started. Where were we?

Now that I’m on the brink of retirement, suddenly I see that maybe there aren’t any more goals I can reasonably strive for. Maybe failing to produce goods and services will not make me a bad person.  This Puritan work ethic is a darned nuisance.

I have to reevaluate: Maybe retirement is going to be a time of leisure, rest and rehabilitation after a lifetime of work. That doesn’t sound so bad. If I’m not chasing after goals, maybe I’ll have time to sit around and get to know people. It might even be possible to simply life in the present moment.

— John Hayden

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9 Comments

Filed under Aging, Life

9 responses to “Rethinking Retirement

  1. Theresa

    You are so right! I have recently realized that I cannot work as quickly as younger people, even folks not that much younger! I hope that I can make it to retirement age with a job.

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    • Ah yes, “quickness” has always been a problem for me. My natural work speed is methodical and plodding.

      And my brain! I’ve often talked like a know-it-all. But in most of my jobs, I’ve been awed by someone at a nearby desk or office who seemingly possessed a super-fast mental processor.

      I’ve often compensated by my ability to concentrate intently and work longer hours. Now I no longer have the energy or the appetite to keep up with the competition.

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  2. John: You hit the nail on the head. For so many of us “baby-boomers”, retirement is something we’ve held in high esteem for years and years, thinking it would never happen. Suddenly, it looms before us, rearing it’s head, and depending on whether you’ve prepared for it or not, it could be a smiling ‘head’ or an extremely frightening one!!

    A good example is my father-in-law…he is 83 and after a lifetime of working, he finally retired as a sales rep, about 4 years ago!!! He’s still in pretty good shape, even though he had a pacemaker put in about 10 years ago!! His one big love is playing slots! Aside from that, he enjoys family get-togethers and his grand- and great-grandchildren! BUT, that’s about it!! He has no other hobbies, doesn’t like to read, and has outlived most of his friends!! He sits home most days, putzing around the house, taking smoke breaks every hour or so (yes, his one vice is still a half-pack of cigs daily) and watching the O’s and Ravens, when they’re playing.

    On the other hand…I have been readying myself for retirement for the past 40 years!!!! lol I have a never-ending list of things I want to do (proverbial “bucket-list”) and hobbies I want to start or expand upon! In my opinion, retirement shouldn’t be a time to slow down and withdraw. It is a time to open up, stomp on the accelerator and pick up speed, because time slows down for no one and there is much too much to learn and do.

    I love the old saying about life: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather, to slide in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “Holy Shit, what a ride! Let’s do that again”

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    • Great comments, Ron! No doubt about it, once you go over the top of the hill, life picks up speed on the downhill slope. There are no brakes! I totally agree with you — this is certainly not a time to withdraw. I greatly admire your drive as an activist. I had thought to throw myself into liberal politics after retirement. But in recent months I’m painfully aware that I may not have the stamina to contribute much. I don’t know how I could survive without books!

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  3. Timely post for me. My husband and I are retiring from 37 years of a business together. He is now the “grey beard” in the room who has a whole other level of work in front of him as a sought after consultant. As for me, I am anxious about what it is I will do. While I will still help with a few things, I am no longer the business partner to him that I once was. I muse over everything from finally getting the garage cleaned out to writing more. I wonder about projects and how much I am willing to take on. Did you get the directions manual? I didn’t get one, or if I did I misplaced it! If you can find yours, please forward me a copy. I’d really like to know how to do this next phase before another young pish-ant tells me it’s a friggen adventure! Hugs.

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    • Heh! I’ve received much correspondence about Medigap health plans, and a thick book about Medicare. But my “Retirement Directions Manual” is lost in the mail. Not that it matters. I’ve never been one to read the directions, except as a last resort. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some posts in your blog about the retirement conundrum.

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  4. When I was laid-off at age-58 with a good severance I figured that I’d just call it an early-retirement and make it permanent. I deliberately didn’t want to make any outside commitments for my time in the beginning, and for the first 3-months I got a lot of personal stuff done. Then the motivation just seemed to drain away and I stopped doing much of anything except reading and taking naps (not that there is anything wrong with that). The thing is; it didn’t seem very satisfying.

    I probably could have fixed this issue eventually, but instead “The Perfect Job” fell into my lap and I went back to work full-time after that year-long “practice retirement”. With this experience behind me I think that for my NEXT retirement maybe I’ll devote a month to “nothing”, but then get out there and find some activities or volunteer gigs or something else to get me out of the house regularly pretty quickly – before the inertia sets in.

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    • Ah ha! Spot on! In most jobs, just showing up on time is half the battle. Maybe in retirement, just getting ourselves out the door is half the battle. Inertia is the enemy. Isolation is to be avoided above all.

      And yet, I don’t think we need to feel driven by the same relentless “work ethic” as when we’re careering through life with the pedal to the metal. I hope we won’t feel guilty when physical or mental limitations slow things down. At some point, a degree of inertia will likely become an inevitable part of life.

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  5. I don’t know what age the retirement age is over there John, here they raised it AGAIN… now I have to work until I am 67 I will be 60 next year… For those who do office work or not manual labour then that maybe fine for those decision makers who make new rules, so as to take figures off the unemployment lists for a couple of years.. as they did when raising school leaving ages.. But for those doing manual labour its ridiculous to think a person over 60 can have the strength and stamina to complete tasks as competently.

    Im looking forward to my retirement, and my Hubby is already enjoying his wondering where on earth he found the time to go to work!…

    I am certain though you will find something to occupy your days, and as you are such a good writer who knows where your talents will take you 🙂

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