By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published February 9, 2017
When we hear the word “renaissance,” we tend to think about the Renaissance period of the 14th century in Europe, which transitioned the world from medieval times to the threshold of contemporary times. The Renaissance ushered in three centuries of cultural renewal, change, resurgence and awakening. In these times, there is another, smaller renaissance beginning to occur in the way we think about and plan for retirement.
The roots of retirement as we know it
Retirement, as we know it, is a relatively new creation. Centuries ago people worked their entire lives. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the roots of retirement came into being, starting with the Industrial Revolution, which introduced the division of labor. Prior to that, individual craftsmen created products from start to finish. The division of labor evolved into the creation of assembly-line techniques and the introduction of factories, which in turn gave rise to the blue-collar worker. Next came the formation of labor unions that provided individual workers with a voice in compensation and benefit issues. Simultaneously, the Social Security Act of 1935 provided a federal foundation for retirement benefits.
The combination of the Social Security Act, organized pension plans and increased life expectancy provided blue- and white-collar workers with the opportunity to establish retirement funds and actually plan a point in the future when they would be financially able to retire and withdraw from active participation in the work force.
The process was hastened by the mass production techniques used to ramp up production for the military demand of World War II and the need for retirement benefits as a competitive incentive to lure the returning GIs into career employment. Thus was born the desire and necessity for retirement and retirement planning.
Retirement planning is changing
Now, almost a century later, retirement is changing rapidly. The Baby Boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, are changing the perception and reality of retirement planning. The hard fact is that a great many boomers are facing a potential financial retirement crisis. Almost half do not have enough financial resources to cover their anticipated life expectancy. Almost two thirds will have to rely on Social Security to make ends meet. Another 30 percent will probably have to postpone retirement altogether and continue working.
That’s the downside, but I suggest that there is a positive view about why retirement planning is changing. Let’s take a look at the future of traditional retirement.
A new movement afoot is introducing a whole new perspective on retirement. The movement is fueled by seniors who have determined that down deep they really enjoy working. For many, it is not about money. They just love what they do. They are at the peak of their experience and wisdom, and they fear that the investment in their career will end if and when they retire. For this group, work is fun, rewarding and fulfilling.
As a result, these new age retirees may delay their retirement or gradually reduce their working hours and integrate other activities into a new and more desirable lifestyle—one that incorporates work satisfaction with the satisfaction of doing other things they enjoy doing. In effect, a new “retirement model” is in the works.
For instance, I had a boss who retired a day at a time. He started his “retirement” by taking off on Friday. Then Monday, then Thursday until he got down to one day a week. It allowed him to continue to use his experience while simultaneously enjoying time with his family and other interests.
The expectation of a “gold watch at 65” or a traditional retirement may eventually disappear—partly because a great many seniors do not have enough money to retire and partly because many Baby Boomers will abandon the traditional retirement model and continue to work, full- or part-time. These pioneering retirees will create a new retirement model that views work and career as an integral part of a whole and satisfying lifestyle.
A new model of retirement is evolving
At the center of the retirement renaissance is the change in the attitude about the purpose and role of work and retirement in one’s life. If your motivation to work is purely financial, you would opt to stop working as soon as you have enough money to retire. But we seek a higher purpose. Whether a bus driver or a nuclear scientist, we work for both economic survival and the desire to contribute something that is meaningful and fulfilling.
If you really enjoy your work and your efforts are seen as beneficial, then you are motivated to continue to pursue your career. In essence, that is why some seniors will continue to work: they enjoy what they are doing and they receive the psychological and financial benefits from their work. Some may want to end one career and start off in a new direction to do something they’ve always dreamed about.
Another option might be to create programs that encourage seniors to continue working in a scaled-down capacity while providing the employer with the opportunity to capture the essence of their experience and wisdom for the benefit of the organization and the next generation of workers. If this option is to be successful, there will need to be some changes in the corporate and federal guidelines for retirement.
Keep in mind that age alone should not be the predominant factor in determining retirement. To quote philanthropist Bernard Baruch, “Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can’t retire his experience. He must use it.” The new, evolving retirement model suggests that retirement should be considered an option and not an automatic career-ending requirement.
We are living in an age of a retirement renaissance. If you want to realize your full potential, you need to determine if you really want to retire. Then create a plan that allows you to continue your career while simultaneously creating time for other pleasurable activities and interests. The result will be a customized “retirement” that allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds.
When you’re ready to create a new personal retirement plan, remember that your parish can use your talents and experience.
It’s something to think about.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.