By BILL CLARKE | Published April 15, 2023
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” —Fred Rogers (TV host)
The dictionary defines retirement as the “act of removing oneself from the daily routine of work.” When we talk about retirement, we tend to think about a generalized attitude or perception that retirement implies a new phase of life in which we slow down, rest, take it easy and engage in enjoyable activities. The internalized perception that most people have of retirement is that it is more of a departure from certain activities than the beginning of a new experience.
All of us dreamed about retirement during our career, especially on those cold, dreary mornings when the alarm clock went off at 5:30 am and we pulled ourselves out of bed and trudged to work. When we could hardly bear it any longer, we allowed our mind to wander into an imaginary world and saw ourselves walking on a tropical beach, kicking at seashells and wondering what we might want to do the rest of the day, if anything. Then we were jolted back to reality when we got to our job and faced the real world.
The last day of work is a bittersweet experience. On one hand, it is one of the happiest days of one’s life with parties and gifts and tremendous camaraderie. On the other hand, it is a really sad and emotionally difficult day. It isn’t easy to leave good friends and colleagues.
Whether immediately or eventually, there will come a day early in our retirement when we wake up, look in the mirror at that 50- or 60-year-old body say, “Now what?”
Unless you have developed a fairly rigid program of activities, you may not know what to do with yourself, literally. One of my close friends retired and within a week his wife was ready to send him back. It seems that he wanted to help her around the house more than she wanted or needed. In desperation she exclaimed, “I have somehow managed to run this house for the past 35 years. What in the world makes you think that I need your help?” My friend was mystified by his wife’s reaction. All he wanted to do was help.
There are lots of other examples of people who retire and begin to experience some second thoughts about the intent and purpose of retirement. I think a part of the problem has to do with the word itself, “retirement.” My personal feelings are that if you simply stop working and don’t replace it with some other meaningful activity, you may experience some degree of discontent or depression and run the risk of missing out on one of the greatest opportunities of life.
A better name
I think we should consider a better name for retiring. The new name should imply the beginning of a new and rewarding part of one’s life. For instance, when you graduate from high school or college the ceremony is called a “commencement.” The implication of the word is not the end of something but the start of something new and exciting.
Perhaps a more appropriate name for retirement might be the “renaissance years.” Renaissance implies a new beginning, a rebirth, revitalization, regeneration and a new start on the rest of a person’s life. A retirement renaissance provides an opportunity to embark on exciting new ventures and do some of the things we have always wanted to do but never had the time.
From a psychological point of view, the retiree who sees retirement simply as an escape from work is more likely to fritter away time and talent than the person who views retirement as a great opportunity to fill their time with exciting new ventures.
If we used “renaissance years” rather than retirement, it might cause us to view the golden years as an opportunity that opens the door to the exploration of exciting new options.
A word of caution
Some retirees will either delay retirement or continue working because they simply enjoy what they do. I played golf with a pediatrician who kept up his practice into his 80s because he loved working with children. If you believe you are at the top of your game and you want to continue working, or you have a need to maintain a certain financial standard of living, then it is perfectly OK to postpone retirement, or evolve into a condition of permanent non-retirement.
Another option might be to create programs in the workplace that encourage desiring seniors to work in a scaled down capacity while providing the employer with the opportunity to download the essence of their experience and wisdom for the next generation of workers. However, if this concept is to be successful, business leaders and politicians will have to develop new attitudes and programs that accommodate workers who prefer to continue working rather than take a mandatory retirement.
Today a senior adult approaching the mid-60s is much different than those of prior generations. We seniors are younger looking and acting. We are healthier and more engaged in a great many activities. We are living longer and staying more active.
Age alone or seniority should not be the predominant factor in determining retirement. Ponder this quote by Bernard Baruch, presidential counselor and statesman: “Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A person can’t retire their experience. They must use it.”
Bill Clarke, former business executive and teacher emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Discipleship. To send thoughts to Bill, email firstname.lastname@example.org.