Let’s Retire Retirement
The idea that an individual should retire to a life of leisure, golf and cruises in the so called “golden years” is an obsolete idea—an idea who time has passed. As Dr Ken Dychtwald says in a number of books and articles, “lets retire retirement”!
Extensive research shows that people who retire or “heaven for bid” take an early retirement greatly reduce their chances of living a long and more importantly fulfilling life. Frequently individuals who retire with little real purpose after a life of achievement find that a life of leisure, entertainment and passivity creates a scenario that produces an unwanted result; they become bored sick or worse.
Gerontologists and people who have studied these things tell us that without true purpose after formal retirement, people often do not last very long. Back in the 1970’s I worked in a manufacturing facility populated by long service employees who had worked at physically demanding jobs for many years. I played a small role in helping them to retire, benefits explanations etc.. Most of these people went right from a very active work life to what they thought would be a much deserved rest; all too often I noticed that these people deteriorated quite rapidly once they were not working and were often gone within two years of their retirement. It has become quite evident that without true purpose, people do not last long after retirement. There are always wonderful exceptions, but for most individuals whose life has been characterized by achievement, to stop working quite frequently means to stop living.
Today at the dawn of the 21st century a new model of retirement is beginning to emerge championed by the Baby Boomers who have created so many trend setting life style changes. You can create a different model for your retirement or as I call it “unretirement”. In this new model you have an active fulfilling life which integrates leisure, fitness, health, education and work in an ever changing mix.
However before we go into these seven areas, lets take a look at the History of Retirement. Retirement is a relatively new trend in life activity distribution. Formal retirement was started just over 100 years ago by good old Otto Von Bismarck the Chancellor of Germany who back in 1890 created a plan initially for civil servants to retire from work with a small pension at the age of seventy. This was thought to be a way to stimulate the economy by helping to bring younger workers into the workforce. Up until that time workers, who were largely agrarian worked their whole lives, becoming aged repositories of knowledge and devoted to helping the younger people coming into their life of work.
The United State’s plan came into existence some years later in the Social Security Act of 1935 which established a government pension at the age of 65. At that time, 65 was considered to be old and average life span was predicted to be 63 years of age. Of course today 65 can still be “prime time” for many who are now mentally and physically fit and like what their parents used to be at age 50. Today the average 65 year old who takes care of himself or herself can expect to live and have some kind of work for twenty years or more.
Again in the United States back in the 1930’s and 1940’s was often promoted as a socially desirable benefit and a way to open up more jobs to the growing younger work force. In the 1940’s pensions expanded dramatically but the seeds of a problem were planted; back then there were 40 workers to support every retiree, today that support is shrinking to less than 3 workers for every retiree. In the 1950’s we saw the beginning of “Retirement Communities” where developers and insurance companies promoted and sold the idea of the “Golden Years” and the leisure life style.
Today we have a new model where the very meaning of what it means to be old is changing. A new paradigm is evolving where education, work and leisure are interspersed throughout a lifetime. It is not unusual for someone at 65 plus to continue to reinvent their careers go back to work, fall in love, start a business, go back to school and travel extensively while developing a healthy life style. “Unretirement” is constantly changing and being reinvented on an on going basis.
Here are seven areas to think about in order to create a better model of the old notion of retirement. In this new model we will cover areas where you can take personal responsibility for your “unretirement” years. Now lets take a look at some Principles of a healthy “Unretirement”.
#1. Take the time to “Know Thyself”
You are so much more than your job but in our culture we are most often identified by our work. Even a fairly long corporate job prior to retirement only taps into a small portion of your capabilities.
The key to this principle is to know your passion or passions. What do you love to do, what gets you excited about getting accomplishing something, not every day but for most of us we have something that drives us, that does not even feel like work. Look at the “feel good” accomplishments in your life. Try to understand your motivations by looking at what you love to do. When something really matters, try and discover it and bring it back into your life. So not just look at your work, your skills/passion will show up in activity outside of work, perhaps in Family activity or in Education. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How have you satisfied your most important motivators? How will you continue to do this in the future.
- What is important to you? What values do you want to keep or expand?
- What have you always wanted to do, but thought you could not?
- Can you create a vision of your future life?
- How will you arrange your Family life?
- Do you want to contribute to your Community?
- What about your personal life, health, fitness and leisure?
- How can you stay “connected” and enjoy activity with others?
- Who are you and are you interested in self renewal and your spiritual life?
- Will your work life be part time, paid or unpaid?
- What kind of legacy do you want to leave from your life?
The key then is to “Know Thyself” to create a new lifestyle and routine.
#2. Keep Your Hand in Work
Even if you are financially secure and have all the money you need in the “traditional” Retirement years, most Boomers and pre Boomers will according to current research will need to supplement whatever retirement income that they have coming. Total withdrawal from work means loss of joy of recognition and accomplishment, the joy of getting things done. This withdrawal is particularly hard for high achievement individuals.
Consider the “Portfolio” approach which means using your core strengths, skills and experiences over multiple ways to bring in income.
One of the best examples of a “portfolio’ career is former mayor of New York City Ed Koch who retired from public service in 1989 at the age of sixty six. At that time he set out to lose 40 pounds and did while assembling a portfolio of eleven different jobs or work projects including:
- Work as an attorney
- Working on political campaigns
- Teaching at a local University
- Hosting a weekly radio show
- Writing books
- Guesting on TV shows
- Speaking at events
- Writing articles for newspapers
- Reviewing movies as a part time job
- Representing a line of food products
Today Mayor Koch at the age of 82, according to a recent article in “Bottom Line” an executive newsletter, has scaled back to only eight job activities. Koch says “I’m convinced that the notion of retirement—sitting in the sun and waiting for the grandkids to call—is responsible for shortening lives. The brain is like a muscle that atrophies if you do not constantly challenge it”
There is a shift in thinking that must occur as you begin to think about work in what used to called the “golden years” of leisure and relaxation. For most of us we have probably been working for someone else most likely in “corporate America”. Now an individual needs to assume the helm and take the role of “Captain of Your Own Ship”. As I have been saying for years “You are the Enterprise”! This whole idea of a new model for these years ties in nicely with the fact that that the world has changed dramatically in the past two decades. Paternalistic corporations geared to providing job stablility and extensive benefit programs often cornerstoned by health insurance and pension plans re increasingly a thing of the past. Individuals can no longer rely on a corporation to take care of them. In a very real way we are already “self employed” even before normal retirement years.
The portfolio approach to creating multiple streams of income built around your passion and the activities that tap into it is creating a new way of approaching work. You must now begin to think like an entrepreneur. Your “Portfolio” might be built around or platformed by anyone or several of the following:
- Animal handling -Art Gallery show room
- Antique restoring -Author/writer
- Consultant (in your experience area) -Bed & Breakfast host
- Messenger Service -Game Inventor
- Booking Agent -Home HealthCare
- Musician -Property manager
- Humor, Stand Up Comedy -Teacher
- Cruise Lecturer -“Get Organized” Coach
- Photographer -Cooking Coach, P.T. Chef
- Raising/Selling Animals -Swap Meet Buyer/Seller
- Beer, Micro Brewer -Event Planner
- Documentary Movie Maker -Personal Coach
- Retailing, Booth or Kiosk -Fix stuff (bikes, clocks, computers etc)
These are just a few of the areas that you could find or more accurately create work in. Remember these should be built around the things you Love to do! You can start by using your imagination around the things you have always been interested in but perhaps never thought of in terms of creating work. Remember “You Are The Enterprise”. A number of these things can begin around fun as a part time job, but if the desire is there they can grow into a business as big or small as you want it to be.
#3 Take responsibility for your Health
Good health in the United States today is largely a choice that many boomers have recognized and bought into. Most disease in the modern world can be traced back to an unhealthy life style characterized by stress, improper nutrition and lack of exercise. This combined with a medical establishment that has little financial incentive to create a “wellness” orientation. Our present health care system is almost totally oriented to treating not preventing disease. Our medical insurance programs revolve around pharmaceuticals designed to mask the symptoms not prevent the disease. If disease worsens then insurance covers technology and surgery to solve the problem.
Only you, not your Doctor can take responsibility for your health. Here is a simple list of prescriptive advice to live a healthy life style written by doctors who have studied the problem and come up with the following:
- Eat a well balanced low fat diet which includes a high percentage of fruits and vegetables. Eat less protein from animal sources and obtain more of your protein from soy foods, whole grains, nuts and legumes (beans and lentils). Try and include more fish in your diet such as sockeye salmon, a wild variety that is not farmed.
- Include dietary supplements in your diet, even when you are in excellent health. This will enhance your anti oxidant defense system and strengthen your immune system. Much has been written on the subject; I recommend books by doctors Andrew Weil, Mehmet Oz, Terry Grossman and Ray Kurzweil.
- Set up a regular exercise and fitness regimen and increase physical activity through out your life.
- Get adequate sleep and rest; the average person operates best with seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
- Exercise your mind as well as your body. Read and continually know that if you are not learning, you are not living.
- Build vibrant social and intellectual connections as you go through life. The most important factor in successful “unretirement” is the strength of your social network.
- Maintain a positive outlook and watch your “self talk” you become what you think about most of the time. Be flexible, learn to adapt to losses and let go of any negative thoughts or behaviors. Forgive anyone who may have hurt or offended you. Forgiveness really helps you, not necessarily the person you forgive.
- Keep your hand in work as explained in one of the principles in this article. Research shows that work, rather than wearing a person down, actually helps people to maintain or even improve health. We have all seen people rapidly deteriorate after they retire from work with no work to challenge them.
- Bottom line is that only you can be responsible for the maintenance of your health. You would not expect your car to run well if you did not maintain it.
#4 Consider going back to school (life Long Education)
Americans are pioneers, direction changers, self re-inventors, improvisers, especially when it comes to careers and work. Most of us can expect at least two careers and ten or more jobs over the course of a modern day career covering some sixty years or more. We are constantly reinventing ourselves to keep up with our rapidly changing world where industries come and go, they seem to be born overnight and frequently disappear just as quickly. Jobs disappear or are changed beyond recognition as technology alters everything on a continual basis.
We live longer and can opt in to a whole new “calling” late in our career life. Boomers are prime candidates for what we used to call “adult education”– now it’s just normal life long education. The “unretirement “ years provide an opportunity to reflect on life, career and Family. Education allows us to rekindle our passion and sometimes more satisfying accomplishments. Education can help jump start a new life style that can enrich life and recreate purpose in our lives.
Education is much more accessible with many choices. The development of technology has made “on line” University education a reality with the ability to study research and learn within the hours that fits your schedule.
#5 Build a powerful Social and Business work
The happiest and healthyist people who are still active and productive into their 80’s 90’s and beyond maintain extensive contacts and continually make an effort to stay connected to a wide variety of people. Frequently they have a small core group that they meet with on a regular perhaps even weekly basis. Whenever you find an active happy and healthy 80 year old you will most often find a strong social network of people, good friends and Family. Here are some “unretirement” networking tips:
- Stay involved with a church (or religious) organization, service organization, or volunteer with a non profit corporation. Contribute by being involved as a volunteer or a member of a committee.
- In addition to regular meetings, use the computer to build and maintain a data base of contacts and keep in touch with e-mail.
- Networking is more of a “give” than a “get” and always an opportunity to serve others
- Your relationships with others and your friends are the most obvious expression of who you are and what you have to offer. Ultimately the most valuable thing you have in life is not the things you possess, but rather your friends and Family. Cherish them, maintain them and serve them. The research shows that it is life enhancing to give to others.
If your interactions with others are ruled by generosity, your rewards will come in many ways.
#6 Maintain a Healthy Marriage or Significant Other Relationship.
Work activity will help you to structure a routine around which your life can operate optimally. After many years of work, it is not helpful to be spending an in ordinate amount of time around the house if this has not been part of your past routine. For men, running into your wife in the kitchen (her territory) at ten in the morning can be disruptive to a happy relationship.
#7. Simplify Your Life
If you are like most Americans over 55, you have grown up with the idea that bigger is better and acquiring newer and better stuff is just what we do. Often one of the biggest leisure time activities is a trip to the mall where we can stroll through a wonderland of food, stuff and entertainment. Malls have slowly evolved from the old general store often found in small town America to an entertainment destination with spacious air conditioned caverns full of food, music, entertainment and lots of stuff to buy. So the idea that “less is better” seems crazy at first thought, but to those who have started the process of “downsizing” it becomes downright exhilarating as you free yourself up from caring for stuff. The process often begins with “right sizing” your home. For most the need for a big home begins to be questioned once the children move out into their adult life. Additionally the physical and financial effort to maintain a three or four thousand foot home becomes less and less desirable. The movement to a smaller condo or home is the first real opportunity to look at how much stuff you need and how much do you want to keep? Once you begin to “let go”of your stuff you begin to see the desirability to have less and less of it. It can be so exciting that if you are not careful you could get rid of things that you actually need – not likely but it could happen.
Take stock of your possessions. Ask the simple question, do I need this or could it be better utilized by other Friends or Family. Things not needed by others can be sold in a garage sale or a swap meet. If there is lots of stuff, an estate sale may be the best way to go to unload large amounts of stuff.