Here’s an excellent article about the need to postpone retirement in today’s economic and social climate. Many 60+ workers are finding their savings have shrunk along with their property values. The goal of “sell this house, buy a small apartment and enjoy the difference” has morphed to, “Hope we can sell this house someday.”
Frankly, I think working makes a lot of sense even if you can afford to retire. I tried slowing down myself when I was living in New Mexico. I realized I needed more stimulation. I also like the edge that comes with getting paid for what I do. Volunteer work has become as competitive as paid work. For some it’s satisfying. For me it’s second best.
Even more, I met lots of retirees in New Mexico. Some had started new businesses; one couple fulfilled a lifelong dream of running a restaurant. But some were just plain bored.
One of my neighbors had been a distinguished scientist in a former life. He had published papers, run labs, supervised doctoral students and enjoyed international acclaim. Retiring, he decided to live alone in a remote part of the state.
At first things went well. He got involved with building his house. He huddled with an architect and then a contractor. The house was magnificent.
But then he didn’t have much to do. He didn’t want to write a “real” book and go on tour. He didn’t want to consult. So he puttered. And he drove the neighbors crazy. I still remember getting a cal one day: “Cathy, I noticed a plumbing truck outside your house. What were they doing?”
Frankly I didn’t remember the plumbing truck. I had to stop and think: “Just what were they doing?”
That guy was bored.
Sure, he could have done volunteer work. I don’t think he was passionate about literacy or conservation or any of those other things. He loved his dog. But compared to his talents and energy, he didn’t have enough to do.
I sometimes wonder what would happen if I didn’t work. I would take my pottery classes. In fact, the pottery studio’s open hours are filled with senior citizens whose creations are magnificent. Would I get better if I potted every day or even a few times a week? I would take more improv classes and writing classes.
But then I’d start to think, “Can I sell my creations? Probably not. Can I get paid for using these skills? Not likely.”
I might go back to school to study something I find fascinating. But then I’d want to publish papers and that means … a new career. And I’d want to get financial rewards.
For me, these creative pursuits are like icing on the cake. Icing is great but without the cake it’s too sticky and sweet. I like the focused energy of working – and the rewards.
What about you? What do you think about retirement?
Great post… an oldie but goodie! I’m not a big fan of the whole idea of retirement. My father loved his work (he was an engineer), but retired at 65 because that’s what people did back then. However, things quickly went downhill. The phone stopped ringing as his former colleagues went on with their lives and the company managed to do OK without him. He didn’t have any hobbies. My brothers bought him a set of golf clubs. He played one or two sets of golf, but the clubs sat in the closet after that. He ended up just puttering around the house, not knowing what to do with himself. My mom tried to encourage him to find a job, anything that would get him out of the house and around other people, but he became depressed. Yes, I suppose it was sad that he didn’t have a real identity outside of his job. But on the other hand, he was fortunate to have had a career that he loved—and how many people can say that? He was someone who should have worked, at least on a part-time or consulting basis, until he couldn’t work anymore. Everyone would have said it was tragic if he had died on the job, but at least he would have died happy. What a waste of talent!
B, Thanks for writing! That is so true! Research shows that people who retire often die sooner and many get depressed. Today we’re more likely to encourage people to keep working and even find new careers after retirement. Unfortunately, unless you go off on your own, you run into age discrimination; it is hard to get meaningful jobs. A lot of those chirpy cheery books drive me crazy.
I may change the date on this post and move it forward: you’re right, it still resonates!