It’s time to admit the obvious. Retirement has outlived its usefulness.
New labels for what comes after fulltime work continue to proliferate. Instead of “retire, it’s “rewire.” Instead of leisure, we’re urged to take on an “encore career.” We should see it as a transition to a “portfolio life.” We have become the Third Wave or Second Halfers. We’re in the Third Act. Instead of the old “golden years” we’re really stepping into the “silver years.” Every one of these terms has been used by a well-meaning author and advocate to help clarify “what you really need to get retirement right.” Except they don’t.
The sheer volume of alternatives to the word “retirement” is fascinating. “Retirement” doesn’t really capture the realities of this stage of life, so why haven’t we found a better word and gotten on with it? For almost a decade, I’ve been assuming we just hadn’t found the right new word—that we were on the right track but hadn’t stopped at the appropriate station yet. Daylight has finally dawned and guess what. The train is just plain going to the wrong place.
We don’t need a catchy new label for assuming roughly the same thing. It’s time to retire the concept of retirement, not just the word. We’re moving in a whole new direction in how we choose to live our years after tthose we spent in the conventional workforce. It’s not a matter of repainting the signs with new names. We’re not all going the same place.
Yet we continue to hold onto the old paradigm (“retirement”) when reality has us doing a whole lot of other things. People who “don’t have enough money to retire” are tarred for being bad planners or impulsive spenders. That may be true. But they may also be onto something those who “got it right” so they could retire with financial security have yet to discover. Buying into traditional retirement might turn out to be like buying 8-track tapes or typewriter ribbons. The world has moved on to new options.
There are many ways to live life well no matter how old you are. The options don’t all evaporate the second you stop working fulltime. And continuing to work fulltime is not the mark of an inept person. Some of us are just going to work until our last breath–for a wide variety of reasons. These are personal choices based on individual situations and preferences. The notion that those who are not doing the traditional version of retirement are “wrong” is, itself, very wrong. As long as we’re still here, we have as much of a right to craft whatever life we want as the twenty-somethings.
So what does this new world include?
Work–at least some of the time. To keep life interesting and to avoid mental, physical, and emotional decline, you need some kind of work. (This is as true at 27 or 48 as at 68 or 82.) If you don’t need the money, it doesn’t have to be for pay. But it does have to get you jazzed. Whatever work you do needs to make you want to get up in the morning. Sometimes, it can be as mundane as cleaning the garage. It may not be all day every day. but over the long haul it has to be FUN.
Balance. One of the big differences from career years is that you can pay attention to whatever you decide is important. You’ll run out of interesting things to do in a hurry if all you focus on is what you haven’t been able to get to though. There’s a reason you haven’t gotten to this stuff–it didn’t have the priority. Build a lifestyle that gives you time with those you love, time to create, time to reflect, and time to play–and time to work at something meaningful. Get your minimum daily requirement of fun. Stay open and try new things.
Flexibility. This is the central tenet for replacing the old retirement model. In fact, finding ways for every worker—not just the oldest ones—to have more control over when they get the work done would probably unleash a wave of creative genius and productivity to rival the Industrial Revolution. But this is not just about the work piece. Learning to adapt effectively (and gracefully!) to new developments will get you past health detours and relationship changes as well.
Curiosity. The happiest people are the ones who want to know more…. who notice that something has changed and explore why that happened….who want to meet the new person in the building….who see an unfamiliar make/model of car or a word on the page and learn about it. Life presents opportunities to be curious all day every day. It’s a matter of noticing and acting on the ones that most intrigue you. No matter what the date on your birth certificate happens to be, curiosity keeps you vibrant.
Traditional retirement is about stepping away from life into a familiar, comfortable world. More and more research is sounding the alarm about the negative impact of doing that. We have better options. If you need to keep it in the closet for a while to be sure, do that. But you probably don’t need “Retirement.”