October 30, 2011
What is Retirement?
I can assure you of one thing: retirement is not what it was for your parents, maybe even an older sibling. The environment that created the Sun City model of endless golf in a tract home under the desert or Florida sun is vanishing, or at least no longer the only option. Are there still folks who live like that and even aspire to that type of life? Absolutely, and there is nothing wrong with it if that is how you describe a satisfying retirement.
In large part that model for retirement depended on an employer who paid you a pension and took care of your medical bills in exchange for 30 or more years of loyalty. That model depended on a system of affordable housing that would increase in value, little by little, year after year. That model depended on a banking and investment system that believed in a fair profit but managed to keep the most greedy and immoral members of its community under check or quickly disposed of. That model depended on a government that worked, compromised as needed, and understood that we are all in this together. To create a nation of a few haves and a whole bunch of have-nots was in no one's long term interest.
That model has been severely damaged. Certainly, there will be an increasingly large percentage of our citizens who have no real expectation of a standard retirement lifestyle. The financial meltdown of 2008 and the stagnation of wages for many destroyed too many nest eggs and shredded financial plans. Working as long as possible will be essential, or even desired, by many.
For those who do plan on retiring there has been a shift in expectations. With retirement now likely to stretch over 20 or even 30 years or more, roughly 25% or more of one's life span can occur after full time employment has ended. With better health, folks are likely to stay active and vital well into their 80's. Looking forward to just sitting in the recliner, watching TV, and puttering in the garden for two decades doesn't hold much attraction for many.
So, for those whose future holds a promise of retirement, what has it become? What is retirement now? What are the basic elements that build a satisfying retirement and are, at least to some degree, under your control?
Retirement is not the end of something. It is just a change in direction.
Originally, the concept of retirement was a vision of a life of leisure and a worry-free existence. After years of toil, it meant fulltime relaxing with some travel and time with the grandkids for the last decade or so of life.
Many of us would not be satisfied with that retirement lifestyle today. Ending full time employment means we are simply entering the next stage of our life, a stage that offers as much fulfillment and excitement as we wish it to.
Our life is made up of different phases, or stages: youth and life with parents, going away to college or moving away from home and starting our own life, starting our own family while working to support that life, and now, retirement.
Retirement is more control of your most valuable asset: Time.
During the first few stages of life most of us spend time generating income, on relationships, social commitments, and to build a particular lifestyle that made us happy. Control of this resource was turned over to others much of the time.
When we enter the retirement stage, we are given the opportunity to grab much of that control back. As we get older, we become much more aware of the value of time, and its rapid passing. I wrote awhile back about the odd phenomenon of weeks, months, even whole years racing by much more quickly in my 60's than they did in my 40's. As I become more aware of its value, the more quickly I seem to spend it. But retirement does gives me the opportunity to be purposeful and diligent in how I spend my time. I am more likely to eliminate time wasters from my schedule.
Retirement is freedom to explore that unique creature: You
Parts of me that are uniquely me were kept under wraps in my working years. During that time I used certain gifts and talents I had been given to earn a living and help raise two incredible daughters. But, I felt there was more of me waiting to emerge, I just didn't know what.
When given the time and freedom of retirement I began to experiment. I tried new hobbies. I discovered the gym. I had a brief fling at bird-watching and hiking. I wrote a travel book about Arizona. But, I was still looking. I started playing the guitar. I became a lay counselor at our church with the Stephen Ministry program. All these activities were fun and fulfilling, but some part was still itching, waiting to be scratched.
For the last few years, those itches have been identified: prison ministry and writing this blog. When I retired 10 years ago I never would have guessed either activity was in my future. But, today, they are my focus. Will they still be so at some point in the future? I have no idea. But, that is what makes retirement so satisfying and exciting: I don't know what lies ahead but I have the opportunity to find out.
What is retirement? It is a time of your life when you can take center stage. It is when you can explore all that makes you so special, a creature who will never be duplicated. Isn't that thought incredibly exciting?