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?

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  1. I explored possibilities in my first year of retirement. Some were not for me. But I have found two passions. One of them is mediation; I'm now in training to be certified. I would never have had the time to do that when I was working. It's a wonderful way to be of service to the community. And blogging, to my surprise, gave me my first disciplined reason to write. This week I send the materials for my book to the publisher. That would never have happened either.

    Post-worklife. What an opportunity!

  2. Linda,

    Wow. A term I used on another blog seems to fit you in retirement: operating at full throttle. From what I know about book publishing, I am sure meditation came in handy!

    You are absolutely right. Retirement gives us a fresh opportunity to discover new sides of our talents, skills, and passions that were hidden under the work day routine.

  3. If you're passionate about prison ministry, check out the new partnership between Prison Fellowship and World Impact's The Urban Ministries Istitute (TUMI). My husband is on TUMI-LA's board and it looks like this is going to result in many men moving from 'Prisoner to Pastor'.

  4. Willow,

    Sounds interesting. I'll take a look. I pick up my new mentee in 2 weeks when he is released. The organization I work with is Christian-based and has had a few fellows over the years make that move.

  5. The more I read your blog the better I feel about being retired and wonder "I am I getting everything from it I possibly can." I felt defeated for a while but more and more I am accepting it and even embracing retirement. I think changing my thinking about it has helped me to see it is not an end but could be the start of something not so terrible. LOL.

  6. Sue,

    I am glad you are finding some support and encouragement here for your retirement. Frankly, 10 years ago when I started I had no idea what would happen, but I knew what I didn't want: an easy chair and a TV remote.

    After a few years of struggling to find out what my passions were, I have come to the conclusion that this is a tremendous stage of life. I don't know what the future will bring, but I am enjoying every single day of the journey. The freedom to create something fresh each day is quite liberating.

  7. I had to laugh about the taking center stage observation. That was certainly my plan when I decided to retire. When two of my daughters surprised me just before I retired with the news they were pregnant, one of my first thoughts was "What happened to the year of ME?" Ha. Well, I'm still getting plenty of me time, but my retirement is definitely not the headline of the year as I thought it would be!

    Great article about how different retirement is these days. I like the idea that I still have a good chunk of my life left. I'm very excited about it, in fact.

  8. Galen,

    You have had a rather eventful year, haven't you, Grandmother! I trust things are going well on that end.

    Life does have a habit of throwing us curve balls when we are not expecting them. At times we even get hit by a pitch (too much baseball?). I've been waiting for the "year of me" for a decade! But, frankly, the years of growth and exploration of "me" have been much more meaningful.