July 1, 2013

Retirement Does Not Mean Not Working

Let' start with two definitions:

Retirement means "The period of one's life after leaving one's job and ceasing to work."

Work means "an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result."

Most of us think of "work" in a much more specific way: "an activity or physical effort done in order to earn money."

But, that isn't the literal definition of the word. And, that is part of the problem with the whole concept of living a satisfying retirement: the words are mis-defined. Retirement has nothing to do with no longer working. It has to do with no longer working at a particular job or career for money. But, nowhere should it be assumed that retirement means no more work.

Do you play golf? I am willing to bet you'd say that the game involves work, both physical and mental.

Do you exercise? Sorry, but even with an endorphin "high" that is work.

Do you garden, read, paint, build furniture, play a banjo, cut the grass, attend a Spanish class, write a blog, travel, basically do anything other than sit in a chair 18 hours a day staring at the wall? Then, you work....at something.

Retirement does not mean not working...it is supposed to mean working at something you enjoy.

Now, let's pause for just a moment and admit a very common reality: folks who have retired from one job may start another. Whether that employment is full or part time, self-employed or working for pay for someone else, the economic realities of the world can require additional income to lead the type of life someone desires.

Is that person still "retired?" I suggest it depends. If I spend 25 hours a week writing this blog to satisfy my creative urges and manage to earn some extra money through those efforts I consider myself retired. I am not writing Satisfying Retirement for the money. The extra cash is a nice side benefit but it isn't the primary motivator.

If, on the other hand, I go back to my part time tour guide job I would think of myself as partially retired. That job would be taken with money as the primary motivator. There are side benefits, but I certainly wouldn't do it for free.


Or, what if I had the ability to build wood cabinets and coffee tables and sold them? I would be working with a passion of mine: woodworking (this is a made-up scenario!) and generating income. Because I choose to use a talent and enjoy it I would consider myself retired with a lucrative hobby.

I know, this is splitting hairs and it really doesn't matter how someone is "categorized." The individual determines how he or she feels about his life or control of her time.

The point is much broader: retirement absolutely does not mean we stop working. We work at something until we die. It is part of being human. We do stuff.

So, the next time someone asks how come you aren't bored by not working, educate him about the meaning of the word. 


The hardest working "retired" person I know: Betty

31 comments:

  1. Hi Bob,
    This is a good issue to raise. There are so many opinions on what constitutes 'retirement'. I maintain retirement is anything I WANT IT TO BE......no one else will dictate to me what it is! I will work if I want in a paid job, or in an unpaid job, or in my home....thanks Betty for being such a good example. Someone said to me the other day that I can't be retired if my plan is to get casual work.....I said "so when I earn money from managing my investments I am NOT retired? Or if I maintain a rental property I am not retired....or if I make jewelry and soap and sell it at the markets I am not retired?"
    Here's to freedom of choice, a life of work and a life of play (maybe all happening together).

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    1. What used to be considered a typical "retirement" would certainly drive Betty and me batty. That form of retirement means a slow death. Life is about living regardless of the season we are in.

      I like your attitude, Roseanne: retirement is anything you want it to be. Isn't that the fact that makes retirement so satisfying? No longer does a particular job, or daily commute, or set of responsibilities define us. WE DEFINE US!

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    2. So true, Bob. In the western world we are so defined by money....if you work (get an income) you are purposeful, achieving and certainly not lazy.It is a subtle expectation of our lives and I think this is why so many people have problems adjusting to retirement (I am not the expert here). An experienced retireee said to me 'retirement is a great leveller' - he meant that no-one ever asks now what he did when he worked.
      I am wondering if the word 'retirement' needs to be scrapped altogether - it is simply another season of life!

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  2. Oftentimes the hardest work I do has nothing to do with my current career. Busting my hump on yard work, general fixing up around the house, and so on can be much, much harder than "working". I have neighbors, some 70 years of age or older, who retired but work constantly at things they enjoy in the yard and/or garage. No way will I ever say someone who is "retired" is not working hard - they have shown me that the opposite is often the case.

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    1. The difference, as Roseanne noted above, is who chooses the work. When we decide to tackle a project or get our hands dirty doing something we enjoy, starting and stopping on our schedule, that is what is so sweet.

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  3. As I've mentioned here before, I am often flabbergasted when I realize my father-in-law has been retired for 34 years and not done A THING that resembles work. The only thing he does is read and, at this stage of his mental health, he couldn't tell you what he read yesterday. Considering his physical health is excellent for his age, I think he could live fully functioning until 100, but without mental faculties? Who wants that??
    b

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    1. Since my mom died my 89 year old dad just reads all day. When mom was alive he did things because she did things. But, now, he has no interest in doing anything beyond reading, watching the Phoenix Suns on TV, and going to the dining room for two meals a day. He lives in a community that has opportunities for him to do more but he refuses.

      For the first year or two after mom's passing I used to urge him to try different things. But, his complete resistance and comments from readers on this blog convinced me he is happy in his lifestyle and I have to accept it. We all make the ultimate choices. The one your dad picked wouldn't be right for you (or me), but he has picked his path.

      The most frustrating part of my dad's lifestyle occurs during my weekly lunches with him: we have almost nothing to talk about. I tell him a little about what my family is doing and then ask him about his week. Except for his odd habit of doing his laundry at 3AM (so he can avoid meeting other people) he has nothing to add to the conversation.

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    2. I know! It's next to impossible to have a conversation with someone who does absolutely nothing! So frustrating, because you want to include him in your life but he can't relate and has nothing to add. Makes me want to scream!
      b

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    3. Over the last several months he and a nice lady have started eating their meals together in the dining room. She loves the visits from Betty and me and can carry on a two way conversation. She is a widow with little family near.

      Dad helps her with her walker, opens her crackers for her, and donates most of his fruit to her. There is nothing even remotely romantic between them, but she does give him something he needs: someone to take care of during those shared meals.

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  4. Obviously I so agree with this. To paraphrase Mr Money Mustache (I think?), no one wants to sit around in retirement. We all have hobbies and interests and some of those sometimes give us income-so be it. I'd suggest that if doing the tour guide thing was something you loved, then that would fall under the first definition rather than the second. If its a tedious thing you do just to make some cash-then a different story. And we all have different levels of activity requirements and wants. some have to be working at something all day long, others have a more laid back schedule.

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    1. At first the tour guide job was fun - fun to get paid and fun to interact with other people in beautiful surroundings. But, over time it became a chore. The work is mindless and some of the people I had to interact with were to put it mildly, personality-challenged. I was glad when it came to an end.

      The balance between activity and relaxation is a very personal choice. In fact, I'm sure you'd agree that what someone calls relaxing might be nothing but work to someone else!

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  5. I agree that retirement means I'm free to choose how I spend my time. I'm very, very busy. I even make a little money now and then doing something I enjoy. But that's not why I do it.

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    1. You were free to decide to go to Kenya, something you have have determined was a very valuable use of your time. It is that type of freedom that retirement is all about.

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  6. My motto in retirement comes from Ernie Zelinski's excellent book, The Joy of Not Working: "When you do that which is hard, life becomes very easy. When you only do that which is easy, life becomes very hard."

    For me, that means I have to put in sweat equity, either physical or mental, in some capacity every day before I am able to enjoy and appreciate my downtime. Life quickly goes flat if I try to skip over the sweat equity part, in order to just get to the easy part.

    Right now I have no interest in generating income because of the commitment generally necessary to do so (my only commitment is to me for the time being!), but my dad has recently converted his interest in buying things used, into a cash generating hobby. He utilizes his great negotiating skills to buy used items, primarily tools, autos and motorcycles. He uses them for a bit, fixes them up afterward if necessary, then resells them for a profit. He's getting a big kick out of doing this, and it's enabling him to nicely leverage his otherwise fairly modest retirement income.




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    1. I'd put your dad into the retired with a lucrative hobby category. He probably enjoys the whole process of acquiring the items, using them and fixing them up as much as he does cashing the checks. That is a nice approach.

      I bought Enie's book close to 12 years ago, right after I retired and took inspiration from his message. He says, "most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Bingo!

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  7. Exactly! I am working so hard at the piano. I love it and no one pays me, but it is work! I also work hard at housework and gardening, I sort of get paid for that, in that I don't have to pay anyone else to do that anymore. And, yes, I make a little money from writing, but I don't really think that disqualifies me from being retired, does it?

    I'm not sure the old definition of retirement ever really described all retirees anyway. My grandparents certainly didn't sit around all day when they retired.

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    1. How about posting a YouTube video of you at the piano? That would be fun for those of us who know you.

      My grandparents on my mom's side didn't do much after retirement, but they were raised that way: the upper middle class in Pittsburgh relaxed on their porch, in the reading room or at their weekend "farm."

      As long as you don't go back to the CPA biz you are good to go.

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    2. I agree, I'm thinking at some point we need a mini concert??

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    3. Well I just got my piano tuned, so I'll consider it.

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  8. I think that in some ways we like to call ourselves unique but really many have never fit into our "old" definition of retirement. Yeah there were some who to moved to florida/Arizona but weren't that involved in their hobbies and such also?

    When I was downsized at the age of 54 I started up my own cabinet shop and made at least a decent income from it but you could say that I retired as I was not dependent on the income for my daily existence. When I shut down the shop due to a bad back and a heart event then I went into a full retirement mode but that is also when I cranked up the volunteer work.

    Retirement has never been a one-size-fits-all thing and that is ok. I won't begrudge anyone such as your father who simply wants to read and watch a sports team. They are living their life as they want. Just because they don't fit our definitions of a satisfying retirement does not matter.

    The ones I do have empathy for are those who are in poor health and trying to survive on Social Security alone. Are they retired? Sure they are. Are they living a satisfying retirement? Some are but many are just trying to survive. I would say that about 20% of those who come to the soup kitchen are in that social security alone mode. Some are grumpy but most are just trying to get as much joy in life as their circumstances allow.

    So, there is also no such thing as a one-size-fits-all satisfying retirement either.

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    1. The figures I found said your experience at the soup kitchen fits the national norm: 22% of those receiving SS have that as their sole income, though some of those have a small addition with food stamps.

      It can be done, but Social Security was not designed to be someone's sole support. Especially today with health care costs, increasing housing and food prices, it becomes survival for too many. As you correctly note, that is retirement but not very satisfying.

      I was raised with the idea that when you retired your company pension and a move to the sunshine was how life was lived in your "golden years." I am very happy that that vision has been replaced with one that is substantially more flexible.

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  9. Well, I am working very hard, getting ready by 6 a.m. to put in a full day of trial watching...lol. It may seem like a worthless activity to many but it is educational regarding how our legal system works and the back and forth of a lively group of fellow trial watchers. In my defense I follow very few trials but this one is interesting.

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    1. I have never heard of trial watching as a leisure activity but I can see how that would be interesting. I read a lot of mysteries and can see myself becoming wrapped up in certain cases.

      "In my defense ..." Is that a pun?

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  10. Having recently globbed on to the idea of an "encore life", things are settling in.
    Not having to work for someone---choosing work on my own terms----that is "retirement".
    I am in love with my encore life right now. Gardening, watching the turkeys, boating, hanging out with grandkids. It has taken a while to get into it- but I cannot imagine "working for the woman" anymore!
    As one of my friends recently commented---"you look happier then you have in years!" I am.
    Encore life continues!

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    1. There are different phrases people are using to more accurately define this stage of life than the out-dated "retirement." Encore, second or third stage, restart, etc.

      No matter what it is called, it can result in that look of happiness you describe, Janette.

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  11. I have found you! I bet you didn't know you were lost. I am enjoying catching up on 3 years of your blog. I am enjoying it so far.

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    1. Actually, I am lost more often than you might think! Welcome, Rake!

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  12. Bob,

    I enjoy your blog very much. I am also a native Phoencian - almost (okay, I moved there with my folks at the age of 18 months in 1949) :-). Went to Madison #2, Camelback HS, and ASU.

    By some twists of fate, I ended up "visiting" in New England for the past 35 years, retiring at the end of 2012. Where I worked (Hanscom AFB) the atmosphere was dominated by a much younger military/civilian crowd who treated experienced "baby-boomer" contractors with amusement and ill-concealed contempt. For me, it was definitely "time to go" after 27 years!

    I relaxed and sat on my caboose for maybe a week - then began establishing some kind of structure. Mornings - at the gym for a workout (weights and cardio on alternate days), back home for a shower & breakfast. Summers are for yardwork, gardening & outside projects - before it gets too hot. Do my emails, the net, and lunch. After chow - RESIST that impulse for a siesta. CARPE' DIEM! Don't let that one get away.

    Afternoons are for "homework". I am getting back into photography, lapidary, jewelery making. Good weather means a 3 mile "walk in the park".

    Besides locally, we have family in PA. The main house upgrade / maintenance projects will be completed by this fall.

    Our basic plan is to be ready to make a decision in 24-36 months to:
    - move to Arizona,
    - a townhouse in NH, or
    - stay where we are.

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    1. Carpe Diem is a phrase that I have tried to follow ever since I heard it in a Robin Williams movie years ago. We don't have any time to waste. That doesn't mean we have to be busy all the time: quiet time on the porch is important for soul and mind restoration. But, to simply watch days slip away...not so good.

      You have a good schedule and a good attitude.

      I used to live in the Boston area so I am familiar with Hanscom. Best of luck and stay in touch.

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  13. Funny I should run across your article, as I have been saying to myself (and everyone else) that I plan on 'retiring' at 57 (in 3 years)... Of course no-one believes me, as most have the mindset that to be in this 'class' requires a large capital investment making you a livable wage.... and playing golf all day long....

    I am currently working full-time in a hardware store----ugghh... but I am also now starting to shoot events as a photographer, plus resuming my long-lost career as a professional musician.... I also plan on renting my new house in a year ( for a $700 per month in-pocket profit each month).... plus I have a small boat-cleaning business--real small-- only 2 boats...

    Anyway, I can see the day when I will have enough income from all the above (minus the hardware store if at all possible) to have a life..... working less days per month... all in things I enjoy..... so, hence my definition of being 'retired"!!!!!! Also, money --what little there will be-- from Social security will kick in at 62 or 67... so every little bit helps.....I am also trying to save for a property in the Bahamas that I can use as a second home/rental income.......

    Sound weird??/

    Ray
    Miami

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    1. Retirement is a very personal journey, so no, nothing you wrote sounds weird at all. With proper planning there is no reason you can't achieve your goals. I retired at 52, some 12 years ago, and things have worked out even better than I expected. I have some extra income from writing, some from part ownership of a coal mine (!), and for several years I earned extra money as a local tour guide.

      Putting together various streams of income (like musician and photography) is just fine...in fact, very smart!

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