October 4, 2019
What Is An Active Retirement?
Not too long ago a reader asked me to pose a question to you: what makes an "active retirement?" She wondered if we bring a meaning to the concept of active that is too restrictive.
Ar first, the response seemed rather obvious: being busy with activities, going to the gym, traveling, volunteer work, creative pursuits...anything other than planting oneself in front of a TV and binge-watching Netflix. Especially during retirement, we have fewer obligations and limits on what we do, so we can be active, both physically and mentally, to our heart's content, or our body's limits.
On reflection, her question is really not that simple. Who determines what active means? How much do we have to do to not feel we are wasting our time and potential? Or, is part of the joy of retirement the freedom to do little that is productive, instead focusing on pleasing ourselves, whatever that might mean?
From a post of a few months ago, reader Tom said that sometimes I make retirement seem too much like a job...constant busyness. His comment is really in line with the question: who determines what an active retirement is? What does that phrase even mean?
Is enjoying the company of friends active enough? How about a walk around the neighborhood to pick up any litter. Does that qualify as volunteering? Is reading a new novel on the back patio active enough? Do I have to break a sweat to be active? Must there always be a goal, with checkoff boxes for me to chart my progress? Must travel involve a passport, plane flight, and foreign cultures to count?
Really, what is being asked is how does one quantify a retirement journey. What must occur for retirement to be a "success." If we don't have the "appropriate" answer when someone asks what we do, are we going to be embarrassed? Will we question our chosen path?
These questions are excellent ones for this blog. After 9 years of studying, thinking, living, and writing about retirement, I know what my answer is to the original question and Tom's follow up statement.
I will readily admit my answer today is much different than it would have been when I retired in June, 2001. It is different than my answer even 5 years ago. That is the thing about this stage of life: everything is evolving, all the time.
The answer to a problem or opportunity isn't good forever. Heavens, it might not be valid next week. Our desires change. Our bodies certainly start speaking more loudly to us, demanding we pay attention to what they are telling us.
Our relationships are never static. Try treating your 13 year old grandson the same way you did when he as 5 and see how that works. Assume your relationship with your spouse or best friend hasn't changed in twenty, thirty, or forty years and troubles are likely in your future.
So, now I will ask you. Does the phrase "active retirement" make sense? What constitutes an active retirement? Does your answer change over time? If you are finding your body rebels at the 10 mile runs that used to start your day, have you redefined what active means? If you can still run all those miles but choose not to, do you still consider what you do to be active?
Should "active" even be part of our description of a satisfying retirement? Does it really matter?
Lots to consider. I am really eager to read what you have to say. The bottom line is we are attempting to define what makes a satisfying retirement.