Why Anti-Retirement

By My Act III on Apr 08, 2015 at 02:57 PM in My Act III

A young friend, 25 years old, was a recently-graduated computer science major who had just spent his first week on the job. “I can’t do this for another 40 years!” he said as he slumped into his chair. “I’m going to save every penny I can and retire early so I will never have to work again!”

It was a funny scene. Those of us who had been in the workforce for a while recognized the dream—never work again! Retirement seemed like a good idea: a long, unending vacation where one would not have to worry about deadlines, office politics, or demanding bosses. Retirement would be a right, a reward for keeping one’s nose to the grindstone. Plenty of people supported the plan. Financial service representatives showed what you would have for retirement if 5%, 6% or 7% of your salary were invested in their funds. We started to focus on the question of “when we could retire” and forgot the question of “why should I retire?”

But were the dreams of retirement realistic? Is a lifelong vacation the answer to coping with life and all it has to offer—good and bad? Could retirement be costing more than one thought? And, was the goal drawing an arbitrary cut off point for participation in the mainstream the beginning of ageism? Imagine a potential employer interviewing someone in their 60’s, in good health and planning to work well into their 70’s. Does that employer think, “Great! I found someone who already knows the job, will be free of distractions, and is mature enough to get along with others?” Unfortunately, that employer is more likely going to be thinking, “This person is not worth the effort, he or she is “over the hill,” “ready to retire,” “ too old.”

And that is the clincher. On the path to getting our “reward,” we set ourselves up to be discounted long before our time. People report experiencing ageism as early as 50—an age when one is just beginning to enter the full bloom of professional expertise.

How did this happen? It was not always this way. When America was primarily an agricultural society, one simply moved from more demanding physical jobs to lighter jobs. But the distinction was physical, not mental. As long as one kept up with the times, “older” meant wiser, more experienced, and—you might be surprised at this one—respected.

The answer to our frustrations at work is not to leave it! Businesses as well as employees should be focusing on how to make the work experience for all more rewarding, adaptable, and supportive of living a full life of choice. Work is necessary for our sense of identity and purpose.When someone says, “tell me about yourself,” one of the first things spoken in response is what the person does for a living: “I’m a teacher,” “I’m a plumber,” “I am a caregiver.” We define ourselves by our contribution to society and how we use our talents for the betterment of ourselves and others. Ask someone who is retired the same question and they are likely to say, “I used to be……” or, “I’m retired so I just….”

We propose that everyone should deliberately avoid using the word “retirement.” Instead, let’s change our idea of the work environment to support more flexibility for everyone-young and old. Let’s explore ways that we can open up our attitudes to support people in the pursuit of their chosen purpose. Purpose is not just a job, it encompasses much more. Let’s encourage a national discussion on the very real issues of poverty and medical needs without linking them to age.

We propose using the words “Act Three” as the time when we have mastered the essentials of family, relationships, and work. Those ages associated with the second half of our life should be associated with fulfillment, purpose, joy and loved ones. It is not the end, it is the beginning of the best part of our lives.

My Act III

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