Marketing to Older Folks
Fear of Aging

Defining Retirement

According to the media and those who market to older people, no one retires these days. Instead, they become “active adults” when they stop working full time.

“They’re embarking on a new stage of life as opposed to an exit ramp,” says Marc Freedman, author of Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America, a title that takes on a certain irony when he states that unlike their parents who sought leisure and recreation in their later years, boomers are “coming into a whole new chapter that hasn’t been well-defined.”
- Christian Science Monitor, 27 June 2005

What is defined these days is longevity. We live longer and healthier lives than previous generations and there is no reason, for the majority of boomers who say they want to keep working past 65, to do so except for corporate America’s distaste for gray-heads in their offices.

This time of year is layoff season at corporations and anyone past 55 and even younger had better do everything they can to hang on because it will be an uphill battle against age discrimination to find another job. Many of them, like me, will find retirement – or, in the current parlance, active adulthood - forced on them.

Retirement, even in recent years, is not a concept I had contemplated. It conjures up for me visions of golf courses and swimming aerobics under the unrelenting heat of the desert sun in what the housing industry calls active-adult communities and I call old-age ghettos.

They may work for some people, but I can’t think of a better way to become the cliché of a hidebound geezer than living in what is, essentially, a gated community of like-aged and like-economically-situated residents. That will come soon enough if one day it becomes necessary to move to an assisted-living facility.

Meanwhile, I have not been able to define retirement for myself. I didn’t expect to stop working full time until I made the choice, and once I’ve completed the move to Portland, Maine, I’ll be looking for ways to enhance my income. This blog will keep me busy too and in a couple of weeks, I’ll begin writing regularly for another website. Also, there are all the things I want to know that I had no time to pursue during my working years. Boredom is not in my future.

In the U.S., we are each defined to the outside world primarily by our jobs. One of the first questions on meeting new people is, What do you do? And I no longer know how to answer that question. It may be vanity or prejudice based on faulty, past perception, but “I’m retired” is not a phrase that will pass my lips anytime soon.

Others’ impression of me, however, is not what is important. How I characterize my new circumstance to myself is. For nearly 50 years, my days have been framed by my working life, by travel to and from my place of employment and by the titles radio producer, television producer, web editor appended to my name.

Now, I don’t know what to call myself, but it sure won’t be “active adult.”


Came to your site via the BlogHer agenda. Well put, this. I find myself starting over once again at age 50...and am finding it quite difficult to find even the most menial sort of job that is vastly below my skillset. Looking forward to reading in the coming days of how you craft a new life for yourself in Portland. Best of luck.

"In the U.S., we are each defined to the outside world primarily by our jobs. One of the first questions on meeting new people is, What do you do? And I no longer know how to answer that question."

I keep a postcard with a drawing of a penguin on it next to my computer. The caption reads, "I do nothing in particular, but I do it very well." -- W.S. Gilbert.

This has become my standard answer when people ask what I do. I enjoy the puzzled look on their faces and the "huh?" reaction. It makes my whole day.

Do let us know the website you will be writing for. You are right about the corporate distaste for greyhairs,I know. But I am sure you will be busy and happy.

I love Donna's answer, above, to the perennial, unimaginative, "What do you do?" It takes courage and confidence to "define" oneself this way. No matter how hard we try to break out of the boxes people put us in, we're herd or tribe animals, and the pull of fitting in is always there. Especially when we walk into a new group where we're expected to introduce ourselves: the cocktail party. Donna's come up with an innovative shorthand that invites a more probing, authentic response.

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