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One day at the coffee machine in 2004, when I was 63, I felt blown off my feet when a young colleague idly asked, “Why don’t you retire, Ronni?” I had no answer for her.
Call me stupid, but the idea of retirement had hardly crossed my mind throughout my working years and at the time she asked, I still hadn’t considered stopping work or what I would do when or if I did.
About three months later, both of us were laid off in a cutback and after a year of futile searching for a job, as I sank more deeply into debt with each passing month, I did what was necessary to survive. I sold my New York apartment and moved to a less expensive city.
At the time of the layoff, I had recently launched Time Goes By and during the year of my job search and the subsequent year of making the move to Maine, the blog became my full-time “job.” So I slipped into retirement without actually making the decision, without ever having asked myself what I would do when I stopped working.
A couple of days ago, I ran across a blog post from lacochran of lacochran’s bloggery. She appears to be in her early or mid-50s and is wondering these days who she will be, what she will do and how she will identify herself when retirement arrives:
“…the first question almost always asked is "What do you do?" as in "How do you spend your day?" The assumption is that you work, or go to school, or take care of children. Or, if none of those, that you do philanthropic work or creative endeavors. This is how we define each other when we meet. This is how we create context.
“…once we are retired, then what? Do I work part-time in something that is less stressful than my current job or even enjoyable once salary isn't an issue? Do I volunteer and make the world a better place? Do I start drinking lime daiquiris at 11 am? What?”
For a short while, a year or two ago, I struggled with identifying myself as retired. I disliked the word with its implication of idleness, unimportance and daily rounds of golf. But thanks to this blog and particularly to other elderbloggers who continue to educate me, I wear it easily now as I continue trying to figure out what getting old is really like and to lobby for respect for elders.
But my personal experience doesn’t make lacochran’s quandary less consequential. I could be wrong, but I suspect there are few who have definitive plans or goals for retirement.
It is complicated by the fact that, unlike our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, we can expect another two or three decades of healthy life after the common retirement age of 65 which, if you count eligibility for full Social Security as the “official” retirement age, is gradually being moved up to 67 over the next few years.
Assuming corporate America doesn’t shove employees out the door at about that age or even younger (not a rational assumption given the continued prevalence of age discrimination in the workplace), some will continue to work for many years.
Still, the day will arrive when, by circumstance or choice, most of us are retired from full-time work – and I have a bunch of questions about that transition.
- If you are still working, what are you thinking about retirement? Do you have a solid plan you’re happy with?
- If you are retired, how is it going? Do you have enough to fill your time? Are you ever at a loss for something to do?
- How do you feel about saying you’re retired when asked what you do?
- Did or do you have trouble identifying yourself – who you are within yourself - when you can no longer say you are a doctor, an engineer, a teacher, etc.?
- How has the transition gone for you from decades of full-time work, a place to go every morning, to not having that obligation?
- If you’ve been retired for some years, have you made any major changes in how you spend your days? If so, why and how?
- Retired, do you feel less involved with the world, your community, the culture at large - or moreso?
- Are you happy in your retirement? What’s good and what’s not good about it?
Personally, I believe if a retiree wants to stay home and read mystery novels all day or watch television, that’s fine. I don’t think there should be a requirement in old age to do something other people consider productive. It’s a personal choice.
Maybe when the Elderblogger Survey is done, I’ll do another on attitudes about retirement. Meanwhile, I’m curious about people’s answers to the questions above and I’m betting lacochran is too.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Bill Parker recalls his years of sports car rallying with a special friend in The Navigator Rules!]