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Reasons For Retirement

In response to a story published here last week (The Courage to Get Old), Elaine Magalis asked on her blog, Late Fruit, Why Would Anyone Want to “Retire”?

“Ronni and several of her respondents were discussing what retirement means to them - 'growing, learning, individuating, becoming all that we can be' – sounds good! – except that for some people it doesn’t seem all that wonderful,” writes Elaine.

“There are the physical problems of old age that are so much worse for some of us than for others and, of course, money problems and, as Ronni puts it, “a culture that does everything possible to marginalize old people.” Including, I might add, chuck them into the aforementioned category of “retirement.”

“I realized what was bothering me about the column: the word “retirement.” As if we were no longer involved in life, no longer active, no longer contributing, as if we were finished. That certainly isn’t true of the artists I’ve described in my posts.”

I don't need to repeat today my difficulties with the word “retirement” - for the reasons Elaine enumerates and others. It took me a long time not to choke on it. But I would like to point out that the word has its uses.

To the Social Security Administration and pension plans, it refers to those who are collecting benefits they have paid into all their working lives.

To the Internal Revenue Service, retired is an important classification that carries with it different rules and regulations in regard to what taxes are to be paid, or not, and which deductions apply.

To workers themselves, it refers to the time, usually at 60-something, when they bow out of full time employment. There are companies, some law firms for one, that require partners to retire at a specific age. For others, like myself, it was not a choice; we were forced out of paid employment due to our age and age discrimination. Some people who have done heavy physical labor simply cannot go on after several decades – their bodies wear out.

And as Elaine points out, disease or debility cuts short careers some might otherwise have wanted to continue beyond the usual retirement age. Finally, there are those who are glad to leave the world of work behind whether because they disliked their jobs or are just tired of the rat race. That, to me, is as valid a reason to opt out after four or five decades as any other.

So retirement is a useful word whatever negative undertone is attached to it by the culture.

The word itself bothers Elaine, but what bothers me about her post is the implication that artists (by which she seems to mean only famous musicians, painters, actors and writers) have a superior creative vision and dedication than everyone else.

“As I read Ronni Bennett’s column in Wednesday’s Time Goes By, I began to wonder if artists are in a privileged position. They don’t retire, unless they’ve always had a day job and retirement means they can finally do their real work full-time.”

“...not one the people I described there ever stopped working for what mattered to her or to him. Not one of them 'retired'.”

Most retirees, whatever artistic aspirations they may have had, found that the need to house, feed and clothe their families came first and whatever those jobs were, it was “real work” - not to be dismissed as a “day job.” It could easily be that the guy who, for example, operated a concrete mixer – which might seem tedious and mundane to others - found as much personal satisfaction with his part in building useful structures as someone who writes a great novel.

I recently listened to a man who worked on a fishing trawler for many years describe the details of his job. He grinned and his eyes danced as he spoke and he dismissed what I considered terrible conditions of wind, water, cold and high seas. He chose this work and relished the danger as he and his mates battled the elements each day to retrieve their catch.

Too old now for such labor, he is “retired” from fishing. He likes to “sit a spell” and tell fish tales from his career and when he feels like it, he sometimes designs and builds fine furniture which he had dabbled in throughout his life. But he doesn't think it is any more “real work” than fishing was and would resent anyone who said so.

The woman who writes the Cop Car's Beat blog comes to mind. Retired from her career as an engineer, she is now a trained Red Cross volunteer who travels the United States to disaster zones to apply different skills. She “retired” from one profession to take up another to which she is equally dedicated.

I don't mean to pick on Elaine and it could be that she is grappling with the pejorative nature of the word “retirement,” as I did for a long time. Once that it reconciled, it is easier to see that few people are lucky enough to be allowed to continue the work they love until they die.

Those who retire from their lifelong jobs do so for many reasons and are not any less dedicated to what matters to them than famous writers, musicians and painters. It just becomes something different.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Gail Title: On Making Myself Really Sick


Your guy who operated a concrete mixer, Cop Car, and others immediately bring to mind that marvelous thick tome, "Working," by Studs Terkel. I read it at the beginning of my career, and have often thought of the bias-free interviews Studs conducted with all manner of workers. There is dignity in working, whatever the work, whether paid or volunteer. Of course, much work is horrendous and conditions often worse. My joy is volunteer working for people I support (such as Bhutanese refugees, my new neighbors in Atlanta) using same skill sets I applied in corporations I often couldn't stand. I needed the money, and now I need the time... living on shoestrings in two hemispheres, one at a time;-)

I will continue to paint, write, sew, and glue things together until the day I die, long after I "retire" from my professional life. I guess that makes me an artist.

I'm thinking of farmers, who worked long and hard but are essentially farmers until they die. Yes, for some people their work is their life.

I will "retire" when I feel comfortable about not earning money and when I feel I have something better to do. I don't feel safe retiring in this economy.

"Words have no power in themselves...only you can allow a word to have power over your life" (unknown)

That said; I retired happily and early from a job that didn't satisfy me anymore. So I enjoy the word. Every day!

And I envy the person who was able to have a career that satisfied their souls. I wouldn't retire from that either. In fact, I'm still looking for that career; I still have time...

As with others, I could hardly say the word "retired" for quite awhile. I finally decided that it wasn't the word, as such, that bothered me. It was what it meant and not just to me, but to other people. Once I could accept (most of the time) where I am on the arc of my life, the word looses its bite. Like everything, aging is a process and one grows into it with all its implications, as one goes. I can't say I'm thrilled about suddenly (or so it seems) being 75. But oh my, how I love open time to do all the things I love. How I love not having to go out in bad weather. How I love this new bit of life that brings with it, such a strange peace.

I retired early from a long career in computers because I was bored with the process of implementing projects yet again. Now I volunteer teaching classes at the local Wildlife Refuge - totally different but I feel engaged with the kids who are excited to have a field trip, with the environment and with the other volunteers who have a passion. Retirement from one thing does not mean sitting still!

Steven, I agree with each of your paragraphs.

Very much on board with everything Steven said, though sadly not retired yet.

Single and going on 51 I have my eye on the prize of paying off my little humble abode in (fingers crossed) five years. Will I be able to retire then? No, but I will be able to quit a job that has been less than fulfilling. With no college degree I've been an executive assistant for an association for 20 years. Stressful (sometimes demeaning)job with no outward rewards but the association does good work, I get a decent salary, and very good benefits including the assocation putting 5% of my salary into TIAA-CREF each year. Nevertheless my love has always been and always will be animals. But unless you have an advanced degree, you can hardly make a living working at these organizations. Hopefully, with no mortgage, I will be able to get a job working at the award winning shelter that I could walk to from my house.

LOVE the word retirement!

Retiring means a drastic change in lifestyle. Some people adjust happily and the word is associated with a good feeling.

Others, like you, Ronni, were forced into retiring against their will and the word 'retired' does stick in their craw.

I don't think it's the actual word that is bothersome as much as the circumstances associated with it.

I was forced into retirement and it made my financial situation most precarious. However, I survived and now happily check off the word retired on a list asking for place of employment. It doesn't bother me a bit.

Some people have a calling and it's what I call those who never retire from it as they will continue finding ways to do it. It seems to me, Ronni, that you had a calling and guess what, you still do it by being in the media and continuing to work on communication that spreads wisdom out to people everywhere.

Someone with a calling is very fortunate, whether they have been paid for it or not, and they do never retire from it. Many people just have jobs and they find that calling when they finally have the time to quit doing the job and explore what becomes their calling even if a bit later in life than they might've preferred. Not all callings bring money with them.

I learned to differentiate this because I am married to a man with a calling and it took time to accept it wasn't the same thing as careers or jobs. It never leaves that person. It's a passion for what they do that in a lot of ways is who they are. Many things can be callings and you more or less know them when you hear someone talk about what they do

I loved this post, Ronni. I see you as an artist, writing your life, your experiences in television production.

Work that you love, paid or not, is what keeps people curious, healthy and relevant.

When you like doing something so much you'd do it for free, that's golden.

I love talking to seniors, finding out what they did for a living, if they liked it or not, how they got there, the challenges, and what they are doing in retirement.

For me, I was born to be a teacher, still teach on my own terms, but have added many other activities around my job.

Yes, some people can't wait to retire, because they don't fit their jobs, but there could be 30 more years ahead after retirement age 60, so the question is, how will we fill that time?

There are so many community needs out there, everyone can find somewhere to give, if they so choose.

My husband volunteers a day a week at a school for the blind, and loves it. He comes home with a huge grin, feels good about the work he does. It's great to see how he morphed into retirement.

Some women tell me their husbands hang around watching sports in jogging pants, mega ego guys who were were big shots in their careers, but did no planning for their retirement.

Some fall into depression, stop seeing friends, can't think of anything to do.

Well, Mister ex-CEO dude, find the nearest school, offer to help a kid learn to read.

Work at a food bank.

Go back to school.

Work at an animal shelter.

Get a poker stick and pick up bus stop trash. (cheating bankers should be forced to do this in orange suits.)

Root out your basement.

Paint your house, one room at a time.

Talk to teens about staying in school.

Work for Habitat for Humanity.

Teach ESL in another country. No age restrictions in China.


Walk across Spain.

Or sit around gas bagging with the same bunch of bull slingers, day after day, shoulda, coulda, woulda.

People ask what I'm doing in retirement, I tell them I'm a writer, part time teacher, shoot disturber, traveler and gardener.

I think the sticking point here with the word retirement is that some people think it means they have retired from life not that they have retired from some sort of a job. This is why you hear so many stories about men dying soon after they reached retirement age. Their job was their life or should I say their life was their job.

I love the thoughfulness I always encounter on this blog. Retirement to me has always meant that I would be able to do exactly as I wished with no worries. I think that's a pretty romanitic view. I will be 70 this year and do not expect to "retire" from my professional work in the forseeable future. My husband, who has what I consider a "real" job, will not be retiring either. He would like to, but the recent economic turndown has left us financially unable to generate the kind of income outside of working that we would need.
When that changes, he'll retire, but as for me I am presently doing exactly what I want to be doing all ready. I work out of my house (I guess you could call my work as a therapist a "calling" to me}, and when I take a break, I step into my garden and pull some weeds. It's the best of both worlds.
Recently my husband, my sister and I have started to blog about our roles as caregivers to our elderly parents. I envision this blog to be a bridge between preretirement and whatever our lives as retired people will look like.

I forgot one thing. I know many folks rant about AARP but I do love their new commercial with people around my age and older telling others what they want to do when they "grow up". Whenever I see it on TV, I always say outloud "I want to work with animals when I grow up!"

I'm chuckling about the artist/retirement issue. As a writer, I never think anybody believes I actually work, so how could I retire?

Dr. Robert Butler, considered one of the founders of the field of aging (and he coined the word ageism in 1969, too) would not say he was retired because of the negative connotations of the word. His calling is working in the field of aging which he continues to do in his 80s as a key figure in International Longevity Institute, based in NY.

Artists, whether famous or unknown, don't retire because creativity is in their blood and provides meaning and vividness. Creativity takes many forms as Dr. Gene Cohen points out in his book about older adults The Creative Age.

I don't see myself retiring because I need to create income and because I have an artistic calling,which I channel through my Sage's Play work. Finding meaning and a satisfying lifestyle in a culture that demeans elders can be irritating and challenging, but it can be done.

Words like retirement, old and senior all carry a lot of negative freight because of our culture's ageist perspective.

I'm 73 and haven't ever retired, and probably never will in the sense you are using it.
I've change directions, changed jobs, changed homes and changed lifestyles, but none of these things do I consider as retiring.
Only time I "retire", is when I go to bed at night. Where I come from, that is considered "retiring for the night".

Wonderful topic. My plan was to semi-retire at age 70 to maximize my social security. But, like Ronni the recession forced me out of the 22 hour per week job that had the benefits.

Luckly I had been eligible for widows benefits for awhile that went towards paying off the mortgage. So when the economic ax fell at 66.5 I rolled into Medicare and my own social security plus unemployment. Also lucky to have had a side job at home for the last 30 years drawing engineering plans.

Within a year all my debt was paid off, go to yoga classes at least once a week and love having time to spend time in the garden.

Creativity has always been part of my life but around the edges in all forms; beads, glass, photography etc. I joined an artists group basically to get some free lessons and found a whole new world. Felt like Dorothy when she opened the door and the world went from black & white to full color.

Ageism, the prejudice, marginalizing, blah, blah, blah. RETIREMENT was scary because it was unknown. One day at a time it has become a wonderful adventure. Certainly don't feel good every minute. Life is always hills and valleys but life is much happier and richer then in my fifties.

Ronni think how many people you reach and the great service you do for us.
Thank you for your blog.


Retire? The list of things I have to do and want to every day is always long so I guess I'm not retired. Keeping up is my greatest challenge.

I gladly retired at 65 so I could spend as many conscious hours as possible doing the writing I've been waiting most of life to get to finally in a serious way. But alas, causes still keep capturing my attention.
My family is now trying to provide "quality" to the abundant "quantity" of life my 90-year-old mother has enjoyed, and I'm learning more each day about the nursing home lobbyists who have been channeling Medicare and Medicaid funding away from in-home care providers, which are far less expensive than nursing homes. And both Medicare and Medicaid are going broke, we're told. There's something wrong with this picture.
I'm just starting a new blog to call more attention to this travesty: Help Elders Live Proudly.

The vocabulary of aging is always going to be somewhat controversial. I am not sure I like being called a senior citizen, but the fact is, I am.

The term can mean a lot of different things depending on the context. It's the associations we attach to the terms that are the problem I think.

As a gerontologist, nutrition and fitness professional, I have tried to find new words to describe what it means to be "retired" or over 55 or 65 that have a positive connotation.

There are so many postive things about being 66 despite some limitations. I find it is just important not to let limitations deprive us of enjoying life.

I will be writing about my experience giving a talk at an assisted living facility last week in my blog. I went to this facility to teach but found I was really the pupil.

It is encouraging to me to see individuals at 85, 95, and even 100 still maintaining a zest for life despite limitations.

I long ago concluded many differences of opinion are a consequence of semantic misunderstandings. Perhaps if all of us had to define terms we use rather than assuming everyone perceives them the same, such as the discussion of "retirement" shows, we might learn we have more about which we agree than we may tend to assume.

As for work, I luckily found my niche in communications-related employment areas when I was not yet twenty yrs of age. A cross country move many years ago resulted in circumstances dictating I needed to find a different branch of communications on which to focus my efforts thus altering my goals. This was midway through my life when I returned to college and I additionally took extra training to work with children who had severe language disorders. Serendipitously I was soon asked to work with young to elder adults, including in acute hospital settings, which offered greater opportunity to work 1:1 with patients. I've continued serving in rehabilitation skilled nursing settings generally enjoying those I encounter.

Many used to be older than I, but after a few years along the way I've discovered I am becoming the elder. I do love what I do, though I work only part time now, and am not yet willing to completely retire. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to continue working at what gives me such pleasure and, hopefully, makes a positive difference in others lives.

You seem to have accomplished that with this blog, Ronni, though you might not have anticipated doing so when you undertook this technology adventure.

I would wish everyone who wants to could have that same experience in some area of their life whether it be undertaking a new creative outlet for them, including volunteer efforts, or pursuing other passions.

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