Twenty and Thirty Somethings are being warned by financial advisors that it’s never too early to start planning for their Retirement. Of course, they’re talking about dollars. How much will you need to live on? How much should you put away each year? The answers are toted up using actuarial tables for life span and adjustments for inflation. All very quantitative and orderly.
Meanwhile, a surprising new AARP survey reveals that more than half of our 76 million Baby Boomers plan to work past the traditional retirement age. And not for the money. Rather, because they enjoy their work or want to try something completely new.
In Washington, Congress tiptoes around the perennial budget busters, Social Security and Medicare. Dare they raise the retirement age to 67 or even to 70? Can they even have serious discussions in election years? They know only too well that senior citizens vote in large numbers. Whoa! When it comes to the Big R, we may all need to question our basic assumptions and attitudes about work and retirement.
First, there are certain people who announce clearly and firmly that they will never retire. We read an obituary describing an octogenarian (or older) who “went into the office every day until last Thursday”. We know doctors, lawyers, small store owners, writers, entertainers and others who never stop their full time endeavors.
However, most men and women today do leave full time work at 62 or 65 when Social Security kicks in. And they often take this gigantic step into the unknown without a plan in place. When this happens, the other dimensions of Retirement take center stage. Yes, money is important. But two other crucial factors: good health and pursuing one’s interests in life. While we are putting away our savings and growing the IRAs and 401K plans, are we planning and building the other two dimensions as well?
As children, we were plagued by adults asking the nagging question, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” Now, that we have not only grown up but have also grown older, and hopefully wiser, there seems to be a new question. One that we tend to ask ourselves during serious reflection at three in the morning, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
Some retirees avoid such existential distress. Their plans were made decades ago. Escape the cold winters and move to Florida or Arizona. Become ‘Snow Birds’. Play golf and tennis. Read. Relax. Buy a RV and see the country. Spend more time with the grandchildren. Deep six the alarm clock! And, yet, for many others, the retirement years may not fall neatly into a projected design.
In her provocative book, Wisdom and The Senses, Joan Erikson wrote, “Love, intimacy and work provide life with its essential meaning…” A strong statement, in a book that stresses creativity as the key to healthy human growth and development. Erikson, a psychologist, wrote this book when she was well beyond retirement age.
The Boomers appear to agree with her. They expect Social Security and Medicare to be there for them, but they are not planning to give up work. They do plan to be healthy, active and pursuing new careers or interests. So much for “old dogs not learning new tricks”.
What appears to be emerging is a new perspective on the Big R. Yes, we need to put away our savings and grow the 401K plans and the IRAs. And yes, we need to eat right, exercise regularly and stay fit. The big change is that retirement is no longer seen as a sharp break from the world of work. It is emerging as a gradual shift to more freedom of choice in one’s pursuits. That choice may include full time or part time work, or volunteer work for worthy causes.
One friend of 82 who recently gave up his full time job is searching for a “ passion”, a reason to get up in the morning as he describes it. He’s way ahead of the Boomers in age, but definitely on the same wave length. He summed it up the other day, when he said, “I’m never going to retire from life.”
I’ll second that. How about you? Are you getting ready for the Big R?
“Wisdom and the Senses” by Joan Erikson and “Ripening Time: Inside Stories for Aging With Grace” by Sherry Ruth Anderson are both available on Amazon.com