Let’s look at three reasons retirement is a flawed concept and what you can do about it. First, the flaws of retirement.
Flaw #1: You’re likely to live longer. When the idea of retirement was first introduced in Germany in 1889, life expectancy was age 70. Now, life expectancy in the U.S. is 79 years according to the World Bank. (BTW, it’s 85 years in San Marino, a small country that is surrounded by Italy.) But that’s from birth. If you make it to age 65 in the U.S. and are healthy, your life expectancy is 84 if you’re a man and 86 if you’re a woman. Thus, the original idea of retirement was based on a much shorter life span compared to what you’re likely to experience.
Flaw #2: The idea of a rocking chair retirement is wrong. The idea of sitting on the porch in a rocking chair in retirement doesn’t work. We are programmed to have purpose. Without a reason to get up in the morning, we stagnant, wither and waste away. In the wonderful book The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them by Richard Nelson Bolles, he notes there are three periods of our life based on our primary activity –education, work, and retirement. In the first two life stages, we have purpose and in the third one, too many people lack purpose. Yet, to thrive, grow and enjoy retirement, we need a purpose outside ourselves. I highly recommend this book and the article in Kiplinger magazine “Living a Life of Purpose after Retirement: 3 Action Steps to Take.” I’ll write more about purpose in retirement in the future.
Flaw #3: You need people. For many of us, especially men it seems, our social network comes from our work lives. When you retire, you may leave your social network behind. If you go into retirement without friends and peers, you will experience a sudden sense of loneliness. I see this in my work with clients. Too many people don’t develop social connections before they retire and when they retire, their world shrinks. We need people and most retirement models ignore the social aspect of retirement.
If these are the flaws in retirement, what can you do about them (other than work until you drop, which is not a good idea)? I suggest you start with three actions you can take NOW.
- If you’re not healthy, get healthy. If you are healthy, get healthier. The second most often heard worry about retirement is poor health. The number one worry is running out of money.
- Find something that gives you purpose other than work, and no, watching the grandkids doesn’t count. Purpose is something outside yourself for the greater good. It can be simple like doing community gardening around your condo complex or community center or something more complex like getting active in a social cause. My father volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul society in the small northern Wisconsin town in which he and my mother retired. He could fix anything, and he used his time one or two days a week fixing the appliances, toys and tools and that people donated. He loved it and it was his way of giving back.
- Be around people NOT connected to your work. I can’t emphasize this enough (especially for men). Find and participate in a social circle of like-minded people. Find things to do together, go to museums, movies, and art shows. Do whatever you like but do it with people. Remember Steve’s rules #7: Happiness is at the crossroads of good experiences and good people.
Retirement is not something you are, it’s a phase of life like being a student or a worker. To overcome the flaws of retirement, you need to accept retirement as a phase and not your identity by taking action now.