Maybe you are young and retirement seems a distant, mysterious world for you. Or maybe you are working your butt off right now and can’t wait to finish? Or maybe you are already there.
In the insightful book Playing Life’s Second Half, author David J. Powell notes that a century ago most people grew up, went to work, retired, then died. In fact, most people died within three to five years after they stopped working. Otto Von Bismark, at age 74, first set the retirement age at 70 in Germany in 1889, when the average life expectancy was about 45. He was talked down to 65. This became the standard age for retirement around the world. As a result, by the year 2000, the proportion of people aged 65 and older still working dropped to only 17%, though that figure is likely to increase.
Today, you could spend 25% of your life in retirement. What will you do with these years?
Some people retire early on a voluntary basis and do something else with their life, others are forced to retire and take a retirement package, others retire from one job and begin another career (part or full time), while others feel they can’t retire due to the bills they need to keep paying.
For many, the thought of not working and not being seen as important anymore can be daunting. What will we do when the phone doesn’t ring and the emails stop coming in? Will we feel like we have been ‘put out to pasture’ and no longer needed? How will we handle the loss of power and position? Will we feel useless? How will we answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” How will we handle having less energy? These are legitimate fears and concerns.
The bigger question may not be, “When will I retire?” but “What will I do when I retire?”
Is it time to consider a second or a parallel career or interest? After all, you are far more than your current job or vocation. We live in more than one world and shouldn’t limit ourselves to any one of them (see the book Living in More Than One World by Bruce Rosenstein).
What do you love to do? What brings you joy? What gives you energy? What ’cause’ gets your pulse going? If your life ended today, what would be un-lived in your life? When you tap into your areas of passion you tend to become re-fired, a possible better option than being retired. It’s about having a sense of meaning and purpose, something not limited to any particular age or stage of life.
In their book The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, authors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott offer an analysis to help us rethink retirement, our finances, our education, our career, and our relationships to create a fulfilling 100-year life. They note that many of us have been raised on the traditional notion of a three-stage approach to our working lives: education, followed by work and then retirement. But this well-established pathway is already beginning to collapse – life expectancy is rising, final-salary pensions are vanishing, and increasing numbers of people are juggling multiple careers. Whether you are 18, 45, or 60, you will need to do things very differently from previous generations and learn to structure your life in completely new ways.
They suggest adopting a multi-stage view of life. Most of us will have multiple careers over a life time. Maybe it is time to up-skill and educate yourself for a different career? With more stages there will be more transitions. The authors note that, “Making the most of a long and multi-stage life means taking transitions in your stride, being flexible, acquiring new knowledge, exploring new ways of thinking, seeing the world from a different perspective, coming to terms with changes in power, letting go of old associates and building new networks. These are the transformation skills which call for a potentially huge shift in perspective and require real foresight.” Issues of identity, choice and risk (and opportunity!) will start to emerge.
Is it time to re-invent yourself. What do you need to let go of or abandon? What new things would you like to learn? Where could you volunteer your time and energy? What can you teach? Who could you mentor?
Don’t just follow the crowd. What future could you create? Why not craft your own life story.
Maybe we should retire the word “retire”?
P.S. See also the earlier posts from the BLOG series “Could You Live to 100?”