“What’s for dessert? I’ve just finished the main course and I’m still hungry” succinctly describes retirement as it has become in the 21st century. “I’ve eaten what I’m told is good for me…now I want to eat what I like”. Tongue-in-cheek reactions I get to this include: “I reckon I’m up to the (after-meal) cheese and greens!” and “I might skip the (end-of-meal) coffee, thanks!”
I am now 67. At 62 I was told ‘they’ didn’t want me any more. I tried to get another job but…you know the story. It was more than just being out of a job and the income that it was regularly bringing me. It’s the family atmosphere of the workplace that you miss. Discussing the sports results at morning tea, lunching with workmates, having the noise of people busily working around you. Home (I live alone) suddenly seemed awfully mausoleum-like. I was healthy, fit and in the prime of my life with years ahead of me yet...what had I done to deserve being thrown on the scrapheap?
I was ‘enjoying’ a really good wallow in self pity!
Throughout my working years I had learned – and spoken – many words of wisdom about personal growth, success, achievement and all those powerful motivations to make the most of life in the fast lane. Now, in this new strange silence, I became aware of an inner voice reminding me: “You are totally responsible for your life. Who you are today is a product of everything you did, every choice you made in the past. No one has ever been responsible for you other than you”.
Response-able…able to respond…the Victor Frankl philosophy that you may not be able to stop what people are doing to you, but you are totally in control of how you respond.
For me, ‘retirement’ was the signal to take total control of my life.
It’s not important here to know what I’ve done with my life since then. What is important is it generated new thought patterns that triggered a new outlook on life, new desires and more decisive feelings about myself. A ripple effect turned into a tsunami of self-esteem, self belief, and self confidence. I began to again feel like I was a person of worth.
Life for me today has purpose, action, hope, dignity and independence. I am now making a business out of my passions, expressing the real me and not the person that, for so many years, I thought others expected me to be.
The social changes affecting retirement are many and complex. Three warrant a mention here:
- The fact that the high cost of permanent staff caused business to downsize and outsource work to contract staff and casuals. As a result, people are now effectively self-employed. They decide who they want to work for, for how long, the conditions they will work under, whether they want to work for one organisation or more organisations at the one time, etc. The individual is now more fully in charge of his or her own work life balance decisions.
- The implications of an ageing workforce and related shortage of skilled staff. This is opening up greater flexibility in the opportunities for mature adults to decide whether or not to extend their working life, either full-time or part-time.
- Life crises that can occur at any age, after which people find themselves having to review their lifestyle – e.g., loss of a partner through death or divorce, the children leaving home (“the empty nest syndrome”), retirement from elite sport, or a life-changing injury or other health problem. Milestone ages, such as turning 40 and 50 also have major impacts for many of us as we realize that the ‘clock is ticking’ on our life expectancy.
What is common in all of these in the 21st century is that people feel a lot freer to make changes – even major changes – in their lifestyle. The social acceptance of divorce is a key symptom (probably not the cause) of this new outlook.
Retirement becomes, in this context, just another of the opportunities available to people to change their lifestyle.
Yes retirement is dying - in the sense of ‘retirement’ as a time to ‘stop work and start dying’. People are now deciding at almost any stage of their adult life when and if they want to quit working. ‘To work or not to work’ is only one of many issues affecting lifestyle decisions. You only have to watch the evening TV news to see what I mean.
It is an excitingly positive change. People now feel they have the right to choose the lifestyle they want and are voting with their feet. Sea-change, tree-change, down-shifting from high stress to low stress jobs, choosing jobs that serve their personal goals, enjoying a new sense of self-respect - these are all life-enriching outcomes for the individual. This in turn is raising their sense of pride, dignity and respect in the eyes of loved ones, work colleagues and the general community. It means that the world is being exposed to greater and more purposeful creative thinking that can only enrich the life of the individual, the community and the world.
Rest in peace, retirement!