Living Life On Your Own Terms

I do a lot of work with people who are thinking about what they see as the life hereafter, a time when living stops and the great unknown begins. No I am not talking about death or whatever lies ahead after death. I am talking about life after fulltime work.  For many people they don't see much difference between the two.


Those people interpret the word retirement as stopping, retreating, going backwards, or getting out of the way, even getting ready to die. Given the dictionary still defines retire in much the same way, you can’t really blame them.


Tradition dies hard. The concept of retirement was developed years ago when work was everything in life and when people didn’t live long after what employers regarded as a worker’s use-by date.


The baby boomer generation has been revolutionizing every stage of life since the 1960’s and it is reasonable to think they are the cause of a new attitude towards the idea of life after work. But baby boomers typically still fear the idea of not working in the way they have all their adult life. The concept of work as the reason for getting up each morning has been instilled in their psyche by a tradition that has lasted over 100 years.


I think other factors have a greater bearing on the issue.  


A significant shift in the employment world came into being around 1990. Business decided labour was its biggest cost and that much of the work should be outsourced to contract staff on a project by project basis rather than employ permanent staff.  Large numbers of staff, particularly middle managers, were dismissed. These were often people who saw the company as their lifeblood – emotionally as well as financially.  Thousands of people – many of them baby boomers – were suddenly on the scrap heap. Stories abound of people leaving home in their work clothes every morning, only to be seen sitting on park benches reading a paper, unable to admit to their families, perhaps even to themselves, that they were unemployed.


Significant to the point of this article was the fact that gone was the concept of employers guaranteeing staff a job for life. People had to become their own job managers, sometimes by starting their own business and deciding where they would work and how many employers they would work for, often at the one time. This is of course commonplace today but it was scary for the workforce of the 1990s.  This shift has been the forerunner of many lifestyle changes including work life balance, negotiated workplace agreements and a new approach to retirement.


No longer are their two life stages – one of work and another of not working.  Like everything else in nature, human growth is a continuum as we look to develop our talents and blossom to our potential. People have little option now but to live life on their own terms.  Of course workers couldn’t entirely plan their own lifestyle but at least they were building a new era of negotiating workplace agreements.  But that’s another story.


Now people are seeing the positives of living life on their own terms. When I talk to people about the transition from fulltime work to ‘whatever’s next in their life’, their eyes smile when I mention the prospect of ‘living – including working, if that is a preference – on their own terms’.


This therefore is the new approach to what we used to call retirement.  It is now seen for what nature intended it to be – an opportunity to keep blossoming to one’s natural-born potential.  Whether or not through paid work, peoplr recognize they have a new chance to do the things they always wanted to do and use their talents in whatever way gives them satisfaction.  It has become a time when people can really take control of their lives, thereby eliminating one of the greatest sources of stress in today’s frenetic society – the unwanted imposition of control by others.  A negative is suddenly being offered as the sort of positive lifestyle  people had never been able to choose throughout their working lives – no matter how much they might have loved their work. 


These weren’t the only factors of course. Others include:

  • The increasing longevity of life has extended life well beyond what we used to see as our use-by date for working, and we are learning to stay healthy and active well into our 80’s and often beyond
  • Work is now sourced from the mind and specialized knowledge of each individual. Expertise and talent is now spread through the organization, thereby decentralizing the sense of professional empowerment.

I find that the people who haven’t yet seen retirement in this new light are those whose noses are still so close to the daily grindstone that they haven’t been giving themselves the time to look up and survey the big picture of life around them.  It’s why people like me are needed today, who can  help make people more aware that life in their later years isn’t so much one of withering but of continuing to blossom. Perhaps in ways and directions that they had never thought possible or had even previously considered.


Like wine we now get better with age. There is great potential to enjoy well into our later years the opportunities and the possibilities of a new lifecycle of birth, growth and maturity. Work becomes one option.  It’s time to formally retire the word retire and start to talk about giving life a new flavor that’s good to the last drop! A time to truly enjoy living life on your own terms.