A changing vision of retirement

How is it going to be for you when you retire? What are you going to have to let go of? It could be any or all of – being needed at the office, your status, your authority, your social group, getting a regular salary, believing that you are immortal. Unless you let go of stuff – you are stuck.

It’s one thing letting go of stuff – but where does that leave you? Without your stuff, who are you? You may find that much of what you know about yourself came from what your parents, your schooling, your career and your society has told you – what is good, what is bad, what is right, what is wrong –  some of those beliefs may be very limiting. So we need to go within to discover who the real me is.

Then you need to create a vision for your retirement. Most of the rules have changed. The current models around retirement are out-dated and don’t apply to a new generation who, rather than seeing retirement as a winding down, see a world of opportunity in their 3rd age.

On average retirement has extended from 10 – 15 years to 20 – 25 years. We have an extra 10 – 15 years of old age and that has some major implications for us.

  •  Our physical state in that extra old age– will, to a large extent, be a consequence of what we are doing now – a no exercise, bad diet lifestyle will translate into ill-health and lack of mobility later – unless your name is Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. The good news is – 50% of all health conditions in old age are lifestyle related – so we can eliminate those conditions by changing our lifestyle now.
  • Related to this is alcohol abuse – when the days stretch out before us, it’s easy for that sundowner to turn into sundowners and a beer at lunch-time can turn into a party.
  • The incidence of Alzheimers increases rapidly as we age but mental stimulation and exercise – like learning a new language or following a new intellectual interest,  stimulates new neural pathways and reduces the onset. Basically use it or lose it!

We are the Baby-Boomers – those people born between 1946 and 1961. We are the most goal directed, action orientated generation to have graced and disgraced the planet. For us, what we are going to do when we’ve got nothing to do, is a real issue. Research at Boeing and elsewhere shows that our post-retirement life expectancy drops when we have no sense of purpose, and it drops from 20 years to less than 3 – we die of boredom. So what will give our life meaning in retirement?

Related to this is the world’s need for Elder Wisdom. We need to step up as society’s moral compass – and we can do that by holding the question “But should we?” We have the technology to keep someone alive on life support for years – but should we? It is interesting that Norway called upon a group of elderly philosophers, not economists, to advise them on what to do with their wealth from North Sea oil – and we can see Desmond Tutu’s influence in world affairs as Chair of  The Elders.

International travel – the up-side is that we have the opportunity to travel to all the magical places we have ever dreamed of. The down-side is that our kids are scattered all over the world. So where are we going to live in retirement. Moving will take us away from things that are familiar and away from friends – and….

Loneliness – is a killer – Do you see friends at least once a week – do you have an active circle of friends or have you been so busy at work that you don’t have time? How’s your relationship with family – not just your kids and grand-kids;  siblings, cousins and random other relatives? They are your ultimate support structure – and we all have branches of the family that don’t speak to each other. Retirement is an opportunity to fix that.

The nature of grand-parenting is changing – we used to be a ready source of baby-sitting, knitted socks and grumpy ol’ gran’-dads. Not any more – we’ve got places to go – things to do! And  our kids get pissed off when we’re not available for baby-sitting every Friday night.

Your relationship with your spouse – for most of us that relationship is based on a 4 hour day – 1 hour in the morning while we are getting dressed for work and 3 hours in the evening over dinner and our favourite TV programmes. What is going to happen when that increases to 16 hours? We have to re-negotiate our relationship – what will be the balance of ME and WE time? And there is another issue. Baby boomer men are looking forward to working less, relaxing more, and spending more time with their wife. Baby boomer women view the liberations of an empty nest and retirement as new opportunities for career development, community involvement and continued personal growth – so we are going in opposite directions.

We remain sexual beings, but performance changes so it essential for us to talk about sex. If you are single, divorced or widowed take care. Retirees have one of the fastest growing incidences of STDs in any population group. As a generation we didn’t really use condoms, we had the pill and anyway, since menopause condoms weren’t necessary. But AIDS hadn’t been invented when we were young and now, kids use condoms to protect themselves from STDs – we need to do the same!

Last one – how do you want to die?  In Florida, the US retirement state, 50% of old people die in ICU. With good medical cover we are going the same way. Is that how you want to die? If you don’t, prepare a Living Will – and appoint someone to talk for you if you cannot talk for yourself, and specify what you want that person to say.

Retirement isn’t for sissies.   This transition is a biggie and with change of this magnitude, often comes depression. We all know someone who knows someone who went into a deep spiral shortly after they retired. We need to recognise the signs and get professional help. But, get all this right and we have an opportunity to live the life we’ve only been able to dream of.


About Alan

64 years old, married-divorced-married, 2 adult children: woman and man. 1 step-son at University. Serial entrepreneur, adventurer, publisher, consultant and facilitator. Facinated by transitions, rites, changes and ceremonies. Initiating into the role of Elder, wanting to work with other Elders to assist men (and the women in their lives) through our life-changes.

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