A New Face on Retirement
By Nicole Goldman
Growing up, my grandparents lived nearby. I don’t remember what they did in my youngest years, but I don’t recall them ever going to work, or having offices, or being on a schedule. My father’s mother, a robust woman from the old country, was always cooking up large vats of stuffed cabbage and making jelly cookies. If she worked as well, it was never discussed. Grandma’s job, I thought, was cooking. She moved to Florida by the time I was 10 or so, so I’m pretty certain she was ‘retired’ by then.
My Dad, and my mother too, had what we thought of as real jobs. Dad went to Manhattan each morning on the train, worked in a high-rise building (The Empire State Building), and carried a briefcase. He was your quintessential suburban father who worked all day and relaxed on the weekends with golf or tennis or gardening. But he must have gotten clues from his folks that retirement came when you entered your 60’s, since he resigned from his law partnership at age 62, believing he had completed the expected tenure, and would have about fifteen years to enjoy his elder years.
Except that he is still very much alive some twenty-four years later, never having foreseen living this long. He’s had a good retirement, filled with some pro-bono appointments overseas, travel, plenty of bridge playing, more tennis and golf, and a whole lot of watching sports on TV. I don’t think he’s quite bored yet, but I don’t think he was planning on this era stretching quite so far into old age.
Ninety is new 75, right? Well, he’s well on his way.
As I enter this phase of life, one that I prefer to call freedom, rather than retirement, since there is nothing retiring about my life, I see the landscape quite differently. And I’m not alone. A neighbor of mine, for instance, will be celebrating his retirement in June from a thirty-year teaching career, but he is only 55, and has plenty of passion for the world. He’s not looking for disengagement or sitting around the pool in Florida.
He, like many, is embarking on what has been termed an encore career. In his case, developing videos for clients which sprung from his fascination with drones a few years back. However he came to his new enthusiasm is not the story. What’s relevant is that this typical kind of retirement, from a civil job with a pension, now looks and feels quite distinct from the retirement journeys of yesteryear.
My ‘retirement’, is a face-lift on the entire concept of living out my peaceful years in restful idyll. My freedom has bought me time, more than anything else, to explore, learn, devote myself to new and old interests, and yes, even relax. Striking the balance amongst my competing interests is one of the greatest struggles I face. This is, of course, a champagne problem, and there are no complaints on my end, just the observation that I was not anticipating I would have the opportunity to reinvent myself once again and be able to pursue new ideas in my 50’s and 60’s.
Ramping it up at this stage can be sharply contrasted with my reinvention for business number two when I was 48, and is nothing like my initial foray into business number one at age 27. Nor would you expect that to be the case. But it also strikes no resemblance to our previous notions of retirement and aging.
Retirees, these days, come in all forms, from the very active, to the semi to the not-so-much, including those in nursing facilities. However, a large swath of our 55+ population is tremendously active, even if retired, and are a major economic force to boot. A quick look at the changing face of the travel industry will give a glimpse of the shifting demographic and the fresh approach to adventure and touring. Outfits like Road Scholar and Overseas Adventure Travel have grown many-fold in the past decade in response to demand for experiences and learning opportunities. With a healthier and more physically capable older population, excursions are pushing new limits, and extending farther afield into Asia, Africa, India, to name a few.
Attitudes and preferences not previously seen in this part of our population, have shifted. The lives of Boomers, for instance, have included so many conveniences, that more is expected at this stage as well. Boomers have been active their whole lives, and bristle at the thought of stopping now. We’ve adapted to technology along the way and rely on our computers and devices for entertainment, commerce, advice and communication. Our cultural expectations run high as we devour exhibits, theater, music, dance, and our communities race to keep up with the voracious appetite being displayed.
It’s the dawn of a new era in retirement, or this third phase of life, as I like to think of it. Creating a balance between your competing interests is only the half of it. As in other phases of life, careful choices need to be made, and it’s reassuring to have the experience and judgement to inform our individual situations. The face may have been lifted but the goal is the same – a fulfilling life that allows us to appreciate the world around us.