Retirement has taken on new dimensions. Eligibility for full Social Security benefits is inching upward. Defined benefit pension plans are history. Many retirement age boomers are discovering they have to keep working to cover expenses. Dreams of the easy life are put on hold. Younger generations are being warned, but data suggest they’re not listening. Saving rates are low; debt burdens are high; low and middle incomes still lag behind overall economic growth.
On the other hand, retirement is financially possible for many others, but recent articles have observed that the easy life doesn’t work for everyone. Psychologists and sociologists have long known that work is its own reward for most of us. Effort, accomplishment, ego compensation, with something good coming out of it, make work a better choice than non-stop leisure. A little added money is a nice bonus.
We make jokes about the drudgery of work, the bit and bridle of long days and tyrannical bosses. Jokes though they may be, humor always carries a portion of truth, so one of the benefits of retirement is to redefine work in more favorable terms. For the fortunate, it means working at what one finds rewarding in itself, and under conditions that one sets according to personal needs and desires. There is a lot of freedom in that. Some friends have continued paid employment in their fields of professional expertise, but others have chosen to clerk at local stores, drive tractors or school buses, remodel old houses, play lounge pianos, and whatever else gives them pleasure, or has been something they’ve always wanted to do. It also means reserving time for leisure, with more freedom to decide on how much and when.
Through a bit of planning, a lot of dumb luck, and God’s grace, my wife and I retired with adequate resources for daily needs at the old normal of 65. It didn’t mean work stopped. It allowed us to redefine what work meant. I continued serving as priest and pastor for a small rural congregation, went deeper into first responder chaplaincy, and served on a variety of boards and commissions. I even reached back into my earlier career to do some teaching on management and leadership. Writing became a passion rather than a task. My wife’s path took her from being a gifted amateur artist to a highly respected professional, while she too served on a number of local boards. At the same time, we reset our clocks to run on a less structured schedule so we could travel where we wanted, as we wanted, when we wanted.
There does come a time to slow down. It differs from person to person, but one’s body and mind let you know. Now in my mid seventies, I’m not so much slowing as changing how my time is invested. I’m down to two boards. Chaplaincy has eased back to occasional counseling sessions. On most days I get up when I feel like it. We travel as much as we desire, filling each trip with as many adventures as we can handle. Writing has become more important. Socializing with friends in quiet conversation over a drink or meal has become more important. Supporting community events and organizations through gifts, without having to attend every dinner and auction, has become more important. Keeping up an exercise routine has become more important.
Retirement for folks like us used to mean one of two things: golf or fishing everyday; or sitting around in the old age home being treated like an inmate. It was never true, but it was the stereotype. Sally Bowles wanted to go like Elsie from Chelsea who died of too much, too fast, too hard. My goal is to follow my friend Ernie (who’s not from anyplace that rhymes). He finally retired from retirement at 90, but remains engaged in the life of the community for the good of the community. We shall see.