Redefining Retirement – Part One

Research shows that most people spend more time planning for a two-week vacation than for retirement, and in some cases they don’t plan at all. My only experience with retirement was watching my parents. My father retired from his factory job and sat in his La-Z-Boy, in full recline mode, watching television until his last days. The thought of that scares the hell out of me. Waiting to die is not living!

I’ve been married to the same wonderful man for more than three decades and he is a stones-throw away from retiring. As I write this story he’s still getting up each morning and driving into work, mind engaged, wits challenged, physically active, leading projects and contributing to the greater good. By the time this story goes to print, he will probably not be doing that any longer.

Like others, we have often fantasized about our retirement days. We talked about buying an apartment in Paris, a little inn on a beach in Greece or sailing around the world in a new yacht. They were fun ideas to dream about but they’re a far cry from a retirement plan. So what does one do when one retires?

I began to take an unofficial poll with every retiree that would talk to me and it seems there are three common activities that occupy most of their time: golf, grand parenting and gardening with the lesser sub categories of volunteering and reading newspapers. They all claim to be very busy but at the same time, said they no longer book two appointments in the same week and tell me I wouldn’t understand how long it takes to do absolutely nothing. In my books, this all sounds an awful lot like my dad’s couch surfing. What the retirees I talked to all have in common is they’re all living the same retirement as past generations. But retirement is changing, and here’s how.

The first thing that has changed is us: we are living longer. A recent study by Merrill Lynch in the USA claims baby boomers are living longer than our parents generation and it’s quite conceivable that we will spend more years in retirement than our working days. It states baby boomers are “younger” longer, more energetic and plan to work longer. Sixty-five percent of survey responders claimed they will stop working for pay and retire in the traditional sense later in life than their parents did.

In fact, most boomers are rejecting the notion of either full-time leisure or full-time work. Instead, they’re opting for a better balance of work and leisure, steady part-time work or starting their own business. Among the 87% of baby boomers who intend to keep working and earning in retirement, most expect to “retire” from their current job/career in their mid-sixties and then launch into an entirely new job or career that gives more control over the quality of their lives. It’s interesting that only 17% of baby boomers in the survey reported that they hope to retire in the traditional sense and never work again.

But it’s not always the same for retiring men and women. While most men in the Merrill Lynch survey were looking forward to a more equitable balance of work and play, the empty-nesting, boomer women wanted to take advantage of their new found freedom for career development, community involvement and continued personal growth.

And money is not always the motivator for retirement decisions. Sixty-seven percent of boomers claim that mental stimulation, having a purpose in the world and being valued for your skills are reasons to stay in the game. These boomers are highlighting what previous generations have overlooked. That beyond the obvious financial planning for retirement, there are other aspects of life that are impacted by retirement. For this reason, these enlightened boomers choose to view retirement not as an ending, but as a transition to a new, exciting phase of life!

In the group of retirees I polled, one thing was obvious; they were not prepared for the changes that a 100% leisure retirement brings. Die Broke is an amazing book on the new retirement era that will rock your views on the subject. Author Stephen Pollan states, “More than 40 percent of retirees say the transition into retirement was difficult. If that doesn’t sound too bad to you, consider that only 12 percent of newlyweds say marriage was a difficult transition and only 23 percent of new parents say having a child was a tough transition. Obviously, retiring is the single most difficult lifestyle change you can make.”

Pollan goes on to explain the reasons are because of our insistence on believing that retirement today is the same as retirement was a generation before – it’s not. First of all, 65 years of age is no longer old and leisure is not more fulfilling than work. It’s a well-known fact that too much idle time, having a sense of loss and not having a reason to get up in the morning can affect your health and emotional well-being, so it makes sense to plan what your life will look like after retirement.

I’m not talking about the modern myth of retiring to a tropical island like the commercials would have you believe. Retirement is not the time to remove yourself from family and friends, it isn’t one vacation after the other and it certainly isn’t a time to believe the myth that you are the only one without the financial resources to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Retirement, like your working life, is full of challenges, restrictions and obstacles but what it does offer is freedom like you’ve never had before. You are now the boss of your life, your decisions, and your purpose. Using your creative talents, insight and resources, you can re-create yourself and your life. Retirement can be the most amazing opportunity ever presented to you.

The Japanese believe everyone has a reason for being, a purpose in life no matter what the age. It’s called Ikigai and having Ikigai gives your life purpose. So why does this matter you ask? Think about it, a purpose gives you long-term goals, short-term goals, action plans and daily activities that matter to you. If this sounds like a company’s mission statement, you’re right, only it’s more like a personal mission statement. Ikigai gives you a reason to get up in the morning and contributes to a long and productive life. If you believe in or have Ikigai, your transition into retirement is not only a smoother emotional transition but it allows you freedom, choice and a more balanced life: the rewards of a good retirement. It all reminds me of the lobster fisherman I met in New Brunswick who would say, “if you don’t know what harbour you’re sailing for, no wind is in the right direction.”

An interesting fact I learned while researching information for this story: Did you know that the retirement age of 65 was established in 1965 when the average male mortality rate was 66.8? Back then there were no decades of leisure time to while away. Today we truly are faced with a new retirement model.

So have I made my point on retirement? Why are most people retiring like the Cleavers’ when we should be taking a Jetsons’ approach?

In future issues of Business by Today Magazine, I’ll take a look at successful retirement models from people living in the region and beyond. I’ll be sharing the way some have found purpose and meaning (Ikigai) when work ended, how others acquired an equitable balance of work and play and even more who found growth and fulfillment in their golden years.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” This Hunter S. Thompson quote can aptly be applied to retirement. It supports the view that retirement is not an ending so much as a transition to a new, exciting phase of life. I want that to be me, hand in hand with my husband. And if you want that to be you too, get off that imaginary La-Z-Boy, find your Ikigai and begin thinking about your modern-day retirement plan.

Written By: Lynn Ogryzlo 

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