“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”― Leo Tolstoy
My monthly AARP magazine arrived and, once again, my first response was, “Stop messing with me!” First, and foremost, the title is misleading, as many of the articles have nothing to do with retirement and everything to do with still working. Secondly, I’m tired of looking at smiling pictures of seniors still on the job. What I want to see is someone who looks like me on Monday mornings with the thought, “I’m never gonna get to retire,” running around my head and wondering what happened to my youthful glow.
Honesty check; I enjoy this publication and think they offer great advice and resources for us grayers. That being said, there is a delicate balancing act going on as they cater to both the, “We don’t have to work anymore crowd,” and those of us for whom retirement sounds as mythical as the Lock Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and bipartisan politics.
The issue of aging and working has become big news lately. Paul Irving, chairman of the Center for the Future of Aging, recently said, "I think traditional retirement is ready to be retired." While pithy and most likely true, it strikes me as sad and somewhat disingenuous for someone at that level to be forecasting the end of retirement as we know it.
This brings me back to aging and the underlying message in the “Let’s retire retirement” concept, which is, “Plan on working until the day you die.” A graying workforce does have several positive aspects. The longer we stay around the more expertise in our chosen field. Younger workers benefit from our wisdom and gain access to mentors who have “Been there, done that.” On a larger scale, the social security nest egg grows as potential withdrawers remain depositors. Let’s hear it for work
Minus an emoticon, you may have missed the sarcasm in that last sentence. How did work, which at one time was the source of all things stress related, suddenly become the salve to soothe the pains of growing older? Proponents of working through retirement keep telling us how good it is for seniors to be on the job. They tell us that it’s good for our brains, good to keep our bodies healthy, good to stay socially connected, good to have a sense of purpose in life. They have even given it a cute name; they call it “recareering.” Really?
This sounds hauntingly like someone telling us what’s good for us and expecting us to buy it hook-line-and-sinker. Sure, retirement was good for our parents and our parent’s parents, but it’s going to be hell for us. All that free time, the lack commitments, the laid back, “I got nowhere I need to be,” attitude is only going to make our brains go soft, make us clinically depressed, and have us leading purposeless and pointless lives.
The obvious truth behind the “Work til you die,” mantra is that an increasing number of seniors are discovering that they cannot afford not to work. This has nothing to do with whether or not work is good for our mental or physical health and everything to do with the fact that poverty is a serious hindrance to wellness. With healthcare costs going through the roof, many people are worried that if a major illness strikes they will lose the roofs over their heads. It’s not the psychological costs of not working for a living that concerns most people, it’s the actual cost of living that has many seniors dusting off their resumes.
The Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching, says “Retire when work is done, this is the way of heaven.” I still believe there’s great value in those words. A life spent chasing the brass ring; the golden goodie as Alan Watts once called it, is a life spent always looking for the next reward to come along, only to find that someone removed the prize. Let’s be honest, who among us would have eaten a whole box of Cracker Jacks if we knew someone had already stolen whatever mini plastic token was inside?
Before we pull the retirement rug out from underneath the Baby Boomers, perhaps we can take a collective time out and reflect on the following story:
Three elderly men were sitting around a table having coffee after just attending viewing for a recently departed good friend. The conversation turned to how each would want to be remembered and what family and friends would say:
First Man: I would want people to say that I was a great physician who helped save the lives of many people.
Second Man: I would want people to say that I worked hard all my life to provide for my family.
Third Man: I hope that people will say, “Look, he’s still breathing!”
Perhaps there will come a day when not working for a living will be the highest honor, prize or reward. In that case, we’re going to need an Association that is ready to “lean in” to the idea of not having a job and leaning back in our Easy Boy recliners, whiling away the hours. I suggest, The American Association of People Who Still Want Their Slice of the Retirement Pie. The AAPWSWTSRP; yeah, that sounds about right.