March 30, 2022

Retire? Whatever Do You Mean!

Retire? Whatever Do You Mean!

Can this be The Great Indignation? It seems everybody’s not doing it — retirement, that is.

Last weekend, an article profiling the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, now with a new band among his other projects, carried a headline declaring that for Mr. Weir, “retirement is not an option.” Similarly, after the entertainment world designated Sir Michael Caine retired after he referred to his “last role” during a recent interview, he tweeted the next day to clarify that he is not. And who didn’t notice Tom Brady’s omission of the “r” word when he initially announced he was not returning to the NFL — “I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore” — before changing his mind a few days later.

There’s a rising chorus of people looking to redefine retirement. Professionals and retirees alike are suggesting new labels — un-retirement, rewiring, second act, to name a few. Why? They object to the subtext that the traditional model implies — unmotivated, out of touch, irrelevant. And they’ve replaced it with a new refrain: you can call me anything, but just don’t call me retired.

With better health and longer lives, many of us, me included, are approaching retirement as more than a way of taking it easy. This new wave sees retirement not as a finish line but as a pivotal time to try different ways to stay engaged and purposeful, with work in some form an essential element to that plan.

So, why does this effort rub me the wrong way?

On the one hand, I understand the clamor. Before retiring, I questioned using the label too because retirement meant more to me than its standard denotation. But when I admitted that I was holding on to a stereotype of retirees as checked-out old folks that didn’t apply to me, I decided to drop that notion, live my life and not worry about the word. What does retirement really mean anyway? Isn’t it just another phase of your life, and you choose how to live it?

Perhaps a rebranding also seems too flashy and commercial: retirement disrupted and supercharged, fashionably redefined, renamed, and repackaged with best practices and upgraded qualifications — and, voila, cachet. What’s next, an app? I feel very fortunate to be here, but retirement’s side effects are stressful enough for me. The last thing I need is pressure to meet a new standard. And who sets that standard anyway? There are many reasons to retire and as many ways to find meaning in it. No one else can decide what gets you out of bed in the morning, and one of the wonderful — and sometimes overwhelming — things about retirement is having options.

Semantics aside, I wonder whether creating a separate title to disconnect from the more traditional 'gone fishin' model of retirement will eliminate unwelcome stereotyping. Or will it just redirect it to the traditional observers? Why not be even bolder and expand a new definition for this phase of life rather than narrow it?

Phew, I suppose that’s why most of us see retirement as complicated.

Or maybe not.

My friend Betsy recently sent a message that cut through all the noise. We have a lot in common, even though we have different goals after leaving our careers, and Betsy quickly gets to the heart of things, unlike me. Talking about our lives now she wrote, “From day one, I fell in love with this life. I’m always occupied with something, all sorts of good things, and my days fly by.” Now that’s a working definition of retirement: a life you can’t help but fall in love with.

© Judith Nadratowski 2022

Photo by Jason Rosewell / Unsplash