Why Boomers Need To Think Differently About Retirement
We have to admit that although we knew one day we would retire, we did not think much about it. Our lives revolved around our families and our work and we could not imagine what life would look like without both. And so we buried our heads in the proverbial sand and plowed ahead.
Then the day came. We became “retirees.” We have to admit it did not sit well. We felt saggy, old, and a bit deflated. All the congratulatory messages saying “well-deserved” were lovely on the one hand and a bit disconcerting on the other. We deserved what? To play? To rest? To sleep in? OK for a few weeks, but after that? Why did this seem so awkward?
After a few months, we began to have an idea why figuring out how to be ourselves as “retirees” was so daunting. We had not realized that, unlike prior retirees, we would likely be retired for a very long time. Multiple decades. Enough time to have another career, if we want to. Way too many decades to just play.
We began to learn how retirement—and its stereotypes and connotations—evolved. It came into vogue in the late 1940s, when a generation that had weathered the Great Depression and World War II were ready to put their feet up and start enjoying new ways to play. Eisenhower had built a national highway system, and cars and gasoline were now affordable for the middle class. Road trips to the national parks and Florida were an exciting way to spend new found time. Televisions were accessible to all—and you didn’t even need anyone else around to be entertained. And retirement communities with golf courses and tennis courts and new friends were popping up all over the place for you to enjoy the “golden years.” Retirement, with a bunch of other retirees, seemed like a blast, a fine way to top off a hard life.
It looks different now. In the last few decades enormous strides have been made in medical advances, and knowledge about aging, nutrition and longevity has grown exponentially. Now, if you live to 60 you are more likely than not to live until you are 90. And you are also likely to be relatively healthy in mind and body for most of those years. That creates a whole new paradigm for our generation.
That does not mean we want to work as we always have for thirty more years. We do want to relax and enjoy life. To savor quiet. To see family and friends. To travel and learn things we did not have time for before. But we want to do more. Something that incorporates what we loved about “work.” Something with a purpose. Something challenging and hard. Something we can be proud of. We may zig and zag until we find it, but we are committed to making work part of our lives for the foreseeable future.
Figuring out how we are going to live and engage with the world is the challenge of modern retirement. There are no well trodden paths to follow, so we will forge them. We want to be contributors, not dependents. We still have full lives to live, and we want to live them as we lived the rest of our lives—with energy and purpose. This is no time to retreat