Recently, I’ve been attending retirement parties with the frequency I once attended weddings. Unlike weddings, however, these parties have been lighthearted, informal and fun. They’ve been free of the anxieties about the future, finances, fertility and fidelity – those aspects of matrimony that make for its poor statistical success. Instead, these parties have been celebrations of tenures of good work and the passage into a new phase of life that one retiree calls “Life 2.0.”
“Retirement’s not the right word,” he said, “It’s really a Reboot.”
Three of my recently retiring friends are men, none of whom is migrating to the sunbelt or becoming one of those “Gray Nomads” who pilot giant land yachts cross-country. Instead, they’re looking forward to working on projects that require more time and focus than they had while doing the 9-5, in part because they all worked much longer hours, including weekends (and in one case, holidays). After all, they’re only in their mid-sixties, and quite probably have a third of their lifespans still ahead.
Gone are the days when men, especially, retired to the golf course, the bar, or the Lazy-Boy and died of a massive coronary within a few years. Back then, medical care wasn’t prohibitively expensive because it wasn’t as invasive or high-tech, and no one needed a fully funded 401k to see them into their nineties. Now, with longer, healthier, lives supported by the single-payer healthcare plan called Medicare, retirees can expect to be retired for a long time. I don’t know how my friends are planning to swing the next twenty to thirty years financially, but they’ve come up with great ways to fill the time.
One friend looks forward to extended visits with his 90-year old dad; another plans frequent visits with his young grandkids. All three have ambitious projects that amount to second careers ahead, including leading workshops, composing and performing music, and cooking in a French restaurant on weekends. At least two expect occasionally to step back into their old jobs as substitutes, which makes sense, since they liked the actual work but tired of the executive stress of running their joints.
So far, only one retiree admits the transition to retirement has been difficult, mostly for two reasons. The first is the daunting physical and emotional labor of moving from the home that came with the job back to the house he and his wife own. He says that shedding two-thirds of their worldly goods has been a marathon of decision-making about what to keep and what to give away.
The second difficulty is being cut loose from the structure and rhythm of thirty-eight years of professional life. The comfort of routine is gone, and hasn’t yet been replaced with a new one.
To these challenges, I’d add a third: the loss of identity some suffer when they empty their office and turn in their ID. My friends – these new retirees – are well positioned to avoid this pitfall, as they are not so much retiring as changing the emphasis and nature of their work, but working just the same. In fact, all three of these friends have book ambitions, with plans to follow their passions in genealogy, gemology, and spirituality.
That they have chosen writing books is of some comfort to me, a writer by trade with no plans to retire. It’s not just that I’m still too young to qualify for Medicare or Social Security; even if I could afford to retire, I don’t want to. Unlike these recently retired friends, writing’s been my job all along, and I’ll keep pounding the keyboard for as long as I can retrieve the right words from my brain.
In this, I’m just part of the zeitgeist: working longer in anticipation of increased longevity. Fortunately, my cohort has been through this drill of finding meaning in our lives before. We’re the Boomers who prolonged adolescence and who’ve routinely sought answers to Mary Oliver’s question, What is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life? This is all good, because as our lifespans increase, so does Middle Age.
Middle Age is not too late for love! Into the Wilderness is an award-winning love story between people in their mid-sixties!
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