One of the realities facing each of us as we age is the question: How long do we want work? When I mention work, I mean all the different things that we do that make a contribution to society. I don’t think we have to be paid to work – we might or might not be.
Another way to frame this question is: When do we want to retire? This is important today as we face a work situation that has changed dramatically in the past few years as a result of the COVID-19 virus. People are working from home for at least some part of the week. Companies are looking for workers as the demand for workers is often greater that the supply. Seniors are becoming very valuable workers as companies search for workers. Seniors have experience and are usually pretty reliable. Another factor is that rising inflation and higher costs of essentials raise the question of whether we have enough in our retirement plans to sustain us for the remainder of our lives. All of these issues tend to make retirement more complex as we age. Retiring at age 65 is still a very real possibility for some of us; for others, because of the issues I mentioned above, retiring at 65 is much more complex. Many seniors continue to work beyond the age of 65 or they come back to work after having retired.
I would invite you consider the issue of retirement in this article – whether you have retired, are considering retiring, or are thinking about going back to work. So, a simple answer to the question I raised in the title – Is retirement an ending or beginning? – I think that it is both. For some, it is an ending; for others, it is a beginning.
As we dive into this complex topic, let me share with you some of my story around retirement. As I pondered retiring, I was part-owner of a manufacturer rep company in the plumbing industry, and my work was primarily in customer service – trying to help customers with their questions as well as helping them find the product that they were searching for. I enjoyed doing this, and part of the reason why is that I am a high extrovert who enjoys talking with people. I did a lot of that in that position. As I came closer to the magic age of 65, I informed my co-owners that I planned to retire at 65. At 65, I said goodbye, enjoyed a few farewell gatherings and the affirmations I received and thanked them for the opportunity to work with them. I retired!
What I became aware in retrospect is that I had other works I was engaged in when I retired from the plumbing company. I was an umpire for adult softball in Minneapolis; I officiated at wedding ceremonies; I was also a life coach and had a few clients that I would see. I continued to do these works, and they provided a nice transition in my retirement. I wasn’t left with the question: What was I going to do now that I was retired? I enjoyed these works, and they also brought in some revenue. As I looked back upon these works and this experience as I retired, I gave these works a name: “My cottage industries.” I saw these works as ways that I could continue to be engaged with people, they gave me focus and direction and provided some income. As I have continued to coach people who are thinking of retiring, I ask them whether they have any “cottage industries” to help them in their transition from working to retired. Some do, others don’t.
As I have experienced my retirement and post-retirement, and have known others who have gone through the same process, I became aware of a number of things. I would like to share these with you in the hope that they might help as you consider retirement or have already retired.
First, I believe it is important for us to have some ways of contributing to society, regardless of our age. We might be paid to do this, or we might contribute our gifts and talents through volunteering. I also believe that these works are often in line with what we value and are of interest to us. My wife and I continue to do volunteer work at the church that we attend. Upon my retirement, a couple of us began a group for seniors at our church, which we appropriately called Sages. I know others who volunteer to bring food to people in need. Others I know volunteer in schools to be a support to both the teachers and students. I know a few people who are paid a small stipend to help with projects in companies where they formerly worked. I have been paid to be an election judge for many elections. So, as you think about retirement or are already retired and searching for ways to contribute to others, ask yourself: What interests and excites you? One or more of these things could be what I called “cottage industries” which allow us to stay engaged, active, and contribute to others.
Secondly, I see retirement as a time when we can have the time to look back over our lives and look at the journey we have travelled. As I and others I know who have looked back, we find regrets and resentments – what we failed to do, mistakes we made and people who have hurt us as well as people we have hurt. What I and others have also found are many reasons to be grateful for our lives and for what we have been given. I believe that expressing gratitude and giving thanks are wonderful ways to live our retirement. Research shows also that a regular practice of giving thanks contributes to a healthy way of living, both physically and psychologically. We have the chance to thank people who are still alive – which will probably also add to their lives -as well as acknowledging people who have passed on. Giving thanks helps us keep from getting bogged down in what we missed in life or the hard things that life served us. I believe choosing gratitude as a regular practice really makes a difference. I invite you to try it!
A third awareness that has recently come to me is that it is possible as we pursue our cottage industries to say “enough” or “I need a break.” Recently, I had some medical issues that led me to stop the works I have been doing since I retired fifteen years ago. I felt like this was like a second retirement as I let go of the works I was doing. My sense is that those endeavors we have pursued in retirement, we can stop doing without feeling guilt and/or shame. As we age, we can say we have done enough, or I have given all that I can. I have learned it is important to say something like “that is all I can give now.”
So, in concluding, I see retirement as an important time in our lives and as I said earlier, there are factors happening across society and in our lives that can make this time quite complex. I see this time as a time for endings as well as beginnings. I have found it helpful to talk with trusted people about our activities and what to do or not do as well as the timing of these activities. A financial planner can be most helpful in helping us decide on what to do and when. Retirement can be a wonderful time to own all that we have done and to be grateful for the opportunities that have come our way. Retirement can also be a time in which we find the freedom to pursue dreams that we have had and were never able to pursue because of work or family commitments. Did you ever want to write a book or write poetry? Now might be the time to pursue a dream that has been hanging there for a long time. It can also be a time in which we decide to pull back and take it easy.
So, where are you in these various stages of retirement and post-retirement? Wherever you are, I wish you well and don’t be afraid to talk to others about what you are thinking and experiencing. I believe that they will probably be in similar situations, and you can help each other in navigating this part of your life journeys. Thank you for reading my reflections and I am always open to your feedback. I see that as a way in which I continue to learn. I believe that learning is an important part of aging, whatever we do or don’t do. Learning keeps us young!
Mark T. Scannell is the author or The Village It Takes: The Power To Affirm and lives in Minneapolis.