I suppose my personal profile begs the question. After all, I am an empty-nester, my husband and I recently “down-sized” our home and possessions, and I am blessed to be called Grandma. But I still stop short when someone asks me, “So, are you retired now?”
I do understand the reason for the question. People work full-time, put in their thirty years, get the watch, and (hopefully) live off their retirement savings. But my full-time employment in adult life was brief. So in my mind, retired really doesn’t describe me.
While I’m not celebrating a formal end to a life-long career, I do resonate deeply with many of my sixty-something friends living their, what I will call PC (post-career) new stage of life. It seems that we’re very much in the same place spiritually, relationally, physically, and mentally.
The commonality of age appears to be more influential than employment status. Certain questions that nag at sixty-somethings are not always bound by whether one worked outside or inside the home. Like many homogenous groupings, a universality exists among seniors. My friends are wondering ~
“How do I positively influence my adult children and grandchildren?”
“What are my travel plans for the coming year?”
“What will church involvement look like in my senior years?”
“What do I have to offer my community?”
“In what areas do I still need to grow spiritually?”
“What’s on my bucket list?”
“How do I best care for an aging body?”
“When are we going to down-size our home?”
“Who’s available for coffee?” (Seriously, that’s a major part of my rhythm of life.)
In short, how am I going to spend the rest of my 10, 20, 30 years?
I find it interesting that many of our friends that have “retired” from lifelong careers are not in the traditional sense of the word, retiring. On the cusp of exiting the traditional forty-fifty hour a week job, I’ve heard, “I’m hoping to find something part-time,” or, “I’m going to dedicate my days to _______________________ (fill in the blank.) And some senior friends still wonder what they are going to be when they grow up! Turns out we are not quite ready to give up work that promises purpose, challenge, routine, socialization, and perhaps a little extra income.
An important PC group that must be considered here is the ever-growing number that have life defined for them. Due to family illness, the hands of their clocks circle around visits to residential care facilities, drives to doctor appointments, and other necessary caregiving duties. Multi-generational responsibilities, albeit non-voluntary, are admirably and unselfishly embraced. Retirement for these folks is a reassignment to the demanding post of caregiver. I know it’s cliche to remark, “I don’t know how they do it!” But I don’t, and won’t, unless I find myself in their shoes.
Although the sandwich generation bears these burdens, the addition of PC work continues to be a growing phenomenon for baby boomers and beyond. The identity of retiree is fading away for scores of sixty-somethings. In fact, the term retired is losing its familiar connotation.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, my peers’ quest for something more than mid-day gin rummy and bon bons (I’m aging myself right here) are in sync with older citizens across the board. In “It’s Time to Retire our Definition of Retirement,” Huffington writes:
“To withdraw, to go away, to retreat: These are the literal definitions of retirement. But, increasingly, they fail to accurately describe the possibilities of modern retirement. If we were choosing a word today for what life looks like as we hit our mid-60s, 70s and 80s, it seems unlikely that we’d land on “retirement.” While these years bring many changes, for a growing number of people, this time of life is about anything but withdrawal or retreat.”
I’ve heard this rather existential contemplation from many of my friends. Huffington continues: “A thriving retirement can, and should, be an amazing time of connection, engagement, expansion and widened possibilities . . . Well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving back — are also redefining retirement.”
In one of my favorite new books, To Be Continued . . . Women, Ministry, and Retirement, former Salvation Army leader Joanne Shade concurs that the integration of well-being and continued service are the expressions of meaningful senior living. Shade and co-author Salvation Army sister Lauren Hodson probe PC experience with a thoughtful look at mining our histories, grieving through transitions, moving forward with discernment, and embracing our new identities in community. The on-point title, To Be Continued, infers there’s more life left to give than perhaps we thought and we ain’t done yet!
Perhaps that’s why I look at people a little funny when they ask me if I’m retired. I don’t know what that means. Societal norms for sixty-somethings regarding the stage of retirement are in a readjustment phase. We don’t know what to call ourselves. “Retired” has become a misnomer.
We may not clock in for a paycheck, but we are still hard at work.