Is “Retirement” an Offensive Word?
The average retirement age in the U.S. is 63. The current life expectancy is 76.3 years for men and 81.2 years for women.
So you could stop working and then live for another 15 to 20 years. Recent studies point to health benefits for people who continue to work, in part because of the social connections and interactions.
Obviously, there are a myriad of financial reasons, from needing health insurance and the loss of savings during financial crises, that keep people in the workforce.
For the past few years, we’re been hearing variations of Second Act, Reinvent Yourself or the New Retirement Road.
The reality is that today’s retirement often involves work. You may have a new employer or several employers; you may work for yourself; you may consult for several companies or you may volunteer your skills and time in essentially a full-time position.
Resources for an Encore Career
Fortunately, there are some terrific resources available for people looking to learn new skills or try another profession. AARP runs AARP Experience Corps, which matches people with opportunities in public schools. The recently released book Boomer Reinvention offers excellent advice for people on changing careers and learning new skills. Encore.org is a group that offers “second acts for greater good.” I just edited futurist and developmental psychologist Schofield’s book How Do I Get There from Here: Planning for Retirement When the Old Rules No Longer Apply.
The availability of advice for people who want to be stay busy and involved past the “normal” retirement age is great. However, there still seems to be a misconception about some of us who are willingly working and keepings as – or even busier – than we did when we were much younger.
Some of the traditionally retired folks and enjoying-more-leisure-time people don’t always understand that “Yes, we’re really working and have responsibilities.”
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Retirement
When someone is happily retired, other people often assume that the retiree is comfortably affluent and living in a warm climate that affords year-round recreational options. And if the person isn’t a serious golfer or tennis player, how could the individual spend day after day doing nothing?
Time spent by relaxing may be important if someone had brutal 75-hour work weeks for many years. Someone may spend time working out to stay healthy, providing help with caregiving or volunteering. Often, there is some babysitting and precious time spent with grandchildren.
Don’t Assume You Know Why Someone Is Still Working
Some people enjoy having an office “family” among colleagues. Other people like to keep busy and use their mental and physical skills. Sometimes, people are working out of necessity. But until you ask someone, you don’t know why he or she is working.
I’m nearing the end of my first experience as a snowbird, spending time in Florida to avoid the winter weather. I’m at the gym early and then back to work – taking conference calls, editing manuscripts and consulting with authors.
Certainly, I appreciate having the flexibility to go for a run in the afternoon and then continue my work that evening. Yet, because I don’t physically go into an office, many people just assume I’m not employed. When I say that I edit, write and coach authors, the response is usually, “You do that part-time, right?” In fact, I often feel as if I have several full-time jobs.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining about my work. I’m complaining about the suppositions people make about how other people choose to spend their time. And when you are somewhere – such as Florida – where so many people are not working at all, when you’re not following that pattern, people don’t quite know how to react.
If you’re happily retired, that’s great. And if you’re on your second, third or fourth career, that’s terrific. And if you’re headed back to school with students many years your junior, more power to you! You’re in the driver’s seat! Keep doing what you want to do and don’t pay attention to the folks on the sidelines.
Have you had similar experiences where people assume you’re retired by choice or that you continue to work for financial reasons? How do you respond to their assumptions? If your partner has retired and you’re still happily working, how have you made adjustments to your lifestyle? Please share in the comments.
Debra W. Englander is a writer, editor and book coach based in New York. She has written for numerous publications and managed a business book program for John Wiley. She writes “The Savvy Self-Publisher” column for Poets & Writers. Follower her on Twitter @DebraEnglander.