Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 742 Why Retire?

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Ever notice how often we think other people are just like us? Or if they aren't like us how often we think they should be.  We find ourselves saying to others; "I just don't understand how people can think that way". "What are they thinking?". Retirement is one of those things where we think others are just like us or should be. Of course, they aren't.

About 10% of the people who retire do so because they want to be free to do something else with their life. That's the figure I came across this week in The Experience of Retirement by sociologist, Robert S. Wise.  He didn't just assume that all people retired for the same reason he did. He conducted interviews and tabulated results. Another 10% retire because they want to spend more time with their family or feel obligated to do so.

80% retire for other reasons. I never conducted any studies. I always just assumed that most people would be just like me and look at retirement as a gateway into freedom. Freedom to make a life, or create a life of your own choosing. Well, I was wrong. And wrong by a long way.

Once this idea was brought to my attention it seemed obvious. There are all sorts of reasons for retiring. The study revealed that many retire because they feel marginalized - they feel like they are no longer valued at work. They are no longer on the cutting edge. They have not read the latest research. They haven't been to the latest workshops and conferences. They are no longer physically able to work all day and into the night. Nor do they want to. Each and all of these can make them feel inadequate.

They  are not technologically up to speed. Computers and other modern technology have created new ways of looking at the world. Their grandchildren or more knowledgeable than them in that area. Computer technology has created new ways of responding to changes in production and distribution of goods. Frustration and a lack of confidence becomes a daily problem. They feel forced out of the world of work.

Then there are health reasons for retiring. Either their health or their spouse or parents need attention. Someone has to  put time and effort into the physical realities of the aging human body.  Think of all the things that can go wrong as we age. Then consider that if it happens to your spouse, children or parents you may find yourself needing to leave the world of work. You retire. In a way it is forced retirement.

Then there is the problem of being supervised by younger people. You may have been passed over for promotion. The boss's son may start telling you what to do. Or some bright, young hired gun may appear on the scene and you are to follow his lead and commands. This can be hard on the ego. "It just doesn't seem right". Resentment builds and then turns into refusal. Retirement is the only way out.

And then of course there is boredom. We have just done the job so often that it gives no sense of fulfillment or development. We could "do it in our sleep". The charm.  is gone. The challenge is gone. What once excited us now only takes our time. I have to confess to thinking this way a few times before I retired. I taught school for 22 years and I started to feel a bit tired. I had moments when I kept thinking I had seen or done this before - many times before. I certainly liked the interaction with the students but the material that they needed to study became all too repetitive to me. I tried to vary the presentations and methods somewhat but I felt trapped by my own strengths and weaknesses. I played to my strengths and tried to minimize the time devoted to correcting my weaknesses. Big mistake.

The next time I engage someone who has just retired I will be a little more circumspect when discussing reasons for retirement. I will not assume they left to gain greater fulfillment from exploring the big wide world. I will not assume that they were motivated just as I was.

It might be good if I could carry this basic rule in other aspects of life. There are good reasons why everyone is not a Republican or Democrat. There are good reasons why people are good Christians, Buddhist or Atheist. There are good reasons why people are eager capitalist or confirmed socialist. There are good reasons why someone advocates for faith based education just as there are good reasons for some to advocate for a scientific approach. 

This ability to see differences and acknowledge their validity is not an easy task. My mind moves to human rights violations, the twin towers attack, the drone attacks, refusal to believe in science, etc. I'm sure reasons exist for all these actions.

Our son is a public defender and as such defends  people who sometimes commit horrific crimes. It is always interesting to hear the inside story of the reasons for such acts. There are always reasons. Alcohol, drugs, child abuse, sexual abuse, post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD), or some other considerations. 

We all grow up in our own worlds. Our experiences are different from our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, or people that live across town. No wonder we have differences with people in other communities, states, or countries. No wonder we have different reasons for retiring. No wonder we have different plans.

This is Retirement Talk.












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