I’ve been reading a lot lately about how the Baby Boomers are going to reinvent retirement. Not content with the old way of retiring, the retirees of today are redefining what retirement means.
No longer will they play golf all day, or sit on the front porch in a rocking chair. Boomer retirees will need meaning, structure, and purpose in their golden years. They will have active retirements. They will give back. They will pursue passions.
But is this really all that revolutionary?
My grandparents were farmers until they lost their farm in the Depression. A $5,000 farm subsidy from the U.S. Government would have saved the farm, but my grandfather returned the check. He was being paid not to grow a certain crop that he wasn’t going to grow anyway. He thought it would be unethical to keep the money.
So my grandfather went into the ministry, and years later, after their kids were older, my grandmother returned to nursing.
So what did they do when they retired?
They returned to farming, although of the backyard variety. Half of the yard was fenced off to grow fruits and vegetables. They grew giant blackberries and grandma made pies that bled thick, juicy ooze and stained your teeth purple. They grew cucumbers and Grandma canned crunchy, pucker-your-mouth pickles. We ate fresh corn, potatoes, and carrots, and she preserved all the extra strawberries and raspberries, and canned tomato sauce for the winter.
After hours spent working in the garden, even though my grandfather was no longer leading the church, he returned to his “office” (also the room where Grandma did the laundry and ironing, and which held all the preserved fruits of their labor), to continue his life-long passion of studying the bible.
Every night after dinner, they took a walk around the neighborhood.
Both my grandparents had been orphaned at a young age. After my grandmother retired from nursing, she spent countless hours sewing quilts from fabric remnants that ladies from the church dropped by the house. They also collected used clothing and toys, and Grandma brought them over to the children’s home each week, along with her hand-made quilts.
A prolific knitter, she made lap blankets for the local convalescent home, and in her very advanced years, she volunteered at the hospital, rocking the tiny, sick babies of drug addicted mothers.
One thing’s for sure. They didn’t agonize over this whole retirement thing. They just picked up and went on with their life, albeit without paying jobs. They didn’t think about what gave their lives meaning, they just continued to find it, probably since they never got disconnected from it in the first place.
I think my generation may be over thinking this whole retirement thing. Do we really need so much soul-searching to figure out what will make us happy? Does it really have to be that hard?
The only thing that retirement really means is that you don’t get paid for your work anymore. What you spend your days doing is not dictated by the word “retirement.” It never has been. Perhaps we should stop attaching so much to the word in the first place, and just recognize retirement for what it is, the same life you always had, minus the paycheck, and minus the boss telling you what to do all day.