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.
Living in the Moment in Retirement
Posted by: RDL | May 11, 2010 at 06:51 PM
In many ways, I think we've just handed over too much of our lives and common sense to 'experts'.
I like what Edward Gibbon had to say: ""When I contemplate the common lot of mortality, I must acknowledge that I have drawn a high prize in the lottery of life. I am endowed with a cheerful temper, a moderate sensibility, and a natural disposition to repose rather than to activity: some mischevious appetites and habits have perhaps been corrected by philosophy or time. The love of study, a passion which derives fresh vigour from enjoyment, supplies each day, each hour, with a perpetual source of independent and rational pleasure. And I am indeed 'rich', since my income is superior to my expense, and my expense is equal to my moderate wishes."
Posted by: Dennis | May 11, 2010 at 07:04 PM
That is awesome of them! The media like things to talk about so they will make sensational claims about current retiree's.... I am sure it's the same as it has always been in many ways :)
Posted by: Forest | May 12, 2010 at 01:39 AM
Oh thank you for saying the obvious. Retirement is not the end of the world or anything other than what you make it. Unless of course the boomers feel no meaning from their lives other than their jobs, then they are right. They will find retirement tough.
Posted by: Canadian Dream | May 12, 2010 at 07:57 AM
The "overthinking" may be a symptom of the notion that happiness is a right. Happiness is a byproduct. Your grandparents probably spent little or no time pondering what would make them happy. They worked hard, took care of the humble tasks that make a dwelling a home, made choices based on their integrity and their concern for others, purposefully took time to enjoy simple things, and put time and attention into pursuits that they were passionate about and that were bigger than themselves.
Posted by: LC | May 12, 2010 at 08:06 PM
"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?"
I really think your generation does. Not that mine is any better (Gen X). Your generation tried to find their soul with the counter culture. Unfortunately, hard drugs and corporations crushed that influence and your souls.
My generation (Gen X) had a brief counter culture with skaters, grunge, etc., but was too small not to be crushed.
And, we will probably be crushed again when the Boomers retire (what happens when they start taking money out of the market instead of proping it up with mindless 401k contributions? Not to mention social security going bankrupt.).
I do think the generation coming of age during this crisis might have a chance to be a little better, as this event might have given them some allies in the older generation. But, I'm not holding my breath. The mindless zombie cubicle dwellers will reach out their long soulless arms and suffocate any spark of life.
Sorry about that....
Posted by: Chad | May 13, 2010 at 07:38 AM
@Chad: You bring up a very good point, actually. Even in the workplace, Gen X is known for being more independent of their employers. Many Boomers were loyal to employers for decades, and perhaps that made them attach more "meaning" to their jobs. Gen X and Gen Y are known to place work/life balance higher than the Boomers did, and will change jobs more readily to be able to achieve that. So maybe their identities are less tied up with their careers than the Boomers. And maybe that will mean less navel-gazing among that crowd when it comes time to retire, as they will already have found meaning in their lives that had less to do with the work part of that equation and more to do with the life part.
Posted by: Retired Syd | May 13, 2010 at 08:09 AM
@ Retired Syd
As a Gen Xer I can definitely say I have found ZERO meaning in 6 "normal" jobs (accounting, auditing, and non-financial consulting)over barely more than a decade. Most of the time I just tried to figure out what value my work provided...not much.
I did coach division 2 college football for 3 years and found some meaning there, but, of course, the life was sucked out of that by people literally working 18 hours a day 7 days a week...and you made $30k if you were lucky.
We need a major overhaul in how we work, but I'm not sure we are going to get it. Too many people look for their reason of "being" in their work and they pretend to find it. While it is possible for a small part of the population to genuinely find fulfillment in their job, it isn't possible for most people. This, of course, leads to a bigger discussion on why hours worked is an absolutely terrible productivity measure. It was a good one when the assembly line ran past at the same speed, but those are mostly gone. We are operating on an old paradigm that is killing us.
When I was an auditor I always asked the gung-ho auditors if when they died they wanted "Really good auditor" on their tombstones, as they were basically giving 30-40 years of their life to that. I would prefer to have "worst auditor" on my tombstone.
Posted by: Chad | May 13, 2010 at 08:36 AM
I look at my job as a way to support my lifestyle.
As a boomer I haven't always felt at liberty to say that out loud.
Yes it is nice and interesting to work (for a while) and have a taste of the rat race routine. After a time it is boring to work. Unless you are getting some other need met it is just a paycheck.
I realized years ago that if my identity was my profession that I would lose me.
The demands of working over the years have been such that I haven't been able to develop "me" as much as I have wanted to but I never lost sight that I am not my job.
My thought is that the work week is way too long in North America. Balance in life is so very important to an individual.
Posted by: Patty | May 13, 2010 at 12:11 PM
I really enjoyed this simple story. There were 2 comments that resonated with me:
1. "Every night after dinner, they took a walk around the neighborhood."
How wonderful! How many people do that today? Probably 1% of the population! What a simple way to stay connected with neighbors and community. I walk around my block now and then, and I can tell you with surety that I'm practically the only dogless person who does. And just 2 people in my neighborhood with dogs walk with regularity.The rest rely on invisible fences.
2. "... probably since they never got disconnected from it [meaning in life]in the first place."
Posted by: fern | May 31, 2010 at 07:01 AM
@Fern: Wow, you've just reminded me what I've been missing. Before our doggy died, we walked around our neighborhood each day with her and met a bunch of neighbors. Since we stopped doing that, we really haven't met too many others. It really does keep you connected to your community.
You're absolutely right, and you don't have to have a dog to do it!
Posted by: Retired Syd | May 31, 2010 at 07:10 AM
the only quibble i have is that retirement means you don't get paid for your work anymore .. for me, retirement means i don't have to work for money anymore.
some of the early retirement boards/forums are so anti-work that they spit venom and say you're not really retired if you still get any kind of paycheck. yet many people work part-time in retirement, or finally start that business they always wanted to start, or whatever.
really enjoying your blog!
Posted by: Lori | June 06, 2010 at 11:41 AM
@Lori: Good point, it's that you don't have to work. Although I worked part-time several years ago and called myself semi-retired. But the fact was that I had to work (for money) at the time. So not sure exactly where that line is.
Posted by: Retired Syd | June 06, 2010 at 01:02 PM