Retiring to Death
As one’s hair grays and withers away, the question becomes ever more common.
“So, what’s your retirement plan?”
In my estimation, others ask this with the unspoken assumption: “What are you going to do once you can sit around all day and no nothing?” Bad question. A better alternative: “If I stop doing what I’m doing, what meaningful, productive pursuits will continue to offer meaning and fulfillment for the rest of my life?”
Too many daydream about the first question with never answering the second. Too many discover that one can only take so many vacations, play so many rounds of golf, and fritter away so many days before it gets boring.
Recently I reconnected with an old friend who had returned to work soon after he and his wife relocated to another state to be closer to her family. Why? In his words: “I hated retirement.”
The failure to plan for productive pursuits in our latter years stems from the idea that one should store up a small fortune in order to do nothing. In fact, doing nothing is not God’s design. A prime example is Moses, the figure He chose—when Moses was 80—to lead Israel to freedom in the historic exodus from Egypt.
What’s more, the idea of the Great American Retirement is an outdated concept, according to consultant and author Mitch Anthony.
In his outstanding book, Retirementality, Anthony notes the irony of society continuing to promote a retirement age that was established more than 125 years ago.
“Many have failed to comprehend that if they retire at 60, for example, they could spend as many years in their retirement as they did in their working career,” he says.
“This is great if you have some invigorating and challenging pursuits before you in those 30-plus years. If you don’t, history shows that you’ll never see those 30 extra years.”
The Dangers of Leisure
Anthony isn’t the only author to make this point lately. In Timeless, a newly-released book I edited for Dr. Kara Davis, she cites a study published in a British medical journal that followed more than 1,000 employees of Shell Oil after they retired.
“The investigators found the men and women who took an ‘early retirement’ at age 55 doubled their risk of death before they reached 65, compared to those who worked beyond age 60,” she says. “Surely, with advancing age and capacity we are permitted to slow down, but God forbid we stop.”
Her remark reminded of another study I once read about that examined people who quit work at age 65 to enjoy a life of leisure. By age 75, eight of 10 of these retirees were dead. Of a group that continued working, volunteered or otherwise remained active, 80 percent were still alive at 75.
A Nightmare of a Dream
Anthony includes a series of amusing (and thought-provoking) stories in his book, now in its fourth edition. One concerned a man who considering cooling his heels in the Palm Springs mecca—until he went down and encountered some old friends. When he discovered their most exciting stories concerned golf or other meaningless trivia, he said, “No thanks.”
Another was about the man who was the envy of all his peers when he retired at 55 and moved to Florida to pursue a life of leisure. When a friend ran into the retiree, he commented, “We’re exactly the same age, but to look at us you’d swear there were 15 years between us—my friend being on the not-so-flattering end of the comparison.”
You might say, the grand American retirement dream is more like a nightmare. Which is why I plan to keep moving.