As more of our generation is retiring, accepting early golden parachute offers or even sadly, being made redundant through restructuring, I thought I would republish a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. The message endures.
Bette Davis is famously quoted as saying, “Getting old ain’t for sissies”. Retirement is a natural by-product of getting old and requires attention. For some, it’s wonderful; for others, not so much. I definitely fall into the former category but for those who are forced to retire before they’re psychologically or financially ready it can be devastating.
At the risk of generalizing, I think it’s often more difficult for men than women to retire. The Boomer generation and our parents’ generation is characterized by men who devoted their entire adult lives to their work. Perhaps it was a family business, a demanding occupation like medicine or maybe it was a prestigious corporate position. Retirement means these individuals have lost not only something to do every day but their very identity. Gen X’ers and millennials watched their parents (us, Boomers) doing this, got the message and have flipped that psychology on its ear.
When you’re retired, people are no longer impressed by what you once did for a living. When you’re not Mr. Big, President of ABC International Corporation it can create a huge vacuum. Because you no longer have the power to improve the lives of your former coworkers they drop you from their social and business circle. This alienation can be devastating. The 2002 movie About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates clearly illustrates the shock of transition. When Schmidt, played by Jack Nicholson attends his retirement party, the speeches and platitudes from his coworkers at the insurance company where he had dedicated his life were so cliché and familiar it was heartbreaking.
My friend David worked in the marketing department of a giant international corporation. The corporate culture was casual and creative with frequent product launches, brainstorming sessions, corporate retreats and big-budget product promotions . Co-workers often socialized outside of work hours going on skiing weekends and attending parties together. When David retired he expected his former coworkers to keep him in the loop but the invitations stopped. He was understandably confused and hurt that people he had always considered friends as well as co-workers no longer wanted his company.
Another executive I know from the financial services sector was similarly affected when suddenly dropped by his circle of business friends when he retired. He felt abandoned and couldn’t understand why his calls weren’t returned and no one wanted to join him for lunch anymore. Once the unspoken message became clear, he was forced to accept the truth—he was no longer a somebody. His business friends were in fact not real friends at all but merely business associates and when he could no longer do anything for them they no longer needed or wanted his company.
This particular aspect of retirement can result in feelings similar to divorce. The entity that has been a huge part of your life is gone and no longer cares to associate with you. Like divorce where you lose being part of a couple, loss of some friends, probably your home and assets, you lose a large component of your life. A new strategy for moving on is required. For some individuals it might take the form of part-time consulting work to keep a hand in the business world, albeit to a lesser degree. Others may prefer a more relaxed approach, taking time to enjoy all the activities that working did not allow for. This can include golf and other sports, taking courses, spending time with the grandkids, pursuing hobbies or perhaps a part-time job.
Retiring for me, however, meant total and utter freedom at last. Now I have the time to read voraciously, entertain at my leisure, get together with friends, take vacations whenever I please and do dozens of other things I’ve waited for my entire life. Fortunately, it was and is the best time of my life and just keeps getting better.
Over the years I have observed people approaching retirement with different attitudes. Some were looking forward to having the time to travel and do things with friends. Others were bewildered and had no constructive plan for filling their time. Those who were not prepared were often the ones who developed health issues that may have contributed to an early demise. Interestingly, many of the retiring career women I have worked with were often the ones who had a Mediterranean cruise or a tour of Ireland scheduled for the week after they finished work. They had plans to volunteer at a library or hospital and hit the ground running. These are generally the people who live the longest and have the richest, most fulfilling retirement.
Enjoying retirement does not have to involve memberships in expensive golf clubs or Mediterranean cruises. The most simple things now give me enormous pleasure. There’s nothing better than enjoying a second cup of tea as I take my time over the morning paper. The luxury of being able to go grocery shopping minus the crowds on a Tuesday morning or hanging sheets outside on the line to dry in the morning breezes still give me great pleasure. The novelty of enjoying a ladies lunch with a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio and not having to rush back to the office has still not worn off. Entertaining friends is much more pleasurable when you have the luxury of time to shop, cook and prepare for your guests.
Just like in a divorce, breaking up with your employer can be devastating or it can be your “get out of jail free” card. When that door slams behind you, the outcome is entirely up to you. I say, crank up the 60s music and let’s rock n’ roll. As Boomer Broads we’re living our best years now.
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