It’s Time to Retire the Word “Retirement”

I like the word “retirement.” I always have. During my working years, the more I planned for and anticipated my retirement, the more I became optimistic about it.

Don’t get me wrong. Retirement isn’t a panacea any more than everyday life during your working years is. There will be good days, bad days, and average days. Good things will happen, bad things will happen, and sometimes it will seem like nothing happens.

More than anything else, I cherish my freedom, which will be there no matter what kind of day I might be having.

But the word “retirement” carries baggage for some people. To them, “retirement” screams “has-been.” 

Some people visualize retirement as those sad last few years of life, when your health deteriorates, you have little money, nothing to do, no reason to live, and you ultimately move into an assisted living or nursing home, and then you die. Most of the people you will see are doctors and caregivers, and your primary mode of transportation will be a motorized wheelchair.

People of this mindset would rather not think about their retirement at all.

Others have a hard time believing they will ever retire, probably because they believe they’ll never be able to save enough money. To them, retirement is a cruel joke; it seems like that luxury item in the store window that they will never have.

One of the main reasons I started this website is to encourage people to visualize their retirement in a more optimistic, possibility-filled light.

Suppose you decide to take a trip to Europe next year. After doing some research, you determine that this trip will cost you $3,000. (The amount doesn’t really matter, it’s just an example.)

Since presumably you would be looking forward to this trip, you would start to find ways to save $3,000. Perhaps you would eat out less often, buy fewer new clothes, and find other ways to reduce discretionary spending. Maybe you would divert your next raise or bonus into your trip savings. These little sacrifices would be easy to make because you really want to go on this trip.

In addition to being motivated to save, you would also start researching the places you plan to go and planning what you’re going to do once you get there. You would get excited every time you think about your upcoming trip.

But what if, for some reason, you thought your trip to Europe was going to be awful. Maybe you feel compelled to go because your spouse or partner or best friend really wants to go and wants you to come along. You would be far less inclined to plan for it, save for it, look forward to it, or even think about it. You could easily decide to just deal with it once you get there and hope it doesn’t suck too badly.

Europe will be the same either way. It’s how you choose to visualize it and prepare for it that makes the difference.

Isn’t it curious that many people will spend more time planning a vacation than they will spend planning a life stage that could last 20 or 30 years, or even more?

If you’re now in your 20s, 30s, or even 40s, it’s probably hard for you to get too excited about something that is still a few decades away. That’s certainly understandable. There are so many things to occupy your time and interest today.

If you’re having trouble getting excited about your retirement, this might help. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. (I find that pen and paper works better for generating ideas than a blank document on a computer screen, but if that’s what you prefer, go for it).

Take just a few minutes and write down as many answers as you can to each of the following questions, one at a time. Don’t place any restrictions or filter yourself – just write everything that comes to mind. Spend a couple minutes on each question before you move on to the next. Ready? Okay, go!

  1. When you were young, what did you really want to do for a career? What did you dismiss because you figured you couldn’t make a decent living at it? What dreams never came true?
    Examples: jazz musician (one of mine!), author, painter, pro golfer, yoga teacher…
  2. What activities do you wish you had more time for today? Try to come up with at least five.
    Examples: hiking, traveling, reading, playing music, going to the gym, playing tennis…
  3. What places do you want to visit? Try to come up with at least ten.

Hopefully, you came up with at least a few things you could really get excited about and look forward to.

The good news is that your retirement years offer you the opportunity to do almost all of these things. 

You can choose to pursue avocations you are truly passionate about, without regard to whether or not you’ll earn money doing it. The amazing thing is, you may actually make some money from it – maybe a lot!

You could write that great book, create beautiful music or art, or perform works of service that profoundly touch people’s lives.

You may make your greatest contribution to the world and do the things you become best known for in retirement, not in your working career! That’s pretty mind-blowing when you think about it.

You’ll have the time to do many of those things you don’t seem to have time for today because of that inconvenient thing called a job. Your life could easily be as full as it was during your working years – but it’s completely different because your calendar is full of the things you really want to do.

You may go back to school. Some local colleges offer courses specifically aimed at seniors, or they allow seniors to “audit” classes that aren’t full (at no charge, but for no credit). But you do it to learn things you really want to learn and to keep your mind active and stimulated. It’s totally different when you don’t have a grade to worry about.

But back to that word “retirement” and all the baggage that may come with it. I found a more optimistic word to describe the possibility-filled opportunity that comes once you leave work behind.

An optimist expects his dreams to come true; a pessimist expects his nightmares to. - Lawrence J. PeterMy preferred term for retirement is “renaissance.” 

As you probably know, the word “renaissance” was originally coined to describe the time of the great revival of art, literature, and learning in Europe beginning in the 14th century and extending to the 17th century, marking the transition from the medieval to the modern world.

The modern meaning is a renewal of life, vigor, interest, etc.; rebirth; revival. And for me, that sums up what retirement should be all about.

I will continue using “retirement” on this website because that is the widely understood term, and because I want to show up in Google search results. 🙂 But for me, my post-career years will be my “renaissance.” How about you?

If you just read over the questions above, why not take a few minutes to answer them now?

Please feel welcome to comment below.

This topic is explored in greater depth in my book Design Your Dream Retirement. This book will show you how to visualize your retirement in an optimistic, possibility-filled light, and provide you with the knowledge and tools to help you create a plan for achieving your retirement dreams. You will learn how to fill your life with a balance of activities and pursuits to keep you happy, healthy, and fulfilled.

Click here to learn more | BUY IT NOW!

Share on Pinterest!

© 2020 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
May laying in grass:
Tomas Sobek. Some rights reserved.
Prague: Julius Silver
Sand dune: Fabio Rose

6 Responses

  1. patricia frame says:

    Love the “renaissance” usage for the late stage of life. Firm believer that we can make it more of what we want than many do. At same time, I tend to think that ‘when I retire I will finally do x’ is unlikely for most people. If you are a reader now, you are likely to be a reader the rest of your life but if you do not read much now, you won’t suddenly read a lot then. Part of that is inertia, part is tied to how one’s brain has been wired by use. Now, can your encouragement help others see the possibilities – yes. And I do hope more people see that aging is not just a slog downhill to a miserable end – because that perception alone significantly increases the probability it will be. Keep those ideas coming!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Patricia,

      Thanks for your supportive comments. I agree that it’s difficult to change habits we have developed over a lifetime, but it can be done! Sometimes creating a happy retirement is as much about what you remove from your life as what you add.

      As you said, seeing retirement as more than just “it’s all downhill from here” is the key point.


  2. Kenny McDaniel says:

    Dave, you are always the ‘look at it differently’ guy. It’s like that joke- the optimist says the glass if half full. The pessimist says the glass is half empty. The engineer says the glass is twice the size it needs to be. 🙂 You are the engineer, Dave, getting us to see retirement differently.

  3. Deb Hernan says:

    I love the word Renaissance! What better way to describe the 3rd stage of our lives. I believe our 1st stage is birth to age 21. Then from the ages of 22 – Retirement age is the 2nd stage. And finally our “retirement” (Renaissance) years is the 3rd stage. My husband and I look forward to our Renaissance and have been researching for approximately 3 years. Although we are a little less than 10 years away from retirement, there is a lot to learn. We still haven’t decided whether we want to continue working part time or traveling more. We do want to be more physically active, continue learning, take up a sport and travel within the US. Within the next 10ish years we will figure it out, but in the meantime we will continue to follow your blog!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Deb,

      I’m glad you and your husband are thinking about your Renaissance this far in advance! That will really stack the odds in your favor.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.