Is It Time to Retire the Word “Retirement?”

2013-08-02 Laurence Peters

I like the word “retirement.”  I always have, because the more I plan for and anticipate my retirement, the more optimistic about it I get.

Don’t get me wrong, it won’t be a panacea, any more than everyday life during our 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 is happening.

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

But the word “retirement” carries baggage for many people.  For many people, “retirement” screams “has-been.” 

Many 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 die.  Most of the people you see are doctors and caregivers, and your primary mode of transportation is 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 at all, 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 in either of the latter categories to visualize their retirement in a more optimistic, possibility-filled light.

Suppose you decided that you want 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 the $3,000.  Perhaps you would eat out less, buy fewer new clothes, and forego a couple weekend trips.  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 reading up on 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 would probably just decide to deal with it once you got there and just 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 30 years or more?

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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.

But no matter what age you are today, do yourself a favor and take a few moments to think about this.  Grab a pen and a piece of paper (which I find 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, censor 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 in the country and the world 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 can earn money doing it.  The amazing thing is, you may actually make some money doing it – maybe a lot!

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

You may make the 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.  Many active retirees’ lives are as full as their lives during their working years – but it’s completely different because their schedules are full of the things they really want to do.

Many retirees 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 they do it to learn the things they really want to learn and to keep their minds active and stimulated.

But back to that word “retirement” and all the baggage that may come with it.

A while back, I started referring to my retirement as my “permanent sabbatical.”  My employer offers an eight-week sabbatical after every seven years of employment – truly a wonderful benefit!  I have had two sabbaticals so far, and it was not lost on me that it was a good preview of retired life.  If you have never had the opportunity to take a sabbatical, perhaps you have had brief periods of leave or unemployment that have given you a taste of being able to have complete freedom over your life.

My husband, Jeff, came up with my favorite term for retirement:  “Renaissance.” 

As you probably know, the word 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.

Of course, I’ll need to continue using “retirement” in this blog, because that is the widely understood term.  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?

I’d love to hear some of yours!  Please consider leaving a comment below and sharing a few things you would love to do (or do more of), places you would love to go, etc.

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© 2013 Dave Hughes.  All rights reserved.

Photo credit:  Tomas Sobek. Some rights reserved.

One Response

  1. 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!

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