Ever since 1934, when the Social Security administration established 65 as the “official” national retirement age, most of us have assumed that at somewhere around 65, we’d stop doing paid work. And even though the average 65-year-old these days has both a considerably greater life expectancy and much improved health compared to his or her 1934 counterpart, our association with 65 as the age of retirement remains. And that’s true even though we baby boomers aren’t adhering to it: only 1 in 4 boomers are fully retiring from paid work by 65. As has often been the case with us as a generation, we’re trying to figure out a different way to do things.
When I turned 65 recently, I didn’t expect it would have much impact on me, since I generally don’t think of myself as being any particular age. So I was surprised to find myself thinking a lot about working and not working, and how I intended to approach the next phase of my life. Even though I knew I didn’t want to stop working any time soon, I noticed that I also didn’t want to keep working at the same pace I’d been working for the last 45 years. I had already decided to work somewhat less starting this year — I had told people that I was “cutting back to full time.” They’d laugh, but it was pretty accurate: I’m experimenting with working around 40–45 hours a week, rather than 50–60 hours a week.
But I could feel there was some deeper issue not being addressed by that decision, and I wasn’t sure what it was. I called Lorie, a wonderful therapist and all-around wise person who has helped me enormously through times of major change over the past ten years, and told her what I was feeling and thinking. In a series of conversations, she helped me see that I was wanting to carve a new path for myself: that I felt constrained by what I saw as the limited and limiting expectations for women at 65 relative to work. I believe that society expects that women, if they do keep working after 65, will do it in a kind of invisible and genteel old-ladyish way: part-time, in a situation that doesn’t require or afford a lot of responsibility or power. (As an example, when I told a 30-something friend that I was struggling to figure out my work path for the next decade, she suggested that perhaps I could teach classes at our local library.) And the general expectation for us as retirees is that we will focus on taking care of our families, on our old-lady hobbies, or on doing good works.
Neither of those paths appealed to me. In my conversations with Lorie, I realized that I needed to “go off road,” to carve out a personal post-65 career path that works for me and those I love, and that may not fulfill any of those expectations.
And, as it turns out, what works for me is a life that includes the best of both worlds. In the world of work, I’ve realized that I’m doing the best work of my life, and I want to keep doing that. I’m braver, wiser, clearer, more experienced, and at the same time more flexible, compassionate and patient than ever before, and I intend for my clients and my colleagues to get the benefit of that. And in the world of retirement, I find I’m cherishing time with my husband, children, grandchildren, and other loved ones in a new and deeper way, knowing that my remaining time on earth is less than the time already passed. At the same time, I find that I need more time for reflection and recuperation in order to be at my best — and that I’m able to appreciate those resting periods more than I ever have before.
So I’m working and retiring simultaneously. When I’m working, it’s full-on, all-in: offering the best of who I am in deep and powerful partnership with my clients and colleagues. When I’m retiring, it’s full-on, all-in: 100% luxuriating in play, rest, travel, the love of those I love. I suspect the proportions of the two will continue to shift as I age: more time retired, less time working. But the depth of commitment to each will remain. That sense of doing whatever I’m doing with full joy and commitment is what resonates for me.
If you find yourself asking these kinds of questions — as I assume you might be, having read this far — my advice to you is not to adopt my solution or anyone else’s, but to find your own. Your life is precious, and it’s a great gift to have arrived in your 60s with your health and spirit intact. Be conscious in deciding how to take advantage of this gift you’ve been given, so that at the end of your days you feel satisfied that you’ve lived the life you most wanted to live.