ChangeFamily/CommunicationReflectionJuly 10, 20170Should You Retire Or Keep Working? Do Both

Struggling with society's expectations for "older workers"? Make your later years work for you...

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.

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