How Retirees Shaped My Thoughts About Retirement

Barbara Morris

The last pharmacy I worked in was the best job I ever had because I was older than many retired customers and what I learned from them forever changed how I felt about retirement.

They told me everything about themselves and the world they lived in. I listened intently, asked questions, and observed. It was a priceless education. I soaked it up like a sponge.

I heard many comments and ideas with which I disagreed, but I said nothing. After all, I knew I was getting an education about a world and lifestyle I knew nothing about, but  I wanted to learn.

One of many things that surprised me was this comment from an older woman: “I’ve done for others all of my life, and now it’s time for others to do for me.”

To me, that was a shocker. By all means, do for others who need help, but if you don’t do it out of the goodness of your heart, then don’t do it. When you do something kind, please don’t expect anything in return.  Family members and others may or may not want to be caregivers, nor should they be if you can take care of yourself. When you can help yourself, you will stay physically strong longer, and your brain will be sharper longer, which is a blessing.

Other than the loss of cognition and physical health, possibly the worst thing older people should fear is dependence.  When you become dependent, either by choice or necessity, you lose a part of yourself.

Another thing I learned about retirees is that many did not have enough income, which opens the door to dependence.  More than a few had only Social Security income to carry them through the rest of their lives. It’s common for many to retire thinking they won’t need as much money anymore, but they soon find that inflation makes that idea a gross miscalculation. You find yourself thinking you worked hard all of your adult life in anticipation of enjoying a carefree retirement, and when the time comes — it’s a rude awakening that what you did to prepare (or even if you prepared at all)  — was not enough.

But there is good news here for those willing to deal with reality. I am a staunch advocate of work. I recall listening to  Pastor Rick Warren, author of the very successful book, A Purpose Driven Life, discussing political issues with John McCain, who ran for president against Barak Obama. I remember Pastor Warren emphatically stated, “We are made for work.”  Not everyone agrees with that sentiment, but it made perfect sense to me.  It gave legitimacy to the phrase, “use it or lose it.” If you don’t challenge your brain and body consistently, it deteriorates.

I bring up the work issue because I saw many cash-poor retirees capable of holding a job of one kind or another, yet they didn’t want to work. I recall one customer, a retired engineer,  would clip food coupons out of the newspaper while waiting for his prescription to be filled. He always complained about the cost of his medication, determined not by the pharmacy but by his insurance plan.  But, unfortunately, he never seemed or wanted to understand that.

One day, in what I thought was a casual and pleasant conversation with him about his work experience, I asked if he had ever considered getting a part-time job that would allow him to use and share his considerable skills. You would have thought I had insulted his mother.  He became angry and reminded me he had earned his retirement, and there was no way he was going to work again.  Ever. For me, it was a lesson learned: be careful what or how you ask a question.

On other occasions, women would tell me they would like to have a job but didn’t think they were qualified to do anything because they had been out of the labor market (or had never been in it) for a long time. They could have found work suitable for their talents, but truth be told, they really didn’t want to work. They were settled in their comfortable leisure-oriented lifestyle and were unwilling to disturb it or give it up. That’s easy to understand.

But then there was Margie. She had an attitude that said she could chew you up and spit you out. In particular, she said she was tired of the everyday get-togethers at 4 PM at the local burger place with residents of her retirement complex. All they did, she said, was complain about aches and pains and tell how much they loved (or hated) their doctor, and reminisce about the past and tell and retell demeaning old people jokes.  “I’m tired of it,” she whined.

One day Margie began wearing makeup and dyed her hair “old age orange” and started to wear what was considered business clothes. She had gotten a job as a clerk at a local auto body shop. Did she look like a million bucks? Absolutely. Soon after, she was showing off a lovely engagement ring. At 78, she had gotten engaged to the 67-year-old owner of the body shop. Was it a miracle? More likely, it was just that Margie took the bull by the horns and took charge of her life.

I  understand why people are eager to start retirement. After 40 years of work, you are tired. Retirement provides the opportunity to take a deep breath and finally call life your own. Even with difficulties, the lifestyle becomes a warm and loving friend.

But here’s the thing. After a year or two of enjoying the freedom of retirement, that initial “honeymoon” phase starts to get boring, or the need for more money kicks in.  That’s your opportunity to be decisive about what you want to do with the rest of your life. Before you get too tired and your brain and body get too “mushy” to do anything of value, take control of your future.  It belongs to you.

The lifespan has increased enormously. More people take better care of themselves, and it’s not uncommon for some to reach 100 or more. So if you retire at age 65 (or before), you may live another 30 years.

Please don’t allow awareness of your chronological age to rule or ruin your life! Indeed, age  is  “just a number.” We agree that’s true, but we often act as if we don’t believe it when making life decisions. What should concern you is your biological age — the health and vitality of your cells. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m 92, and frankly, I don’t give a rat’s behind what my birth date is.  I recently had an extensive test done to determine my biological age, and it’s 74. Trust me; it changes your outlook on life. It gives you the freedom to dare to act upon all the possibilities open to you. If you would like to take the test I took here is the link.

You can have a fulfilling, purpose-driven second life after retirement. You can and should experience the magic of accomplishment in your older years. Remember Harlan Sanders, founder of the KFC chicken franchise? He wasn’t a kid when he decided to start his business. Remember Grandma Moses? If you don’t know who she was, Google her for some inspiration. Or perhaps you are familiar with Gert Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear. She went to the office every day until she passed at 94. Advanced age is not a death sentence. Be confident;  what others have done,  you CAN do, too, and maybe, a whole lot more!




  1. I LOVE your article Barbara! You are (as you know) a woman after my own heart. I have listened and listened to this kind of thought pattern way before my so called retirement began. I was always making silent vows not to EVER cave in. NEVER (if I could help it) become dependent on those who would want to fit me into their idea of what a senior should look, be and think like.

    I fight it still today, when after a few health scares, I get to hear, “Well take it easy….do not overdo” and so on. I know some of this comes from a place of genuine concern, but more than half is born from, “She is an old lady and does not know how to act old lady-ish enough for me”. I love doing and being and intend to keep up those shenanigans until the very end.

    My grandmother passed away a few years ago at the lovely age of 103. She stopped talking to people at age 100. She still asserted herself by waiting quietly as they kept covering her with too many quilts (my aunts who cared for her) and as soon as they left the room, she would sit up in bed, throw the covers off and giggle to herself. She was still having it “her” way. Another woman after my own heart.
    I will have none of that cookie cutter, complain every day retirement. No sirree bob!

    • Zenobia, thank you for your comment! You hit the nail on the head. Our culture has a well-designed script for dealing with “old” people/ Part of the problem goes back to the notion held by many “old” people that “I’ve done for others all of my life and now it’s time for others to do for me”. When you adopt and live by that mantra, you not only invite but expect others to treat you as less than competent. Let’s be honest; many “old” people love and expect the “don’t overdo” and “take it easy” advice. It fuels a mindset and lifestyle of dependence.

  2. What a great article!!! Barbara, I spoke with you many years ago. My name is Barbara and my maiden name is Morris! You have been an inspiration since I first found your e-letter many years ago. I am 72 and have no plans to retire. I raised four children as a single parent and still love living in a neighborhood with children of all ages. I love being engaged and I enjoy vibrant health. Organic food, Pilates and acupuncture have kept me pharmaceutical and pain-free. No, I did not take the vax and my oldest son is an Emergency Medicine Physician! Sad to say, I know that I have done more research on it than he has.

    Three years ago, after studying for two years, I began a new practice as a Certified EFT Practitioner, and have found that my life experience and wisdom have served my clients well. It has been the experience of a lifetime! I also still work part-time in the “family business” with two of my adult sons. We raise two species of animals that are endangered in the Rainforests, poison dart frogs and Chondropythons. Yes, a snake! We provide these remarkable animals to zoos and aquariums.

    You always speak the truth. It makes my heart sing to read your words each month. It’s as if I have written them myself! Thank you for validating our value, and thank you for having the courage to speak your truth!

    • Thank you, Barbara Morris Stewart! I am in awe of your lifestyle, and what a great role model you are! You are truly a wonder woman! Bless you, for not wanting to retire. I hope you are able to live your present lifestyle another 30 years,, and that’s a distinct possibility. You lift my heart and soul!

  3. Joyce L Shafer says

    Excellent, excellent article, Barbara! Informative and inspiring.

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