Retirement: Is It Really Nirvana?

I recently read two articles that should be mandatory reading for those about to retire, or in the early years of retirement.

The first article, “Doctors: Is Retirement Overrated?” by Shelly Reese tells about a 63 year old retired doctor Dr. Doug Segan who now teaches part time. He said, “I bought into the cultural mantra that it’s this promised land where you do what you like and it’s going to be a beautiful experience.”  He goes on to explain, “But I found out things in retirement that I don’t know about myself. I found out that I like having some structure and I missed giving advice. I missed having a purpose”.

Dr. Segan is no different from the majority of retirees who don’t give a lot (if any) thought about what’s going to happen the day after they shut the door on their productive life. All they can think about is that they are tired of the daily grind and look forward to living the fantasy life they’ve created in their mind. They are totally unaware that the clash with reality can be traumatic.

The other article, “Why Every Retiree Should Have a Job” (Silver Sneakers newsletter) lists reasons why retirees should have a job and offers suggestions for potential work opportunities.

Both articles beg for the question: Why are healthy older people expected to stop what they have been doing most of their adult life and suddenly transition, unprepared (often, financially) into a fantasy world that exists only in their mind?

The answer?  Institutionalized retirement and the leisure oriented culture that has developed along with it over the years.

It is impressed upon every worker that it’s important to be financially prepared for retirement,  and indeed,  it is absolutely necessary. But who is advising workers that they need  to prepare for how they will realistically live with their savings? The voices suggesting retirement lifestyle preparation long before retirement are seldom heard.

The retirement lure is enhanced by the reality that “retirement” has become very, very big business. Everything from retirement communities that often become warehouses for old people, to provision of everything a retiree could need or want to live a leisure oriented lifestyle make it enticing. That’s pretty powerful stuff!

Unplanned retirement years can be deadly. The mind and body turn to mush  unless challenged with a lifestyle that has purpose.

The “retirement machine” is difficult to buck, and everyone who cares about their mental and physical health must plan for the lifestyle they want to live in their golden years. Plans have a way of going awry, but so what? What matters is having a workable plan and even a “plan B” to at least try to make certain the post retirement years are the happiest and most fulfilling years possible. The last thing anyone needs is to be so lost in retirement leisure that the most interesting thing to do every day is to peek out of the window (behind a curtain) to watch what a neighbor is doing (and then report him or her if it appears community rules are not followed to the letter.)

There are golden, fulfilling opportunities in the retirement years. But no one is going to hand them to you. You have to prepare, think ahead, and then, barring life’s foul balls,  do what you set out to do when the time comes. You don’t have to mentally and physically decline prematurely. You have a lot of accumulated wisdom and smarts — make them work for you, in spite of a culture that relentlessly encourages you to do what everyone else does.



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