Retirement Reality

Barbara Morris

Barbara Morris

The Social Security Act of 1935 established that at age 65 everyone would retire, and start to collect a stipend. Over 35 million Social Security cards were issued during 1936-37. There was no question — everybody would be doin’ it.

No one could envision the many ways government sponsored retirement would affect future generations. Today, Boomers are not sure they can afford to retire, given the pittance they will receive from Social Security. Gen-Xers are not happy believing they have to support Boomers approaching retirement, paying for their Medicare and Social Security. It appears the retirement dream isn’t working as well as anticipated back in the thirties.

In his book, Age Power, Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., says, “Retirement is a relatively new and experimental life state that was initially envisioned to last three to five years, not 20 or 30.” He cautions that the current retirement model is not realistic for the future.

Of course it’s not realistic but who wants to change it? It’s now carved in stone as a right, and everybody’s doin’ it. Well, almost everybody is doin’ it.

Full-time retirement as a life goal is slowly losing its appeal, due in part to stock market losses and a sagging economy that

forced many would-be retirees to rethink their options. Nevertheless, tradition, custom, business, and political interests still shape our attitudes about lifestyles after 65.

Few people understand that retirement is a traumatic event that has far deeper ramifications than most people realize. It is closure on a lifetime of effort into which you poured your heart and soul.

The last day on the job, you are ”somebody” — a manager, a doctor, lawyer, secretary, or accountant. The next day your life of contribution is over. You are a retired “has been,” a person now referred to as “didn’t s/he used to be . . .” All of a sudden what you’ve been most of your life has lost it’s meaning, not to you or your family, but in the eyes of the world. It devastates self-worth, and invites disillusionment.

Most would-be retirees, think they have everything in place: savings and 401K, Social Security benefits, and the traditional pre-retirement mindset: “I’m going to cut back and do without because I don’t need as much anymore.”

Shortly after retirement, reality sets in — discovery that just as much, if not more is needed, not less. Inflation has increased the cost of needed medication, medical procedures, and health maintenance. Clearly, there was a miscalculation. You need much more than you bargained for!

What to do? If you really don’t want to go back to work then pinch pennies, utilize senior citizen discounts, clip coupons, economize on food, and take advantage public assistance programs to try to make ends meet.

If pinching pennies is not your style, maybe you can go back to your old line of work. But after six months or a year in retirement a lot has changed, including you. You may not like having to learn a new computer program or deal with other changes. It may be easier to find less challenging, lower paying work.

Many retirees are severely depressed, and perhaps the most significant cause is loss of a sense of personal value and identity. It is particularly devastating when you know you are slowing down, when you know you are “losing it” and feel you can’t do anything to stop the downward spiral.

To cope with a boring, unfulfilling existence retirees often rely on alcohol to make life bearable. However, alcohol worsens depression and exacerbates other problems such as addiction to pain medication. In Florida, it is estimated that over 300,000 older people have been identified with a substance abuse problem. That’s not happiness.

What to do instead

Everybody should have the right to live the way they choose. But many people retire simply because it’s the expected thing to do. They don’t think about alternatives. What’s needed is a plan for a second life.

Age 50 is a good time to plan for a productive second life. Is there a dream job or career you would like to pursue? Are you a plumber who wants to own a coffee shop? Are you a physician who wants to restore antique cars? Are you a secretary who wants to become a doctor? Then stop wasting time and start planning your second life. If you have been saving for retirement, continue to save even more aggressively, knowing you will use that money to realize your dream. Constantly review, improve, and expand your plan. The more you visualize your future, the easier it is to attain.

Before setting your second life plan into motion take a brief vacation to recharge your mental and physical batteries. Just make sure the vacation to “stop and smell the roses” doesn’t become a permanent vacation. If that happens, instead of smelling the roses you may prematurely be pushing up daisies.

If you are healthy at 70 and beyond you don’t have to be incarcerated in a nursing home, or regimented in a senior facility. Working or having your own business can ensure a more abundant, youthful lifestyle. You won’t be dependent on friends, neighbors, or your children who have problems of their own. You will feel like the cat that ate the canary, and enjoyed every little morsel, while looking for the next appetizing opportunity.

The benefits of choosing not to retire are just too outstanding to pass up. You can be in that unique group of happy, healthy, productive older people who are doin’ it, doin’ it doin’ it, their way.

 

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