Rites of Passage??

Pat Garner

As I approach my Medicare eligibility, I think about this as a badge of honor or a rite of passage.

Everyone has their definition and events that constitute a rite of passage.  As I look back, there are some defining moments that I consider rites of passage.

I was a typical 16-year-old who got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday. When we got home from the DMV, my mom handed me the keys to the 1965 Impala, and I was off to the bakery to pick up my birthday cake. That was my first rite of passage when my independence was born.

Now that I could drive, it’s time to get that first job. My first job, like most teenagers, was at McDonald’s. At that time, the Egg McMuffin was new, and McDonald’s opened at 6 am for breakfast. The minimum wage was $1.60 an hour, and I was living large with my new financial windfall. I have been in the workforce ever since. I suppose you could call that one of my rites of passage that has never ended.

As years go on, we celebrate those milestone birthdays…21, 30, 40, 55, and so on. Many retire and settle into the so-called golden years (I don’t even know why it’s called that). Leaving the 9-5 to retire is another rite of passage. But when we give up the 9-5, we find a different kind of work to fill our days. Do we ever retire?

When I talk with people about where I am in my life, I use the word ‘retire’ in air quotes because I continue to work as an independent contractor creating my schedule and setting priorities while enjoying those retirement benefits. I know the word retire is a trigger for some, and the name comes with negativity. It’s just a word, and you can make it what you want. I suppose I could stop saying I’m retired, but the term is easy to understand for the masses.

In our culture, today retirement is one of those rites of passage. We work hard to live and create the life we want when we decide to end the 9-5. Creating the life you love takes on many twists and turns, and you need to be flexible in your plan. Your perfect plan could change in an instant with health-related problems, new passions you want to pursue, death or illness of a partner, or even boredom to push you back into the workforce.

Just like being 16 years old and gaining my newfound independence when I could drive, retirement has provided me with another form of autonomy.  I planned well and started saving for this time early in life. My 26-year-old son has a successful real estate practice, has a financial and tax planner, and has set up a 401K to which he contributes after every property sale. At the rate he’s going, he could conceivably “retire” at 40 and live a very comfortable life and pursue other interests.

Planning for financial security as we age takes planning and discipline. I didn’t want to be working for someone else at 65. I like the freedom and independence to come and go and feel financially fit. I realize this isn’t an option for many. I can recall a conversation I had with a woman in her mid 70’s who had to continue working full-time since she couldn’t live on her social security. She hated her job and was very resentful that she had to continue to work. Her physical health was excellent, but her mental health was another story. I’m sure it’s hard to live solely on social security, but it is possible with careful planning and lifestyle changes.

Call it what you want, but from a society point of view, “retire” is a rite of passage that comes with benefits and hardship. You decide which one you’d like.

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