The expression “Freedom 55” has gone the way of the dodo, and there are more and more articles about 70 being the new 60. Retirement age is being pushed back, and (some) people talk about not being able to imagine life without work. What would they do? It’s all they know; it’s who they are (in their own minds). Just last week, Margaret Wente, in her occasionally insightful although often irritating column in the Globe and Mail, wrote about how her husband, about to turn 70, simply can’t get the hang of being retired and keeps going back to work.
There are plenty of reasons for why many people are working longer than they might have expected to. Some need (or want) the money. Some love the interaction with their work colleagues and would miss that. Some sincerely find fulfillment in their work that keeps them at it. I understand all these reasons. But make no mistake, 70 is not the new 60, not unless you were an unusually tired and worn-out 60. It is true that far more people have good health into their 70s, 80s, and even beyond, but not everyone. And a 70 year-old body has had 70 years of wear and tear. Sorry, folks, but that wear and tear does start to make its presence known! Just ask the people in their 60s and 70s who are lined up for hip and knee replacements.
This post is not meant to be a downer, not at all. Quite the contrary; it is intended to remind you to live without regrets. So please keep in mind that some of the things you love to do in your early 60s may or may not be possible in later years: skiing, hiking, tennis, running, even golf and distant travel. Don’t put off today what you may not be able to do tomorrow. If you keep working – which I really do understand – think about carving out more time for non-work activities, whether it’s travel that you’ve put off for years, volunteering with a charity that is important to you, or spending more time with family. You just never know when time for those experiences or your ability to do them will run out. As I said, live without regrets. And it will be good practice for full retirement.
Reading Margaret Wente’s column about her husband’s impatience with changing course reminded me of my own experience of retiring and then returning to work. I retired from an all-consuming job of university administration when I was 64. My husband had been retired for a few years at that time and I had had a chance to see just how many interests he was able to turn into serious pursuits once he had the time. Some were interests I didn’t even know he had! Watching him become a fulfilled, self-directed retired person gave me hope for myself. And there is no doubt about it, I found all kinds of wonderful new paths to explore, including blogging!
And then, unexpectedly, after five full years of retirement, I was asked to return to work for a year, back to the all-consuming world of work. A world that starts first thing in the morning (which for me is harder than having it go until late at night). It was a role that I was familiar with and I knew that for one year I could manage it. I must have been doing OK, because after a few months on the job I started getting signals that things were going well and “they” thought it would be good for me to keep going when the year was up. At first I was a bit flattered, and just smiled and replied, “I don’t think so.” But when I had heard this from more than one source, more than once, I started to get nervous. I knew very well what retirement was like, and I knew very well what working all the time was like. My husband saw me off, pursued his exercise programs, went out on his bike with his camera and then spent hours with Photoshop, played bridge with friends, read, and pursued other activities and responsibilities, then had wine and chips ready when I finally rolled back in the door. Hmm, quite divergent lifestyles. It’s amazing what you can do when you know there’s an endpoint; losing control of my endpoint became increasingly disconcerting. And so, in order to bring clarity and a solid endpoint back to my employment gig, I sent a message to the powers that be explaining why, as pleased as I was that my efforts were perceived as helpful, I could not entertain continuing past my agreement of one year. I itemized why; these were my stated reasons, in no particular order:
- In January, I will be 70 and my husband will be 76 older. My parents died when they were 53 and 57. Several of our friends died in their 60s and 70s. I do not have the stamina to work F-T and around the clock. I can manage one year, but that’s it.
- This year I am giving up seeing our grandchildren as often as we’d otherwise do.
- This year I am giving up travelling with my brother and sister-in-law as often as we’d otherwise do.
- This year I am giving up exercise, singing, my French lessons, my philosophy group, my reading club, writing my blog, writing and illustrating children’s books for my grandchildren, quilting, and more sleep.
- This year I am giving up seeing very much of my friends, who are the same age I am.
- This year I am giving up spending more time with my husband.
- This year I also seem to be giving up ever feeling relaxed!
They heard me, and I re-retired at the end of that contract year. For the record, it took me a full year to get back into the rhythm of being a successful retired person again, and that from someone who already knew how to make retirement work. I share this experience so that those of you who are close to retirement – and those of you who are years from retirement – will know that there are plenty of options for people after the “traditional” retirement age, including pursuing new interests or renewing lifelong interests that you haven’t had time for, and tending the ties that bind. Most of us find that we don’t have enough time in retirement to do all the things we want to do; we still have to pick and choose. What’s truly liberating is that the choices you make are up to you. Give yourself a chance to try it!