Retirement used to be a clear concept. You worked for years, usually for one company, then you retired at 65. Retirement income and health care coverage were assured. These were your "Golden Years". Settling into quieter times, along with some travel, golf, and grandchildren was portrayed and accepted as normal and natural. Not anymore...
Welcome to the new world of planning, choices, extended vitality, two career couples, need for activity, and the importance of meaning in our lives. At least as many Americans are flunking retirement as are succeeding at it.
As long as we use the word "Retirement" to capture our later lives, we're permanently harnessed to Working or Not Working as the core of who we are and how we think of ourselves and others. Retirement is probably a term whose time has gone.
To work or not to work is no longer an adequate question.
The important questions are:
• What would we like our lives to be like?
• How much work (if any) and what kind?
• What will create sustainable meaning in our lives?
• Where shall we live and how?
• What are our real priorities?
• What can't we live without?
• What should we leave behind?
• What will be have to be good at to make it happen?
• What have we been good at in the past that will help us in the future?
• What have we been good at in the past that will get in our way?
• When should we start planning AND how can we avoid becoming prisoners of our plans?
• What resources do we have and which will we need to generate or augment?
• What actions should we take and which should we avoid?
• How can we create the kinds of resilience our later lives will demand?
Everything flows from solid answers to these questions. Beware the universal answer. The best answers are our own. How do we arrive at the best answers?
By asking smart questions.
Most of us don't want exactly what we have had. Nor do we necessarily want to throw it all away. Finding - and maintaining - the right balance requires an approach with the right mix of planning, ability development, and resilience. The gift we get for the freedom to choose is the ability to continually shape our lives over a long period of time. The cost of this freedom is being more responsible for the quality of our own lives until we're ready for someone else to take responsibility.
"The problem is, first of all, how to break through the cocoon of our illusory youth and risk a new stage in life, where there are no prescribed role models to follow, no guideposts, no rigid rules or visible rewards, to step out into the true existential unknown of these new years of life now open to us, and to find our terms for living it."
Betty Freidan, "The Fountain Of Age"
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