I have known quite a few of my contemporaries who are contemplating the next phase of their lives. In April, 4M people quit their jobs. This used to be called retirement but now we need a better word to indicate more of a transition rather than a choice. I now think of this differently. No longer is this the time to relax, to travel, to see the grandkids, to take up new hobbies or volunteer work.
This isn’t exactly a new idea. Pablo Casals once famously said that he was motivated to continue to practice the cello in his 90s because he was making progress.
One friend of mine is hyper-organized: he has five volunteer jobs — one for each day of the week to keep himself busy. Others have a part-time job that gives them some flexibility. As to travel — well, we have the virus to change those plans.
Gary Bolles in his first book, called The Next Rules of Work, plots out a new vision for how we relate to work, to jobs, to bosses, and to our lives. You can click here for my full review of his book. My takeaway for this blog post is the changing way we need to approach retirement — no matter what is your age.
For many years now you didn’t have to be receiving Social Security payouts to retire. I know plenty of teachers and military members who began working at age 20, and were able to retire with full benefits when they turned 40, often starting new careers.
When friends ask me if I am planning on retirement, I say no. And this is because I am completely aligned with Bolles’ Next Rules. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and designed my freelance business to ensure that I would always be learning something new about the tech fields that I write about. It wasn’t too hard: I imagine if I was writing about the sporting goods or home appliances businesses I would have a lot less learning to do year-on-year. (Maybe not, but you get my point.)
No matter where you are in your life, you have to figure out how to continue to learn new stuff. When we are working every weekday, we tend to have someone else force us into this learning-as-part-of-the-normal work process. But as more of us become gig workers, we have to create these situations on our own, and that is the manual that Bolles has constructed.
You could build it in, as “if it is Tuesday I volunteer at X” how my friend does. Or you could have other mechanisms that force the learning, such as a book club (where the group actually does read the assigned books), or a travel schedule (if we can ever get back to that again), or something else that forces you out of the house so you aren’t locked into daydrinking/Netflix bingeing cycles. Of course, for some of us that just may be an intermediate goal, which is fine.
So if you aren’t happy in your current job, think about making this transition to becoming a life-long learner. Don’t wait until you reach your 60s.
This is such a wonderful post David. I know several people who retired recently and are looking for something meaningful to do. Love your suggestions, and agree that factoring in a life-long learning approach would be tremendously helpful to those looking for more.
The other discussion that in my opinion applies to most of the retirement population is how to survive with only social security as income. That’s the scary scenario.
David, I’m with you. I have never contemplated a retirement life in Florida or Arizona, like many of my old neighbors who left Massachusetts for warmer climes. I continue to work, despite Social Security, an old-time monthly pension check and a mortgage-free home, theoretically at a lesser pace, because I learn something new and interesting every day, and I enjoy seeing and working with people. Work, attention to activities around the world, two volunteer activities, regular exercise and my family keep me 110% occupied, which is how I like it. Out of this lifestyle, I get regular stimulation of mind, body and emotions to keep them all active.
David, this certainly arrived at the right time for me. I’m less than 50 days away from my “last day of work”. After which, I’m going to take a gap year to travel and make plans for what comes next. Yeah, Covid is an issue, but seriously, how much more hazardous could responsible travel in Europe be than hanging out in Austin these days?
Learning will be a big part of my future, but really it always been a big part of anything I do. I get bored very easily doing things that I know I can do, so I’ve always treated jobs as a means to learn what I want to learn next. And, somehow, I’ve always managed to apply that learning to whatever it is my employer thinks I should be doing.
Looking forward, I’m sure I’ll be doing volunteer work or otherwise taking on the kind of jobs that I could never afford to in the past. Horace Mann, the first president of my alma mater, advised that one should “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” That seems like a good place to start.
Austin? My son moved back to Massachusetts to escape the dreadful handling of the pandemic there. Yes, travel to most any first world country would safer than Austin, but they have to let you over there first.
David, I retired February 1st of this year after 36 years at George Mason University. When I wrote my colleagues letting them know my plans, I called it “advancement.” I included a long list of things I planned to do. So far, I’ve volunteered to make online courses accessible, created some segments on Arlington County, Virginia history that were broadcast on the radio, attended a protest to save a pre-civil war site including a house, out buildings, and 9 acres of land from development, sent out a county-wide petition regarding the re-naming of my elementary school and sent the results to the School Board, submitted an entry to the Werble Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, re-connected with friends I haven’t seen in as many as 40 years and more. My challenge is deciding what to do from the many possibilities!
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