First, a definition. Retirement – a word applied to older persons who have supposedly outlived their usefulness to society and are no longer allowed to play an active role in the affairs of the working world. (from the online free dictionary)
But, in today’s world, some people will continue with their career far into their old age – and some never retire. For most others, a more appropriate definition might be – when you stop doing what you have been doing and start doing something else. Terms like “refirement” and “rewirement” are becoming a better indication of what is going on.
And 65 as a retirement age is becoming meaningless. When our life expectancy was 70, 65 made some sense – but for many of us, thanks to modern medicine, our life expectancy has increased into the late 80s and early 90s.
With those extra years comes opportunity, but it needs preparation. Without that preparation we will wake up one morning and there will be no reason to get out of bed.
Two aspects of our preparation have received considerable attention – have we got enough money and are we physically healthy. But there are other aspects that are just as important and receive very little attention.
Letting go of what was. In our career we might have enjoyed considerable status, or we might have been down-trodden and dis-respected. Throughout our life we, and others, have told stories about who and what we are. Time to let go of all that. This is a new chapter. Time for a new story.
Taking a look inside. Without the old stories, who am I? We all have “buttons” that others press. Our bodies tell us a lot about the burdens we carry – that heart murmur, courtesy of the stress we lived with, that aching back from carrying other’s loads, that failing eyesight from not wanting to see what was right in front of us. This is our opportunity to decide anew – who am I, what is best for me?
Defining a sense of purpose – what will give meaning to a retirement that may last for 25 years? It doesn’t really matter what that purpose is, but it is essential that we have one. Depression is an unwelcome guest at many a retirement party.
Maintaining mental health – and it’s not just about Alzheimers. What is going to keep us engaged in the world around us? What is going to keep us interesting, how do we avoid becoming boring and grumpy? A cliché – but what’s on my bucket list? What are my top places to visit, top movies to see, top books to read?
Not getting lonely. The elderly are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. Reconnect with old friends, make new ones. Heal that rift in the family; make a call to that sister you haven’t spoken to in 20 years. Volunteer to help others in any way that appeals to you.
Renegotiating the terms of your relationship with your spouse. Most marriages are based on a 3 hour day – retirement will give you 16 waking hours a day together. What was bearable for 3 hours becomes “a licence to kill” after 16 hours.
Being there. Our career was driven by what we did, by the results we achieved. Our retirement and old age will be built around who we are being. Seldom do we appreciate the power and influence of just being there. Being there to listen, to appreciate, to acknowledge, to console and to admire – in short, to apply our Elder wisdom – the wisdom to ask the questions that help others find within themselves the knowledge they need to do what they want to do.
Re-discovering your spirit. When you were a child you looked at the world in wonder – it was wonder-full. For most of us, our careers drove that wonder out of us. Re-find your connection to the world around you. That connection may come through your religion or it may come as you watch the moon rise over the ocean or as you listen to a sleeping child softly breathing. It is this reconnection that will prepare you for your ultimate test of faith, your death.
And unfortunately all of this becomes doubly difficult if we are not physically healthy – so a quick look at what that entails.
Nutrition – there are any number of guides out there telling us what we can and can’t eat – what most of the information boils down to is that a modern, fast food diet is a killer. So, fresh fruit and vegetables, some grass-fed meat, some open-water fish and easy on the carbs. Plenty of water and some supplements to balance the loss of nutritional value in our every-day foods.
Exercise – whatever works for you, but it should include some aerobic exercise like swimming, walking, running and cycling. Some strengthening exercise like weights, sit-ups and push-ups. And some stretching exercise like yoga.
Sleep – we should be aiming at 7 or 8 hours a day. Our busy-busy working life made a virtue of getting by on very little sleep. But sleep is our body’s scheduled maintenance and we all know what happens if you neglect scheduled maintenance in the industrial world.
And finally, go easy on the poisons – cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and sugar.
Each year, many of us set ourselves some New Year resolutions. For retirees and the elderly our retirement can be more than a resolution – more like a revolution – and an opportunity to redefine our life.