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Finding Meaning in Retirement

One of my first memories about retirement was when a rancher in my home town quit riding every day when he was 85 years old.  A year later he was dead.  My father talked about it as though the rancher’s retirement was a death warrant.  It shaped my attitude about retirement, in that there was something  vaguely morally wrong about stopping going to work every day.

I have been retired since March 2011 and have two jobs.  What is interesting about my attitude about retirement is  that I acquired it from my father who retired at age 65 and never worked  another day.  I really do not know how he  made the transition to retirement as he never in his life talked about his feelings.  I do know he made regular trips to his old workplace.  I have been back three times, once to get some paperwork signed.

That 85 year old rancher?  He probably stopped riding because he was too old to keep it up every day.  We get old and weak, especially at 85.  I retired at age 68, and I am not as strong and vigorous as when I was 25, but I do pretty well.  I can ride my bicycle, walk, hike, and work.  I want to keep that up.

The problem at retirement is that all my life I have in part defined myself by what I do at work.  Most men in our culture do, which is why unemployment is so devastating for many men.  Now, I have two jobs, but one of them pays $9.00/hour and the other $12.00/hour.  Does that define my worth to society, to be  near the bottom of the wage heap?  My various pensions and savings are irrelevant in calculating my wage earner worth.  I have moved from the middle  class to the working class in terms of my earning potential, so I am worth less as a person.  Or so I think, using that warped value system I have inherited.

The other problem I am facing in retirement is finding meaning in my life.  Am I just a drag on society, collecting my pensions (I have four) and Medicare, thus robbing younger taxpayers of the same opportunities I have enjoyed?  Are we geezers worth anything other than sitting in the coffee shop talking about our latest surgery?  What meaning is there as an elder in a youth oriented society?  Do my two jobs, writing for this blog, taking care of the household and caregiving for others make me worthwhile to keep around or am I just superfluous?

Sounds like an existential crisis, doesn’t it?  Fitting for a product of the existential generation, raised on Sartre, Camus, Updike, Mailer, Salinger, and all the others.  The answer to problems like this is awareness and sitting in the mess, stewing, thinking,  and squirming, until the answer presents itself.  I am stewing and doing my best to stay aware (with a bit too much Angry Birds).  The answer probably involves engagement, but I am not yet sure what it is.

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3 comments to Finding Meaning in Retirement

  • Suzanne

    Ahhhh Bill, I’m hearing you loud and clear. I retired in August 2011 at age 60 after a fulfilling career in government policy and legislation development. After a rest and some travel, and looking after my mum’s needs (she is now in a nursing home), I am at your *squirming* stage. I’m not sure what to do next that will engage me. Though I’ve been a serial hobbyist most of my life – taking on new hobbies, mastering them, and moving on to something else – my work, study and family have been my main foci. Now that I have so much time, I would have thought a new shiny hobby would present itself to me, or a cause that I could immerse myself in would jump out and grab me by the throat. But alas it looks like I will have to stalk the beasts and find them myself.

    I’ve found an alternative world in an on-line MMO game, and have been surprised at the number of baby boomers in there too, many women like myself. While it’s fun and mentally challenging, I know it’s only for the short term.

    The answer is probably engagement of some sort in the community, but what that is and where remains to be discovered.

    • Suzanne,
      Keep us posted on your process. This retirement business is definitely a process. A good friend said after one of my posts that adjusting to retirement takes a couple of years. I think that spending some time doing nothing is part of the process, but there is the danger of sinking into the chair forever. Carol has prodded me out of the chair a few times, and I have had to give up both Angry Birds and Words With Friends, although I think it is temporary while I learn to use my time more wisely.

    • I just want to reinforce Bill’s reply. We would love to hear how your process is going as you adjust to retirement–the ups and the downs. I think we can all learn from one another as we enter this difficult stage of life in a new age. Hope you will keep us up to date.

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