Thursday, April 15, 2010
The idea of retirement has really changed. Even though retirement for me is 10 years away, I went to a retirement seminar yesterday and it was eye-opening. In previous generations, retirement was defined as that stage of life when we could put our feet up and enjoy endless days of leisure time. Retirement communities promising unhurried days of fun activities popped up like toadstools in the morning. The idea of retirement was that of perpetual fun—days of golf, bridge, fishing, or whatever suited our fancy.
Two important changes have occurred in the last thirty years that have had a huge impact on this earlier understanding of retirement. First, we are living longer. Retiring at the traditional age of 65 meant that we will likely have 20 or more years of leisure time—and that’s a lot of leisure time! If you calculate that the length of our working life is about 40 years, then retirement could be more than half as long.
Secondly, we discovered that our retirement savings are inadequate to finance a lengthy retirement. Because Social Security is only supplemental income, we need IRA’s, 401K’s and pensions (although these are getting rarer) to retire. Further, most retirement reserves got hit hard by the 2008-09 recession. Because of the stress on retirement savings, some have delayed their retirement and others have secured part-time employment.
The truth is that the “old” idea of retirement as pure leisure has faded into the sunset. The new reality is that retirement is viewed as a time of productive work. However, this doesn’t mean our latter years of work are the same as our so-called “working years.” At its best, retirement can be a time of reinventing ourselves, a time for doing those things we put off doing because we didn’t make time for them. Retirement can be a time of self-discovery and an opportunity to “make a life by what we give.”
Spiritually, retirement can be the most fertile time of life. Free from the pressures of a full-time job, we have more time to enjoy those activities and practices that feed our souls. In Hinduism, this time of life is called the “forest dweller” stage. It is seen as a time of increasing solitude and withdrawal from social obligations. After this rich time of self-discovery and spiritual renewal, “forest dwellers” may eventually evolve into the final stage: the “pilgrim” or sannyasin. The image here is of a person on a spiritual journey who has discovered total contentment and freedom from wants and desires.