Money Matters

Is Retirement Cancer of the Soul?

Is retirement the American Dream? Or the promise that those now under forty will never see fulfilled? Or is the problem definitional in that the word itself may mean one thing to you and something entirely different to your neighbor? Exactly what do we mean when we talk about the dream of retirement? Although there are some baby boomer over sixty or ‘over 65ers’ who would be content with a life of leisure: sleeping as late as late as they please with all the time in the world, most of us are happiest when we are working, studying, learning, risking, making a difference and using our gifts, regardless of our age.

Four, or maybe five, careers ago, during the early nineties, I was teaching a management course at University of Texas School of Nursing along with my full time administrative job at Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. Constantly on the lookout for relevant, practical and inspiring content, I came across a book by a British organizational theorist named Charles Handy, either The Age of Unreason or The Age of Paradox, and was fascinated by some predictions he made about the twenty-first century work force; about the economic, global and technological changes which were imminent and would change the face of the traditional corporate worker. Among his many prescient forecasts were that much of the work would change place: from office to home and that many of the new careers would be entrepreneurial. Moreover, the concept of retirement would change: The average Westerner would change careers an average of three or four times during his or her working life; for many, the concept of retirement would be obsolete due to the choice to work far past the average age of retirement at sixty-five.

I recall many laughter filled conversations with my thirty or forty something year old colleagues as I attempted to explain that I believed retirement to be dangerous; the consequential boredom, the reality of having too much time one one’s hands can result, I opined, all those years ago that boredom was a cancer of the soul and that retirement as my colleagues defined it sounded ghastly.  Thirty years later, my predictions of the inimical consequences of boredom are reflected back to me from too many friends and neighbors whose interests seem bounded by their dwindling investment portfolios and the increasing number of maladies that are applied with each visit to their doctor. They are consumed by what they watch each evening on the nightly news and feel depressed, anxious and sad about the country, the government, the economy and their lives: tragic, unnecessary and such a waste of skills and gifts.