Since retirement for me ought to be at least 20 years in the future, I have rarely thought about it. But recently there have been several reasons why retirement suddenly looms large in my mind. First, it occurred to me that if I took an early retirement at some point, I could receive partial retirement income while pursuing a full-time writing career. I would do this in the hope that I could do many of the projects I have been planning for several years but just don't have the time to do. Besides, it would be interesting to see if it is actually possible to earn a living writing.
But most people, I think, regard retirement as a frightening thought sort of like being put out to pasture, and so they prefer not to think of it at all, and to delay it as long as possible. In the history department we have a retirement coming up for a professor in her 70s who thinks her time has come. Realizing that she has taught here for 30 years, several of us thought we should plan a full scale retirement dinner and present her with a gift.We appointed a retirement committee, and sent memos to other members of the department announcing our plans. Several faculty members were alarmed by the name "retirement committee" and wondered if some of us might be forced into retirement by such an ominous sounding committee. But we kept going anyway and planned a dinner at a plush seaside restaurant with a superb reputation, where we would present to our retiring colleague an expensive gold chain.
After the plans were announced, I had a visit from another professor who is nearing retirement age himself. He was very distressed that we had planned such an expensive retirement affair, and he threatened to stay home on that account. Besides, his face becoming flushed and his voice shaking, "I never liked her anyway!" Calmly, I suggested that he need not come if he felt that way. He said, "Not only that, when I retire, I don't want any retirement dinner for ME! If you have one, I will not come! I don't believe in retirement dinners!" Then he turned, his face still flushed, and stalked out of the room.
It occurred to me that this angry colleague was more disturbed at the prospect of retirement than he was at the retirement dinner. It was too much like going to a funeral and contemplating his own mortality. It is the same reason most of us refuse to take the time to make out wills.
Yet retirement can be and should be a happy prospect if we plan it as a time to tackle new projects, to travel, to engage in a number of activities we never had time to do, or just to sleep late. Above all, we should think of it as a time to remain active and vital, even if our efforts are expended in a different direction.
All studies of retirees have indicated that people who retire without plans are people who suffer unhappiness and declining health. Quickly they feel unimportant and unnecessary, and they lose their zest for living. Although everyone suffers from different health problems in later years, it is safe to predict that an active and vigorous life after the age of 65 tends to promote longevity. Particularly, people of all ages need to feel appreciated.
For instance, general authorities of the LDS Church carry heavy leadership responsibilities and travel throughout the world instructing other leaders and addressing the general membership. In the process they feel appreciated even as they go into their 80s and 90s. The admiration and respect they experience undoubtedly promotes their own longevity.
If most of us could promote the same kind of purpose to living through our retirement years, we could probably enjoy the process more than the arduous work years. We could develop meaningful hobbies, begin interesting second careers, and cultivate a variety of interests. If we do so, our children and the younger generation may be more likely to admire us and respect us, instead of pity us or ignore us. So let's go for it, and if some of our admiring colleagues want to throw us a retirement bash complete with gold watch, why not? But just remember think of is as a new beginning, not an end. And never NEVER sleep late.