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Retirement Blues

category_bug_ageism.gif Many people, when they retire from the workforce, pack and up and leave the city or town where they have lived for many years. Some go to a second or vacation home they already own. Others head for Florida or Arizona where retirees congregate. And some, like me, choose a new place where they have few or no personal attachments in search of - well, in my case, less expensive digs.

Retirement. Retiree. Retired. I so dislike these words, I’m pretty sure I’ve used them in only one post over the two years of TGB’s existence. They smell of idleness and uselessness. Of sun and endless rounds of golf. Of “leisure villages” populated with elders, isolated from younger people and the mainstream of life. Of empty hours stretched out into a future that, these days, can be a third of one’s life spent in drowsy indolence.

Of course, that is only the stereotype created and maintained by the media and the retirement/leisure industry intent on parting retirees from their money. I have no statistics to quote, but I suspect, with the increase in healthy, post-65 years, many so-called retirees are busy with productive endeavors that contribute to the common weal, the well-being of their communities and the people in them.

Did I mention that I can’t stand the words retirement and retiree? Elders are so much more than the image those words conjure. We are writers, volunteers, teachers, students, mentors, activists, bloggers. Today, not a few are raising their grandchildren and/or caring for their aged parents. Many others would remain in the workforce if not for age discrimination, and for those who must work, the choices are few.

Television commercials feature grinning, elder Wal-Mart greeters. A year-old story on the AARP website I can’t get out of my head (and which I can’t locate right now) proudly declares the “success” of a former business development manager, shut out of his career at 60 due to ageism, finding work with the help of an AARP program mixing paint at Home Depot.

Some elders may enjoy these low-paid jobs, but I cannot imagine people who studied for a career in a field that engaged them from youth at which they spent decades of productive employment suddenly finding fulfillment in mindless busy work for minimum wage. If you have ever held an interim job out of necessity that bored you silly, you know how it sucks the life out your entire being.

Did I mention that the words retirement and retiree make me wince? When I am occasionally asked what I do, I say I publish a blog about what it’s really like to get older. (It’s funny to watch faces of those who don’t know what a blog is.) In filling out on- and offline forms, the employment choices are usually student, employed full time, employed part time, self-employed and retired. Since I have no income at the moment, but refuse to be classified with the negative cultural freight that goes with retired, I tick off self-employed.

Twenty-three years ago today, I moved into this apartment. Before then, I had moved 42 times in my life - enough! - and I told everyone I knew that I intended to be taken out of here feet first. If I had any thoughts of retirement then (I doubt it at age 42), it would have had something to do with increased participation in Greenwich Village politics and, perhaps, teaching of some sort. Barring accident or serious illness, I've never seen myself removed from productive activity that retirement implies.

When I’ve settled into a new home in Maine (move no. 43), I intend to find a way to remove myself from the retired category and back into paid employment of some kind. But the fact remains, for the moment, I am retired from the mainstream workforce, so I suppose I’d better get over my personal distaste for the word.


Ronni, I love this post. I am sending your URL to my sisters because we have been discussing this issue lately as both of them are facing "retirement" both hating the word for all its stereotypical meaning. I am learning from my elders about what to think and how to prepare for this period of my life. Although I am well aware that life happens almost exactly at that moment as we are making those *other* plans!

I myself prefer the term "self-unemployed." I don't equate pay with value, but that took some getting used to. The important thing is to feel that what you're doing is important.

And what you are doing IS important, Ronni. I agree that it would be great if you were making money out of it, as you probably wouldn't have to move, among other things. But it IS important and to a growing number of people too.

Yes, my sister "Tamarika" is right - I actually didn't know what to expect from myself when I was retired, due to age (68) from a dynamic hi tech job just 6 months ago after 24 years of service. I found myself ashamed, at a loose end, guilty not to be working, envious of people stressed out of their minds and like you, Ronnie, hating the terminology (what to say when someone asks "what do you do") realizing that what I do is not who I am - searching for a different, more positive term for this gift in life called freedom, time for fun, doing what I like when I like. I've just returned from a lesson to become a tourist guide, am soon going to sign up to learn French and will look for a teacher for piano lessons - looking forward to the next 20??? years with excitement. Thanks Tamar for triggering this outpouring and thanks Ronnie for a place to do it in.

I think that you will be active in Maine Ronni! Life is what we make it. :)

How about "retired from....". The word by itself is the killer. It's true that since retiring from...we have never been busier and can't imagine how we worked AND did other important/interesting things!
And Happy St. Patrick's Day!

ronni, if we say "still working," then the questioner has to ask, "oh, at what?" reply, "blogging, etcetera," and we've shifted the discourse. what do you think?

It's a journey, Ronni! You'll love this "leg" of the trip! Trust me. While I agree that "retired from" sounds best, the liberation from the workplace structure for many of us is among other things quite peaceful. Dee

Maybe it's a generational thing, or maybe it's just my own strange take on life, but when I think of "retirement," I think of all the really cool things I'll finally have time to do.

I think of taking college classes for the sheer pleasure of learning. I think of persuing hobbies that I don't have time for now. I think of volunteering with the sick, with animals, or with historical societies. And yes, I even think of those "interim" jobs, some of which are a lot more exciting and interesting than the middle management position I find myself stuck in for the money and not for the love of it here at my age, on the brink of 40.

In sum, I'm looking forward to retirement as a blessed gift-- an opportunity to finally live the life I would gladly be living now, if only I didn't have to paying my dues by chasing the almighty dollar. If I had a pension or some other source of income, I'd volunteer my service somewhere and never be a paid mercenary of the workforce again.

Maybe the media needs to wise up in how it portrays retirement, because endless golf, sloth and sunshine sounds like a gilded cage to me. Being free of the necessity of working should mean being free to finally really fly.

I've spent some time in a so called "Arizona retirement comunity". I found very few retired folks. Most were pursuing other endeavors, less demanding of thier older bodys, less time consuming, less stressful, and more enjoyable. The main requisite was enjoying what they were doing, not for the money but, for the shear joy of doing it. So, what I'm saying is, what ever picture the words bring up in your mind ain't necessarily what they bring up in others. Like life, retirement is what YOU want it to mean. I did Foot in mouth again Huh?

Re foot in mouth: not hardly, Milt. It's not retirement I object to, it's the baggage the word carries with it.

Retired? Uh-uh. Gainfully employed. Look how many ambitious, hardy souls came to today's meetings. We do working stuff - take notes, get motivated. This stuff is important. Always something to be gained. As our CEO, you provide Mind-Expansion Seminars that make life more interesting and joyous for all (oops, I won't say the "R" word) Elders.

This is so right on the button. Our society defines us by what we do, and I don't like people thinking I pass my days on the couch clicking the remote. So I seldom describe myself as "retired": when asked what I do, I just say I'm a writer. And that is the truth, although some days I may feel like writing little more than my blog or a few comments at an online movie discussion group. But it's what I do, and what I want to do.

Something I really enjoy is when I go on a weekday morning to do something like get my hair cut, and the 20-something waiting on me will often say, "have the day off today?". At such times I say, "yeah, I work at home, and just didn't feel like it today". I love doing that. It's better to be envied than pitied.

Shakespeare might might say you are making much ado about nothing, and ask what's in a name? (Remember - it is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man.)

There are more things in heaven and earth to call this phase of life,, Ronni.

Perhaps we might use "vivification", "rejuvenation", or "revitalization" years.

Due to financial constraints (as I see no lottery windfall in my crystal ball) Kman and I will work...forever. Around our house "retirement" means when they throw dirt on top of you and stick a plastic flower at your head.

Have you made up new business cards? After being forced into early retirement (I thought I'd just been laid off until I tried to get a job again--a woman! at my age! what arrogance!)

I'm a writer. So I dabbled in all those projects I didn't have time for when I worked for a salary and I went back to school to study Japanese. I tried to enjoy myself. But when I'd meet someone new, I didn't feel comfortable introducing myself. Like a stereotypical man, I discovered that I defined myself by my occupation. Now I was what? laid off, unemployed, retired, a housewife...nothing I wanted to be!

Recently I was quoted in a gardening book and the author referred to me as "garden writer". That made me feel good. It encouraged to get new business cards made up with my name and website.

Now when people ask me what I do, I say, "I'm in online publishing. I run a garden website. Here's my card." Running my own company sure beats being retired!

Great post, great comments! As we are thinking about our retirement years coming up, we're guilty of thinking that all those retirement villages plunked into the middle of the deserts, hogging precious water for pools and golf courses, are full of indolent retirees, including many snowbirds from Canada! and how boring it would be. We're both saying we want to stay put, depending on finances and health of course, and just have time for a lot of projects we've not had time for, and for travel to places with different cultures. Active elders is the hope and desire, active physically, mentally and creatively.

I love M Sinclair's business card idea - time to redo mine to include the "online publisher" as well as artist.

Now, I've always thought of you as being between opportunities at the moment. I agree that "retirement" implies that one is "done," and I don't get that from you.

The best is yet to matter what you call it.
A week of peace with love,

Retired is definitely the wrong road. I "retired" from the Postal Service 7 months ago and I'm busier than ever with volunteer work, pursuing artistic endeavors I've put off for years and making a little money with online sales. I have all the satisfaction of accomplishment that comes from work, but without the stress and frustration that comes with working for a bureaucracy.

Perhaps that was a freudian slip. I meant "word" instead of "road"

These are among the most interesting and stimulating group of posts I've read in a while.

I love that business card idea and the "publishing" concept for bloggers.

"Self-employed" is the way to go, too, which is what I said I was some years ago, for a period, when a primo company for which I worked was suddenly sold, I quit just before, and new group ran it right down the tubes and out of business.

Aren't we talking about labels again? Letting advertising, the media, whoever else, incorrectly define how the vast majority of individuals who've left the full time work force spend their time?

Not only do we have to educate one and all as to what aging is really like, we, now, have to do the same for the years when we're older and leave our regular jobs ... plus, find new words (instead of "retired" and "retiree")to encompass our activities and that period in our lives.

Is that what I'm understanding here?


Dear Ronni,

Retirement. Retire. Retiree. I agree with you that those words have very negative connotations. For example, when people head for the bedroom in the evening, it is often referred to as “retiring” for the night; in other words – sleeping, being unconscious and in the prone “dead” position. So when we “retire” from our careers are we asleep? Unconscious? Dead? Not at all, but that is what the words retire, retirement and retiree conjure up in the minds of so many.

I totally dislike those communities with age restrictions for the elderly – usually 55 plus communities which isolate elders from the general community of the mixture of all ages. When I lived in Arizona my former husband and I lived in one of these age restricted communities for awhile (he met the age requirement, I didn’t). It was terrible, depressing, isolating and totally boring. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Now that I actually do meet the age requirement, you won’t find me seeking out such a place to live.

Because of all the negative ageism connotations associated with “retirement” in this country, it makes it more difficult for us elders to transition into “self-unemployment” – it is a real challenge to reinvent your life after leaving a life-long career. (That’s why I love your blog, for giving us some “real-life” experiences and stories of the actual journey.) What do we “do” now that we’ve left our career? Meeting and greeting at Wal-Mart or mixing paint at Home Depot just doesn’t hack it for me. I didn’t work all those years so I could start at the bottom again! I’m going to define my own “self-employment” – thank you.


Gosh -- I feel quite out of it. I'm part of a circle of women, in our late 50s and early 60s, who describe ourselves as experiencing "retirement lust." We've been working a darn long time; we've done the best we can for ourselves financially; we look with excitement on the idea of a time after this time. Of course, none of the people I'm thinking of has yet hit age-related involuntary unemployment, though clearly that happens too often.

I retired after 27 yrs. teaching plus 13 secretarial...that makes 40 yrs. in all. I was a bit nervous about what I'd do next, but it all worked out. Here's a list of my activities:
Painted & decorated the house
Took 2 french courses
Volunteer 5 mins from home at an adult literacy program. Have 10 students & love it. No politics, marking or stress.
Went to OZ, NZ, Mexico.
Refinished 4 pieces of furniture
Joined a cycling group
Read in the library once a week- all the newspapers & mags I used to buy.
Went to NY City by bus. Had a blast.
Take my mom out for trips, shopping, just driving around.
Go to plays, movies, eat out in my beautiful city of Montreal.
Wrote my memoirs about teaching in a public high school. A publisher is interested. I'm freaking out.
Played with my cat & will get a second one in June. Love Scottish Folds.
Gardened my butt off & built sidewalks and walking paths around my house.
Started a blog. Bought a Zen mp3 player and learned how to use it.
Bought a camera phone and learned how to use it.
Got a job at the uni supervising student teachers.
Walk 5x a week (12 k's each time)
De-cluttered the whole house.
Love to read. Just finished the book "Are Men Necessary," by. M. Dowd.
and "Brother Fish," by B. Courtenay.
So, if this is what retirement means, count me in.
We need a new word for "retirement."

Our Montreal Gazette recently printed an article lamenting the acute shortage of teachers. The Ministry of Education "suits" knew 20 years ago this was coming, as many boomers are retiring. So what solution does the MEQ offer? Allow non-certified teachers to start teaching with the promise they will acquire their credentials within 7 years.

Using that line of logic, allow me to operate on your brain, pilot your plane, negotiate its safe landing (air traffic control)--protect you from harm (cop)- drive you to Florida...extract your molars, deliver your baby, fix your leaky toilet with the PROMISE that, within 7 years, I'll have my magic paper.

Oh, some people would say.."But those jobs are life and death. Teaching isn't. Teaching is not a profession."

Today's public school clientele needs qualified teachers more than ever.

Teaching in today's climate is no cakewalk.

What kind of parents would allow their child to be taught by a walk-in?

Instead of this half-assed notion, why not hire retired teachers who WANT to work part-time and give them the opportunity of mentoring new teachers?

I know many retired teachers who would jump at the chance of teaching a couple periods a day.

Last week I walked into a class being covered by an unqualified teacher. Call him "The Stand-in."

Students were milling around the room, some on cell phones, others playing with work was being done. The "dude" teacher was sitting at the desk reading his paper. When he saw me in the doorway, he said something like...

"I'm covering for Miss. ___. I don't care if the kids do the work or not. I'm an art student-just here to make $$$.

Want your kids taught by "dudes and dudettes?"

Level the playing field and allow all the other professions to hire the non-qualified...let it all hang out!

Or hire solid veteran teachers to fill in the gaps while teachers acquire the proper training.

What a lopsided world.

What a great post. I wonder if you are in Maine yet. I see this was posted in March. I have been off for a few months due to surgery and THAT is enough to drive me around the bend ... it's a whole new direction - this time off business. I have always been active and engaged. Mmmmmmmm. Hope you are doing well. Barbara

I found this to be an interesting site having retired a couple of years ago. I share many of the thoughts and it is good to see that I am not alone in working through the ups and downs of retirement or "eldership". After 40 years in the one industry I could not wait to retire. I don't have financial problems so the world was at my door. I had so many things I wanted to do but never had the time. Well after retiring thing were a little different. I found did not have the same motivation to do all those interesting things I saved up to do in my younger years. I realised that one's interests do change over time and what you think is important and interesting when younger, do not necessarily hold those same attractions 20 or 30 years on. I agree that it is important to retire " to" rather than "from" but you need the motivation to do those things you are retiring "to". Well I have gone back to my profession but only as a casual employee with a new company - I can pick and choose what work I do. This keeps my mind active and gives me a new social circle. In addition I have continued doing career mentoring of university students which I started doing 10 years ago,and got involved with a couple of other community groups. But I still feel disappointed that those things I thought I would like doing, I no longer feel motivated to do. Does anyone else experience this ?

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