The term retirement was first used in the era of Otto von Bismarck in the days of the Prussian Empire!  It was introduced into the Social Security Act in the US in 1935. But as the baby boomers approach what is traditionally thought of as retirement age, we once again find the definition does not fit our needs.

Is this simply because we are baby boomers and have a reputation for resisting the status quo, or is it generally a term that needs revision.  After all, we protested against War in the 60’s, we helped put the first man on the moon, we saw the fall of Communism to mention a few things the boomers have resisted.

We will be the first generation where 50% could live until the age of 100.  The first problem this poses is, if we retire at 65, we still have 35 years to live.  Due to the progression of medical science and a generally healthier lifestyle, few of us feel old enough to stop working at 65, but even more important is the fact that most of us cannot afford to stop working at 65, especially if we are to live another 30 or more years.

The dictionaries define retirement in terms of ceasing work.  How many people do you know who want to stop working at 65?  And then, in South Africa, where I live, only 6% of us can afford to maintain our lifestyle if we cut out our income from working.  The other 95% will have to cut back on their cost of living and consequently the lifestyle they became accustomed to as a member of the formal workforce when their income from working dries up.

So, does the word “retire” adequately describe the change of pace, the ability to see things more strategically, and the need to give back or contribute that seems to happen to most of us as we pass through our 60’s.  I am not by any stretch of the imagination saying that we don’t experience physiological changes in our 60’s.  Nor am I advocating that we can keep up the 60 hour weeks we did in our 40’s and 50’s or that we put off spending precious time watching our grandchildren grow.

I am, however, advocating that for many of us a sense of purpose can be found in feeling needed, feeling relevant in society and a sense that we can contribute meaningfully.  And for many of us that comes through working in some form or another. If it is not for money, then maybe for other rewards, such as a sense of gratification or a sense of connection and belonging.

Does the word retirement accurately reflect the way you are living your life?

Best wishes,