Retiree or Retirement – More than Stereotypes

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words retirement or retiree?

Think for a minute.

In my experience, there isn’t a lot of ambivalence when someone hears either one — retirement or retiree. These two words carry certain stereotypes and numerous other negative connotations. 

Something like putting the old fart out to pasture since those people are old and now useless. 

At least until you realize. 

“That’s me they’re talking and thinking about.”

“I am that retiree.”

“I am retired.”

“Does retirement mean my life is over – now what?”

After stopping for a moment they might think:

“That’s my Mother, Father, Grandmother, Grandfather, etc., and they aren’t like that!” 

How we look at those two words and the people they describe, depends more on who we are talking about and how old that person was. 

People also have different perspectives towards retirement and retirees based on how old they are, where they are in their career, what their goals are, who they associate with, and how healthy the person they were talking or thinking about was. 

I know that is how I used to look at retirement and retirees, before I became one, especially this last time.

Do perspectives on retirement and retirees change over time?

Yes, I believe they do. 

Although I doubt that the attitudes toward retirees or retirement have or will change all that much. The only differences were, are, and will be — is who is retired and who is saying or thinking negatively about it. Those who complained or are complaining about those old farts, tend to forget at some point they will become old farts one day as well. Or like me have become one too.

Defining Retirement

When I asked Google what retirement is, this is the quick definition:

  • the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.: “a man nearing retirement” “the library has seen a large number of retirements this year”. synonyms: giving up work, stopping working, stopping work, retrial

  • the withdrawal of a jury from the courtroom to decide their verdict.

  • seclusion.: “he lived in retirement in Miami”. synonyms: seclusion, retreat, solitude, loneliness, isolation, privacy, obscurity

Really positive things – right. 

Oh well, some myths die hard even for Google, I guess. Retirement doesn’t mean that I sit on the couch and eat potato chips and guzzle Moxie all day long. That kind of retirement isn’t the real world, and those who believe that many retirees live that way are misinformed or have had experiences that counter what I have seen or done. 

Most of us who are retired are busy with lives that need to be lived, numerous retirees still work and until COVID-19 came along we weren’t all that secluded unless we chose to be.

The most significant change in my life after retirement was and is the amount of freedom I have to manage my time. Other than the honey-do list, I pretty much have control over when and what I choose to do. Life moves at a pace that is less hectic than when I had to go into work, and I get to do more of the things that I want to do.

It doesn’t mean that life isn’t busy or full, but that I have more control over it than at any other time in my life.

My Experience

While most consider retirement to be something that old people do, that is not always the case.

I’ve retired 3 times:

  • I retired after more than 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. I was 38, and my views towards retirement and life were vastly different at my first retirement. It was less a retirement and more of a changing of careers, where my previous career helped support choices related to my next one. Many of the choices that I have made over the years since, were because I had the safety net of my military retirement, which allowed me more freedom to make decisions that wouldn’t have been available otherwise.

  • At age 54, I retired from teaching. Actually, I simply resigned and left, but I called it retirement because my wife and I decided to take the time to make regaining our health our priority and I didn’t go back into the workforce for four years. During my so-called retirement, I regained both my physical and mental health and started a small business. A few years later I went back into the workforce not so much because I had to, but more because a small business I started didn’t work out, and I missed being around people. There is a bit of truth to the seclusion aspect of retirement if you let it happen.

  • Just before I turned 60, a close relative died suddenly, and we decided that life was too short to live by other people’s schedules and demands, so I retired again. Yep, this time I believe that I will stay retired unless some opportunity blows me away.

  • This year I am Medicare eligible and this event more than any of the others has made me realize that I am retired and, dare I say it, getting old.

It is said that the third time’s the charm, we will see. 

So, I have a bit of experience at being retired. 

What about now?

What are my thoughts on retirement…now that I am a retiree?

I see retirement as part of a journey, it is not a destination Retirement is another stage in life that has the potential to be well-lived and enjoyed. It is what we make of it by the choices we make and while some things are beyond our control or a result of bad luck. Both of those things are with us at whatever stage of life we are in. Life doesn’t stop once we retire and we need to live as best we can.

The thing is, we have to be willing to make appropriate choices for ourselves, based on how we live our lives. Not the expectations or artificial standards set down by others or self-proclaimed experts who don’t know what makes our lives and retirements unique.

I think the following quote from Bob Lowry over at My Satisfying Retirement is spot-on:

“Our journey in this third stage of life is impossible to capture in all its fullness and complexity with any one idea, one representation, one approach. Forget trying to fill in the blank canvas. Instead, embrace the spaces still left to discover.”

Can you change your life in retirement?

I believe you can to a certain amount, and like Bob said “there is still space left to discover”. Like most things in life, changes need to be rooted in the reality of your life, interests, and challenges. Even so, every day is a new day and if we make choices to do something differently, better, or reinvent who we are, we can’t let being retired stop us. 

Yes, it also means a willingness to be uncomfortable at times. You have to push yourself physically, mentally, learn new things, and be willing to adapt to where you are now. Not the fantasy you believe should be yours or a life that others might have. 

The reality is that 

Writing about retirement forces me to look closely at what I am doing in my life and how I view it. I also get to share my experiences with you and meet interesting people along the way.

Of course, we do not all live or lead those perfect lives in retirement that we read about in books or see on social media, the TV, movies, or wherever we chose to be entertained. I know that my life has too many of those “oh shit” moments, why is this happening to me, and then again there are all those times when I look around – smile and think about how lucky I am. 

In retirement, just like the rest of our lives before we joined the ranks of being a retiree, we will have both. We will have good days and bad, that we will enjoy or muddle through and get to the other side of. Then we will continue onward the best we can with our lives.

Time and life will not wait for those who don’t make the effort to keep moving forward. Living in the past or refusing to accept that the world is continually changing around us, is a solution to whatever issues you see around you. Bringing back how it used to be, isn’t how it is and I have a feeling that many of us are more than happy to let go of many parts of the past and keep moving forward.

To answer my original question. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words retirement or retiree? 

My answer is that everyone’s retirement is different and that the stereotypical expectations for either word are not the reality for most of us. 

  • Retirement is unique to each retiree.

For me, retirement is more about having the freedom and time to pursue my interests, and not being bound by someone else’s expectations or hours. 

  • What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words retirement or retiree? 

 Come with me now, the best is yet to be.

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