Replace the Tires and Learn New Songs to Play
Guest Post by Marie Cini
I’ve lately been pondering the word “retire.” I have retired friends. I have some friends who say they will never retire. My parents retired. People ask me when I will retire. I seriously have no way to answer that because I just don’t believe that we are all saying the same thing. So how can I answer when everyone’s meaning of “retirement” is different?
For some, including my parents, retirement meant stepping away from hard work in a factory environment. They were tired after years of hard work for pay and hard work at home caring for a multi-generational family. Retirement meant more golf for my dad and the ability to do as he pleased more of the time. My mom basically just worked less outside the home in retirement. But they didn’t do all that much, in true form of retirement in the 1980s for blue-collar workers—retirement meant a break from the tiring work they have done all their lives.
Friends from middle and upper-class families remind me that in their worlds, retirement meant an enriched time for their parents, given that they had the means to travel and engage in interesting pursuits. I will give a nod to that reality, but even for those retirees, purpose and the next chapter is not a common phase that as a society we helped them work through. If they figured out a purpose-driven retirement it was because of their own drive, often in direct opposition to what most of society expects of those who are retired.
I’m two years past the year my dad retired. He had a retirement package he could tap into at a relatively younger age, as did my older brother, who retired at 57. But I am not tired, nor do I yearn for a long chapter of doing less in my life. I have friends who are still working because, by life circumstance, they need the income. But most of my friends and colleagues work because they like or even love what they do. Work gives them purpose and meaning, as well as a way to stay engaged, socially connected, and vibrant. I fall in that category as well. Work is not work when I am doing what feels important in the world. But I also want to expand and explore—not just push for the next step on the ladder. That in itself is freeing beyond measure.
So as we live longer, healthier lives thanks to medical science, what should we each make of the “retirement” chapter of our lives? First, we need to change the word because words have impact and shape our thinking. “Retirement” conjures up a removal from life’s energy, a retreat from life, and a decline in health. Time to throw off that baggage –throw it over the cliff—and view the years from 60-100+ as the potential for any number of new adventures and chapters.
So what should we call that time period when we may choose to either leave the high-stress job of our 40s and 50s OR when we decide to stay in that career but combine it with more health, joy and play? I have some suggestions:
First, “Re-Tire” could be the new version of the term that we use. I’m an avid bicyclist and replacing tires is just what you need to do to keep your bike on the road. The bike frame itself is generally good for decades if you take care of it, but tires need to be replaced more frequently. That’s a way to reconsider that time period. A much lighter and positive way to consider it.
Or let’s adopt a new term. I suggest “replay.” We are not broken at 55 or 60 or beyond. We are not played out. In fact, we are generally more wise in this period, having faced many of life’s most difficult chapters. Yet we’ve made it and we know how to survive and even thrive. So instead of simply surviving, perhaps it is time to hit “re-play” and learn to dance to a new chapter of life. The possibilities are endless if we simply allow them to be. It can be that simple, but we tend to overcomplicate things.
I have one more suggestion. Let’s retire the concept of “retirement” as well as the whole idea that 55+ is a qualitatively different part of our lives. It’s not an end. Instead, it is a time to regenerate, shed what isn’t working, and begin to explore parts we have kept in the dark for too long. A new pathway trodden by those of us who have faced the void between what existed in our past and the richness on the other side.
Time to change the tires and replay our inner song.
Marie Cini is an educator, writer, thought leader, and consultant on topics related to education for adults across a longer lifespan. She has been an academic leader in online education and was the President of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. Her current work focuses on innovative postsecondary education models for adults, strength training for a strong foundation in life, and walking the incredibly steep steps of Pittsburgh for adventure and exercise.