The ads on the financial news idealize traditional retirement. They use scare tactics: “Will you have enough to retire?” They romanticize daily golf and lying by the pool. They insinuate that you’ve spent your entire life doing what you don’t want to do, and that doing nothing would be a great improvement.
This advertised vision of retirement is built on “kicking back,” “relaxing,” and “taking it easy.” Sounds a lot like “doing nothing,” “losing interest in life,” and “checking out.” And I don’t buy that most of us want it.
Retirement is actually a fairly recent invention. Early in the industrial revolution, it was designed as a feature of union contracts, created to move people out of the workforce and provide room for fresh, new employees and union members.
Yet today, we speak of retirement as if it’s a basic necessity of human life—a license to stop giving and start getting.
Turns out, that approach is more like a license to stop giving and start losing it: According to an analysis from the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the use-it-or-lose-it concept is right on. Our bodies (brains included) aren’t built for this do-nothing retirement model.
“If people want to preserve their memories and reasoning abilities, they may have to keep active,” explains a New York Times article covering the study. It goes on to quote Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Center on Longevity at Sanford: “Work actually provides an important component of the environment that keeps people functioning optimally.”
But if smart people and scientific evidence don’t convince you, maybe you can convince yourself by considering 3 big and personal questions:
- What is your personal definition of retirement? My clients often respond to this question with something like “Doing what I want to do.” If that’s your response, I suggest you do it tomorrow!
- List the 1 – 3 people age 70+ who you most admire and enjoy. How many of them have disengaged—chosen the do-nothing version of retirement? How many are still involved and serving? What does this mean to you?
- What do you want for your life and your future? (If your answer is “nothing,” write a congratulatory letter to the marketing agency behind your selected retirement fund. If it’s not, join the club and start reimagining your golden years as a time of engagement and action.)
Muscles atrophy with lack of use. And we’re discovering that brain cells do the same. So when you’re planning your version of retirement, look beyond the advertised model and think of what you want for your future.