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retirement definition

Image from Depositphotos. Is this person retired?

“Retirement? That means whatever I want it to mean.”

That was the response from someone who wrote a Medium article about “My X years of retirement.” I don’t want to call out the author, just make a point, so I’ll omit the details.

The author had left a corporate job X years ago. For the next several years (more than one-half X), he ran a successful business.Then he sold that business and stopped working altogether.

I was puzzled. Why did he call himself retired when he was actually running what seems to be a successful business? He had at least one employee. He sold the business after more than one-half X years.

When I commented, he seemed annoyed by the question. After leaving his corporate job X years ago, he defined himself as “retired,” rejecting the concept of “career transition.”

This word choice reinforces the stereotype and contributes to ageism.

As I write in my book, as you pass a certain age, society believes you should be retired. If you’re not retired, you’re outside the norm. If you’re still working, you’re “past the retirement age.”

There’s no stronger proof of ageism acceptance.

Actions taken when you’re 35 or 40 get. labeled as a “career transition.” Take the same actions when you’re 50, 60 or 70 and you’re “retired” or “semi-retired.”

A childless married couple decided to take a year off to travel around the world. They both were in their late thirties. Tbey sold their home and cars.They boarded an airplane. They never returned home. They figured out how to make a living remotely – very remotely. For awhile they lived in Thailand. Now they live in a small town in Spain.

They don’t define themselves as “retired.” They don’t define themselves at all. They’re just living the life of their dreams.

If they’d done exactly the same thing a dozen years later, the word “retirement” would have been raised.

The “retirement” stereotype has consequences.

I just saw a question on a pre-visit questionnaire from a medical clinic. Asking about employment, the choices included “employed,” “retired,” and “working but not at previous position.”

Reading between the lines, I don’t think that last option means, “Did you just change companies or careers at age 35?” And what difference does it make, anyway, to your medical treatment? Another excuse to keep you waiting longer (“you have nothing else to do so we’ll see this other patient first”)?

We need new ways to categorize our work.

It can still be meaningful to define “full-time” vs. “part-time” jobs in terms of hours worked. But some people are working 20 hours a week (or even less) while earning enough income to support a very comfortable lifestyle. Some “full-time” workers on a payroll, in the prime of life, spend many of their working hours goofing off. We all know people who “retired” while officially listed as an “employee” collecting a paycheck.

Some people have reached a level of financial success where they don’t have to work after age 35. Others can’t stop when they’re 70.

Anyone, of any age, can take a new job. They can accept a raise or a pay cut. They can continue in the same field or they can shift gears to something new. They can take off for six months or a year or more.

At some point, your body and/or mind can reach the point where you can’t work anymore. Or you get the “been there, done that” mentality.
That can happen at any age. Sure, it’s more likely when you hit 70, 80 or 90…but it’s not inevitable. Read Bruce Grierson’s book, What Makes Olga Run.

Also, as I write in my book, research consistently shows an association between retirement and early death. In these studies retirement seems to be defined as stopping work and not intending to engage in paid activity.

Dozens of articles feature retirees who feel bored and isolated when they stop working. In fact, the author of the article that motivated this post acknowledges a shift during those X years of “retirement.” He didn’t get bored till he sold his company.

So…what’s a good reason label a transition as retirement?

When you focus on “transition,” you realize you’re not on a one-way street. You realizing your moving from something TO something. And if the “to” is “nothing,” you’ll soon be in trouble. Age is irrelevant.

When you focus on “retirement,” you focus on moving FROM and ignore the TO.  Most of the time, you’re using the term because the person has reached a certain age.

At least that’s what I think you mean.