As you know, I’m not a big retirement fan. Why? The word no longer works. It is no longer a case of stopping work and having a pension to support you in your golden years of leisure. I want people to clearly and early “get” what it will mean for them in today’s world of expanding longevity with the real need for extended money and meaning. I want people to make informed choices. Retirement is no longer a stage of life, one-size-fits-all, complete with guaranties. See my blog on some of the many faces of retirement.
I recently gave a presentation based on my new book at the Sarasota office of our multi-city Women’s Resource Center. Among the attendees was a retired 60ish couple, Mark and Eileen, who were so articulate and thoughtful about their own retirement that I asked if I could interview them for this blog. “Sure!”, they said. So off I went to their house in Venice a few days later.
We sat at the table, their small dog vying for attention at our feet. Eileen’s craft projects were piled on adjacent surface. “What does “getting retirement right” mean for you?” was my question.
Mark began by telling me a significant part of his (and their) life story. His enthusiasm was palpable and powerful. Neither of them came from families with money. Both had parents determined that their kids would take early responsibility for themselves. If they wanted it they had to earn it. They put few limits on themselves or their children. They took risks including 1. moving to Europe with their young children for Mark’s work, 2. accepting promotions into jobs they didn’t know much about at first, and 3. Eileen’s pursuit of a geographically inconvenient PhD in the days before online learning. They were frugal and “always put aside 15%”. Their passion, especially Mark’s because he is a voluminously passionate man about his interests and activities, kept shining through.
Toward the end of our conversation, I got up to use their bathroom. How, I had been wondering, am I going to pull all of this information together? I found the answer on a rectangular sign in their home that said, “Happier Than A Seagull With A French Fry”. Trust me. No matter how skillful a blogger you are, you simply cannot make these things up. So, Seagull and French Fry it was.
Here are the highlights of how Mark and Eileen are getting retirement right for themselves.
- Attitude: They maintain a consistently positive, interested, active approach to everything that crosses their paths. They appear be sitting on the edge of their intellectual chairs at all times. This comes across as great energy. It’s fun to be around.
- Learning: A day without learning is a day lost. It doesn’t have to be monumental but it does have to be conscious and acknowledged. They appear to use their dedication to learning every day to drive and inform their calendars, relationships, priorities, and commitments. Mark is a prodigious, daily reader of newspapers (plural).
- Pro-Active: For Mark and Eileen choosing is a very active verb. This applies to both of them. There isn’t a pattern of one dragging the other somewhere. “Not to choose is to choose.” isn’t in their vocabulary. Location. Relationships. Activities. Travel. Reading. Exercise including water aerobics. Community-benefiting activities and organizations. They go out of their way to actively identify new and current options every day. If an interesting speech is noted in the newspapers or online, they put it on their calendars without hesitation and attend. “Will we have the energy for that?” doesn’t seem to come up very often. They wisely don’t do everything together. They certainly spend time and have activities together, but they also have their own, separate ones.
- Bravery: “Try it once anyway because you never know.” seems to be their motto. This requires social bravery – showing up where they know no one, being in places they haven’t been before, and being open to ideas and information that doesn’t necessarily fit their preconceived notions. They support each other in this, too.
- Community: Mark’s and Eileen’s social networks cross multiple communities. The one they live in. The one connected to Arts. The one connected to historic preservation. The one connected to exercise. The one connected to travel. What they do especially well is belong to multiple, overlapping communities.
As I continue to write about retirement, it’s still true that a retirement of nonstop leisure is not just unreachable for many, but also unaffordable and undesirable. That said there are lots of people out there for whom retirement, whatever that means for them, is a great choice, particularly those who actively planned and prepared for it a long time.
Which takes us straight back to “Happier Than A Seagull With A French Fry”. That seagull would not be passive about its French fry. Neither are Mark and Eileen about the quality of their lives each day. I say, “Good for them!”
If you are retired, what does that mean for you and what makes it successful or not?
If you are not retired, what does that mean for you and what makes it successful or not?
Let me know, please.