There are now more than 34 million retired Americans, and with the oldest of today's 76 million boomers beginning to retire, that figure that will swell to 69.4 million in 2030. In his book, Age Power, Ken Dychtwald, Ph.
D., says, "Retirement is a relatively new and experimental life state that was initially envisioned to last three to five years, not 20 or 30." He cautions that the current retirement model is not realistic for the future.
The future is now and Dr. Dychtwald is right: the current retirement model is not realistic. A joint study by Washington and Cornell Universities conclude that 64 percent of retirees depend on Social Security for half or more of their income; 29 percent rely on it for 90 percent of their income; 18 percent rely on it for all their income. Researchers also say that by age 75, nearly a quarter of those elders will have experienced poverty, and the percentage rises as one ages.
Are ideas about retirement changing? Yes and no. For many, full-time retirement as a life goal is slowly losing its appeal. Nevertheless, tradition, custom, business, and political interests continue to shape attitudes about lifestyles after age sixty-five. As early as age 50 an accelerating number of media messages imply the end is near. Solicitations to join AARP, dire warnings about inescapable health problems and pitfalls of aging are relentless reminders that life is winding down and it's time to let go of the daily grind. And why not: you earned it, you deserve it, and you are entitled to retirement, even if it compromises quality of life.
Retirement may be an entitlement but it is more traumatic than most people realize. It is closure on a lifetime of effort into which you poured your heart and soul. The last day on the job, you are a "somebody" -- a manager, a doctor, lawyer, secretary, or accountant. The next day, your life of contribution is over. You are a retired "has been," a person now referred to as "didn't s/he used to be .
. ." All of a sudden, what you've been most of your life has lost its meaning, not to you or your family, but in the eyes of the world. This loss of self worth is an invitation for depression. There are many causes of depression, and perhaps a significant cause among retirees is a feeling of diminished value and identity.
It can be devastating to go from being an individual with status in the business world, to just another anonymous good old boy playing golf several times a week with other used-to-be movers and shakers whose conversations are rife with "remember when" stories. Then add what is most important of all: loss of control ? knowing you are slowing down, knowing you are "losing it" and unable to do anything to stop the downward spiral. By any standard, that is not happiness. What to do instead Everybody has the right to a personal lifestyle choice. But many people retire simply because it's the expected thing to do.
They don't think about an alternative or realize they will probably live longer than expected. In 1940 life expectancy was 61.4 for men and 65.
7 for women. By 2000 it was 74.2 for men and 79.5 for women. By 2050, life expectancy will be 79.2 for men and 83.
4 for women. Clearly, there must be an alternative to retirement. In the past century, the American lifespan has increased by 27 years. This is a gift to be treated with great care and used with appreciation. Instead of retirement, how about using that gift of time to create a rewarding second life filled with abundance, challenge, and productivity? The prevailing understanding of aging is that you will get old and decrepit in spite of what you do to try to prevent it. That may have been true at one time, but not anymore.
We know too much about how to hold back the mental and physical decline traditionally attributed to the aging process. We need to recall that time in history when the most respected scientific minds in the universe decreed the earth was flat, which everyone believed until someone with determination, and vision sailed off into the horizon and did not fall into a bottomless abyss. You have the power to mitigate and control your aging process, and if you exercise your authority over how you age, you will experience the unprecedented benefits of an incredible second life. It's your choice: Let life happen on its terms or be in charge of how your life unfolds. The benefits of choosing to live each day of your life in a state of youthful growth instead of stultifying retirement are just too outstanding to pass up.
Be in that growing number of happy, healthy, productive older people who are reveling in their fulfilling second life.
Barbara Morris is a pharmacist and author of Put Old on Hold. Visit her web site, http://www.PutOldonHold.com and sign up for her free content-rich newsletter and receive a complimentary copy of special report, "Thirteen Diva Tested Tips for Fabulous Skin."