Over the years, like many of you, I was lulled into believing that retirement was the natural conclusion of things, the final step so to speak. I bought into the deal that my role was to work for thirty plus years, pay off the mortgage and help the kids get through school and off to a good start in life. Once that was all done, and my major responsibilities were behind me, I would be allowed to retire. But retire to what?
Nobody really talked about that part of the deal and that was the part that I was really interested in. Something started to smell funny. Remember, I’m skeptical and so I started to dig deeper into this retirement thing. I was surprised when I finally came to discover that retirement is a relatively recent twentieth century phenomenon and that prior to the industrialization of this country, retirement didn’t exist at all!
Most people back then either lived or worked on farms and farmers by definition didn’t retire. People worked as long as they physically could do so. That’s the way it was back then. Working was natural and instinctive and served to deliver on the social needs of the worker.
This all changed though with the creation of factories and with people moving from farms to live in cities. They were no longer working for themselves but working for their employer and it was at this point in time that the concept of retirement was created. It’s important to understand that retirement is not a natural act. It was created by factory owners to solve a problem, how to remove older less efficient workers without much fuss from the assembly line.
You see, back then people were used to hanging around until they were physically incapable of working. They might become slower as they aged but they still felt the need to work. Work made them feel part of something and that they mattered. Work is what they did until they couldn’t work any longer because that how they were raised.
But that work ethic caused a problem for the owners of the factories, who wanted to replace the older slower workers with faster, cheaper, more efficient models. The challenge was that the older workers didn’t want to quit. Someone came up with the bright idea of speeding up the assembly line at one of the car companies to discourage the older workers into quitting but that didn’t work out so well and all they ended up with was a bunch of cars at the end of the day missing a wheel or two.
I can picture in my mind some of the industry titans of the day, secretly meeting, trying to come up with a solution to their problem and voila, they came up with the concept of retirement.
It Worked for a While, But…
And so began the tradition of celebrating the exit of retired workers from the workplace. Retirees were made to feel special, after all they were winners (maybe survivors is a better word?) who had made it to the finish line. However as soon as they walked through the retirement door they were on their own and lost all the social interaction and other benefits such as purpose and structure they enjoyed while at work.
Things seemed to work out well for a period of time as the retired workers didn’t usually live long after retiring anyway. It worked because life expectancies back then were low and if you did retire you were lucky to spend maybe a couple of years on the porch in the good old rocking chair. This was because most people at the time were worn out from physical labour and active leisure was just not an option for them.
Retirement May Be Hazardous to Your Health
Now, people are living longer. They are more vibrant than ever and we are currently faced with a situation where we could spend more time in retirement than we spent in our working lives. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the numbers for most of us just won’t work anymore.
The question I have for you is why do the advertisers continue to seduce us with their old version of retirement if it doesn’t reflect the current reality? You know the images, a seemingly care-free, happy couple sitting on a beach in the Caribbean while sipping on a strawberry daiquiri, or the happy couple playing golf on a picturesque golf course beside the ocean. You can almost hear the sound of the putt going into the hole for a birdie.
Why don’t the advertisers show us the other side of retiring the loss of socialization, loss of income, loss of purpose, loss of mattering? The answer is what we said before, because telling the truth doesn’t sell stuff!
But that’s ok, because we know the real story and most of us don’t really want to retire anyway. We don’t consider ourselves old, we still have lots of gas left in the tank but we are just tired of doing what we been doing for so many years. It’s human nature to want to try something new, something fresh something that will give us a good reason to get out of bed in the morning and we have an opportunity to do so, in our Victory Laps.
That’s why you should not blindly follow the retirement status quo. Your Victory Lap could and should be the most fulfilling period of your life. You earned it, go have some fun!