Sunday, August 18, 2013

Staying Active

The key to retirement seems to be: staying active.  Analysts have been pondering various aspects of retirement for years now. I thought I would chip in a bit of common sense.

By the time the majority of baby boomers have reached retirement, many of us have worked for approximately 50 years. That estimate includes high school summers spent flipping burgers or helping out with sports programs.

When I was old enough to get my driver's license, I considered myself completely liberated. The summer after my sophomore year in high school, several of my friends landed summer jobs. In the small community where I grew up, there were plenty of jobs which lent themselves to the unskilled and untested. Jobs like waiting tables, fast-food fry cooks and tidying up motel rooms were always available in our tourist-prone town. Add in the proverbial life guard and sports program assistant, and a job could be had if wanted. Yes, such an era did exist.

Even during college in the mid-1960s, there was plenty of part-time work available. While no one could pay all their expenses on a minimum wage income, they provided enough extra money for an occasional treat. Also lifestyles and basic needs were much less demanding in those days, so the little extra money had a much bigger impact.

By the time I entered the full-time work force, most of my friends and co-workers were already familiar with the world of scheduled hours, W-2s and completing tasks. We adjusted to the 40-hour week, wage increases and performance evaluations. It was 1970 and we stayed employed, hopefully, until retirement. Aside from intrusion of the draft during Vietnam, the only people I knew who left the work force were women who took time off to have kids. The days of June Cleaver and staying home with the kids were nearly extinct, but a few woman managed to convince their husbands they were better off at home than working.

Prior to the boomer generation, American society was quite different. It's as though someone drew a line in the sand in about 1940. Men born on one side of the line were dependent on a woman to fix meals and take care of domestic tasks. They had little to no training in handling these tasks themselves. These men liked having dinner on the table when they arrived home. When they married, it was understood that the little woman would stay home.

But for folks born on the other side of the line, things have been quite the opposite. More women entered the work force. They learned how to get hired, hold a job and were able to juggle many tasks at the same time. They could fix breakfast for the family, plan dinner to fix when they got home after work and put in an 8-hour day in between. It took perseverance and planning, but they learned how to take care of two separate lives -- the one at home and the one at work.

Modern life was made easier with the advent of technology. Microwaves came along to help cut preparation time for dinner. A wide assortment of packaged foods sped things up, too. I recall spending hours each week ironing clothes for the week ahead. But gradually the majority of clothes needed little, if any, touching up straight from the dryer. While home life and work life each demanded much of participants, things did get easier over time.

So, let's examine a typical boomer woman. She has worked since her teens, perhaps caring for and raising children, most certainly having to fix meals, do the shopping and tackle a job. It's been a harried and tiresome existence. Then she decides to retire. With the kids gone and the job gone, she can do what she wants on her own schedule. Whether she is still married or is alone, her time is pretty much her own.

But what is it that she wants to do with all of her time? She was so busy for so long that she rarely even thought about she was going to do once she retired. Sure, everyone wants to put their feet up for a while, at least, to relax and contemplate what to do. But there is far more to life than putting up one's feet.

Long before retirement arrives, people need to think about how they want to proceed. There are more hours in the day than they ever imagined and those hours need filling. Remember going on vacation and relishing the time off? You felt so relaxed and happy and began to dread returning to work. That's only normal and many of us felt like that when our routine changed. But when change comes and working has stopped, what about all those empty hours?

The secret to enjoying retirement is to keep active. That does not necessarily mean keep working. But there are plenty of people who do continue working because they tell me, "I don't know what else to do."

There is far too much worry spent considering the monetary side of retirement and not enough time given to the rewarding side of retirement. Both are important but only one is likely to provide some joy.


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