Are you at that “golden” age when retirement is looming, or has already loomed? For years, we have all thought of retirement as the reward for a lifetime of work, but the reality is quite different.
To be sure, we all know how much we enjoy a surprise day off during a blizzard, or our routine free days on the weekend or on summer holidays. Well, an idle retirement is not just an endless multiple of these marvelous mini-holidays. The lack of stress leads to boredom, and a lonely sense that all your working friends have forgotten you, which, after a while is quite true. Soon one day blends into the next, and, with the absense of any time pressures or deadlines, tasks that you used to do quickly in the middle of a busy schedule now drag on for weeks. The sense of purpose or mission is gone, paradoxically at the time in life when one needs little sleep, and has the greatest levels of intellectual and experiential resourses.
Those who are married note that their spouses have to make considerable adjustments to their partners constant proximity, many throwing up their hands in frustration, saying “I married you for better or for worse, but not for lunch”. Arguments increase, and, in many cases, eventually conversation itself becomes extinct. I have been in many holiday resorts such as in Las Vegas, where thousands of retired couples take vacations, and have observed them in restaurants. Those who are with friends are quite animated, while an alarming number of those couples who are eating alone will sit in silence, each person eating their meals as if there was no one else at the table. This is in direct contrast to newly-weds, who are in animated conversations discussing their dreams, aspirations, and the stresses that they face each day. The retired folks, having reached their dream of stopping work, having aspired to endless free time, and having not one stress or challenge left worth talking about, have simply run out of things to say. The particularily sad part of this scenario that happens to those who retire idly is that the consequenses are far more dangerous than simple boredom or lonliness. The medical statistics are truly alarming. Within a few short years, these idle seniors will become senile, or even dead. I’ve seen it happen time and time again with my patients.
Count Otto von Bismark was the man who arbitrarily picked 65 as the age of retirement, primarily because few people reached that stage in his era. But many, such as Winston Churchill, George Burns, Bob Hope, and Sister Theresa, have ignored this tradition, and continued to work and face considerable stresses long after this age. As a direct result, they all stay young in spirit, and in body, long after their idle peers have passed on or become senile. Stress makes us think. Stress makes us react. It gives us a mission to achieve. It gives us the fullest possible range of emotions, from moments of exhilaration to moments of sadness. In other words stress makes us feel alive, and when it is removed from our lives we suddenly feel and look old. For centuries man has looked for ways to prolong our lives, and Ponce de Leon, for one, thought he found it. But the real fountain of youth has been with us all along, and we have not only ignored it in our elder years, but we have actually sought ways to protect ourselves from it. It seems that even in this age of miracle cures and laser surgery, common sense isn’t very common after all.
Here’s an action tip.
Benjamin Franklin once said “there’s nothing wrong with retirement, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your work”.
Wise words. If company or government policy force you from your job, get busy finding new challenges. If you are voluntarily dictating your retirement, think again. Whether it is in the form of taking courses, learning a new language, sport, or skill, or starting up your own small business, stress, as long as it is handled competently, will keep you younger longer