Redefining Traditional Retirement

According to the author, some of the most fortunate people in the world never retire, such as Queen Elizabeth and Warren Buffett. Not everyone has the option to keep their jobs for as long as they want and are forced to retire at a fairly young age, such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

By Tom Sightings
August 21, 2012
US News

Some of the most fortunate people in the world never retire. For example, Elizabeth Windsor, at age 85, is still going strong as Queen of England. Warren Buffett, 81, remains chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

Not all of us have the option to keep our jobs for as long as we want. Some of us belong to a different, but equally exclusive club--people who were forced to retire at a fairly young age. But we have plenty of company. For example, Jimmy Carter was forced to retire at age 56 in January 1981. Bill Clinton retired at age 54 in January 2001. And George W. Bush retired in January 2009 at age 62.

These men are officially retired, but they did not stop working or contributing to society. Jimmy Carter went on to write books, win the Nobel Peace Prize, and create the Carter Center which promotes peace and health around the world. Bill Clinton wrote his autobiography and started the Clinton Foundation designed to strengthen global economies, promote world health, and protect the environment. George Bush has been helping wounded veterans and working with his predecessor to raise money to rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Of course, most of us are in a different league from these former presidents. They're in the Majors, we're in Little League--but nevertheless, if none of these people felt too good to retire, then who are we to sit back and do nothing? If they keep active into their 60s and 70s and 80s, then shouldn't we?

Besides, I'd venture to say, a lot of us need the work ... for the money.

Some people might think, well, it's easy for them to keep working, they have interesting jobs that do not require physical labor, and they enjoy a nice income and plenty of perks.

That much is true, but whether you've been given the gold watch, or forced out, or if you're just sick and tired of your job, there's nothing to say you can't go on to do something entirely different. There's the primary school teacher who got burned out on kids, so she retired and went to work at a food cooperative, where she says, "There are no staff meetings, no parent phone calls, no challenging kids–and no regrets, only pure enjoyment of each day ever since!"

There's the financial executive who at age 52 went back to school, got his nursing degree, and started a new career in health care. He now works part time, on his own schedule. "It gets me out of the house, makes a bit of money, and allows me to feel socially useful."

And I have a friend who was in corporate sales, until he got fed up with the travel and the commute, and at age 60 became a real-estate agent. He makes less money, but he has more time to take care of his wife who's had health problems, and to get out and follow his daughter's music career.

If you don't need the money, you can volunteer instead. One former business executive started volunteering for "organizations where I felt I had the greatest impact on people’s lives." He works at an outreach program for people living in group homes, and also volunteers for an organization that provides school supplies to poor kids. "I have recaptured the excitement of going to 'work' where my efforts are really needed and appreciated," he says.

Some people counter, if you're still working, how can you say you're retired? Look at it like a kind of summer job when you're in school. You're still on vacation; you don't have any papers to write or exams to study for. And you're not getting graded–as in, you don't have to suffer the absurdities and indignities of the dreaded "performance appraisal."

In the end, the reasons to work in retirement are the reasons why you work at any other time in life. For the money, maybe. But also to have some structure in your life. To make friends. To feel like you're doing something useful. To belong to a group that's bigger than yourself. To actually make a difference in the world.

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