Renewal in retirement…”painting” on a new “canvass”

Renewal in retirement…”painting” on a new “canvass”
In my April 13, 2008 blog  I refer to Jonathan Clements who gives ”freedom to pursue your passions” as one reason for spending a lifetime saving/investing to accumulate wealth. Some spend their entire working career doing what they are good at and they enjoy doing. Perhaps many more spend their life working at a job which gives them the opportunity to secure the best (honest) living to be able to raise a family, but perhaps not the work that they would ideally select, if unconstrained.
Perhaps some businessmen, salesmen, mechanics, doctors, lawyers, dentists and engineers really would prefer to be painters, sculptors, sociologists, fundraisers, chefs/cooks, gardeners, builders, teachers, financial planners, or vice versa. Many may want to “paint” on a different “canvass” to express themselves or perhaps they just liked to be students, and relish in the process of always learning new things.
Over the course of the last couple of weeks I came across a number of articles discussing the subject of life after/in retirement from the practical, though mundane, perspective that if “We live longer so we should work longer”, to the cerebral/emotional “Life- Take 2”, all the way to the sublime “The existential necessity of midlife change”. So while I have almost exclusively written about the financial aspect of retirement, I decided to add a section to the website for the occasional non-financial perspective. Here are the themes that were expressed in these articles.
Theme #1- Society cannot afford to support the growing proportion of retired elders.
In the Financial Times, Christopher Johnson, who is 76 and intends to live to 100, states that “We live longer so we should work longer” He argues in effect that since life expectancy is increasing significantly above what was anticipated when various pension plans and their accompanying health insurance plans (with rapidly rising healthcare cost that will have to be paid during retirees longer lives) were put in place, in order not to bankrupt companies or governments or put undue burden on the next generation of workers, we in effect owe society a few more years of work. He writes from/about the UK and points out that even though pensions may have inflation adjustments (though many don’t and others make an inadequate one) they still don’t keep up with real earnings. He also points out that usually non-pension wealth also decreases with age. He suggests that “Retirement age should rise by about two-thirds of the increase in life expectancy, given the ratio of working to non-working life. On that basis, if life expectancy rises by eight years in the next half-century, retirement age should rise by about five years…” His solution to the problems is retire later or get a job!
Theme #2- “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” (from both individual and societal perspective)
Shlomo Maital, Jerusalem Report’s Marketplace columnist, shakes the reader out of complacency right at the start of “Life Take 2” quoting America’s black colleges fundraising slogan “A mind is a terrible thing waste”. He then builds his argument starting with Otto von Bismarck’s 1881 introduction of old-age pensions for 70 year olds. Life expectancy was 40-45 in 1881. By 1916 retirement age was reduced to 65. He then goes in for the kill “But an even greater waste of minds exists today, in Israel, America, Europe and Asia – wasted minds 65 years of age and older. As the world ages, life expectancies lengthen and birth rates fall, growing proportions of society are warehoused, retired and dumped out of the labor force.“ Maital then proceeds to introduce Strenger and Ruttenberg and their Life-Take2 who want “to revolutionize the way society thinks about life in general and midlife in particular. It is no longer enough to lengthen one life-cycle indefinitely…(instead)… composed of two life-cycles, the first from twenty to fifty, the second from fifty onwards.”
Theme #3-” Midlife (typically (43-62), a period of “more freedom than at any other time”, and “unprecedented for inner growth”, a time for “a second life, if not a second career”.
“As life expectancy increases, changes in middle age will become an existential necessity for many businesspeople. Some of these changes will be internally driven. …Other midlife changes will be triggered by external events”. Midlife (typically (43-62), a period of “more freedom than at any other time”, and “unprecedented for inner growth”, a time for “a second life, if not a second career”.
In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The existential necessity of midlife change”  Strenger and Ruttenberg start with an example. Elliott Jaques, a Canadian psychoanalyst, at age 48 introduced the phrase “midlife crisis” as a time when “we come face-to-face with our limitations, our restricted possibilities, and our mortality.” Over the next 38 years he proceeded to became a well known and innovative organizational consultant, to write 12 books, and consult with organizations as varied as the U.S. Army and the Church of England. He stayed productive well into his 80s. (Many years ago as a young manager, I remember reading one of Jaques’s books developing the concept of how a manager’s time horizon changes (or at least should change) as one moves higher and higher in the organization.) (Strenger and Ruttenberg’s complete article is available to download for $6.50 at the Harvard Business Review website) They table two opposing myths preventing successful transition through midlife: (1) midlife is the onset of decline, and (2) midlife is a magical transformation. Then, they proceed to demolish both.
They develop “midlife as a period of unprecedented opportunity for inner growth” on a move from what Abraham Maslow called a period of “deficiency motivation” (driven by lack of something like sustenance or self-esteem) to a period of “growth motivation” (driven by desire to reach one’s full potential). However they point out that this is not as easy as Nike’s “just do it”. They close with the statement that “self-actualization is a work of art. It must be achieved through effort and stamina and skill…midlife, when many people learn to listen to their inner selves- the necessary first step on the journey of self-realization.” (They also write books, articles and consult with individuals and for companies in helping ease the midlife transition and maximize the benefits from a successful transition. Their website is Life-Take2)
And finally, to help us get started, Kelly Greene in WSJs “Getting out of the retirement rut” introduces the retirement makeover, whereby “…in recent years, some retirees are seeking help from life coaches, financial planners, career consultants, fitness experts, and even fashion and hair stylists in some cases, to help turn their lives around.” She reports that some get direction from Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (available, for $59.95) and the Strong Interest Inventory ( can be taken on through counsellors for $100-200). Other use life-coaches, though she warns that they are unregulated may still be helpful (with references); leads are available at . And finally she suggests “don’t be afraid to change gears”. While many boomer indicate that they would like to keep working, a significant number of them shortly conclude that that is not as great in practice as it sounds theoretically. (not as much fun as they imagined, can’t find a suitable job or not healthy enough for it). Many turn to volunteering, which allows flexibility in time and location, yet it provides an outlet for social interaction and an opportunity to do good.
So whether, you have to go (back) to work to upgrade eroding standard of living, or to give back to society in appreciation of a successful career, or because you want to do good, retirement (from your first career) is not about end of productive and stimulating life. Retirement is not about freedom to do nothing; it is about renewal and opportunity for growth. So join the revolution and use your newfound freedom to choose your “canvass” and start “painting” your second life.

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