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What’ll I Do (About Retirement)?

Ed Friedman October 1, 2018

As I get older more and more people ask me, “So when are you going to retire?” Removing the economics of retirement from the equation, I have to ask myself what I would do with my time if I stopped working. For a lot of people this is an easy answer. For me, not so much.

What compounds my difficulty is that thanks to my work at Lifetime Arts I am barraged with information about “positive aging,” “maintaining a sense of purpose,” and of course, “creative aging”. One would think that with more information I’d be better equipped to make decisions about the next stage of my life.

In late 2017 The New York Times published two articles a week apart in their “Retiring” section.
The first by Joanne Kaufman was titled, “Leave the Bucket Lists to Those Ambitious Boomers. It’s Tee Time.” Kaufman quoted a number of retirees who have no trouble leaving behind any and all aspects of learning, achievement, or anything that smacks of “work.” These folks fill their time with golf, cards, some exercise, and socializing.

Kaufman’s article also featured Dr. Ken Dychtwald, founder and CEO of Age Wave. Dychtwald outlined the ways in which retirement expectations have changed over the last 50 years. In summary, when the concept of “retirement” emerged, little was expected of retirees and, in fact, their life expectancy was expected to be short.

By the 1970’s there were a cohort of retirees with time and resources on their hands, and the leisure industry blossomed. In the last dozen or so years there has been an increase in movement toward “encore careers,” and “living with purpose.”

“The downside,” says Dychtwald, “is that it creates a lot of pressure on everybody. People are going to start to fear if they’re not making the most of themselves or being productive in their later days, they’re going to be looked down on.”

The very next week an article by Claudia Dreifus appeared, titled “Asked About Retiring, They Have a Simple Answer: Why?” Dreifus chronicled a number of individuals ranging in age from 71 to 96 who have either eschewed retirement, or retired and then done a course correction back to the world of work, albeit in some cases at a less strenuous pace. They just couldn’t conceive of living and not working.

There is, of course, a large middle ground. One of the freedoms afforded to people who can retire is the freedom to carve out a life that will make them happy. There are countless scenarios along the continuum from doing nothing to working till you die.

Those of us focused on the growing 55+ population have an enormous opportunity to help millions of Americans shed outdated stereotypes, understand that retirement is not a “one size fits all” proposition, and engage them in multiple, ongoing ways.

In fact, if you really want to serve older adults effectively, try employing some of the strategies so often applied to the millennial market. Find out more about who they are and speak to their hopes and dreams (yes, they still have dreams). These insights can help you develop messaging, products, and experiences that open their eyes to the possibilities instead of reminding them of the eventualities.

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Ed Friedman

Ed Friedman is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Lifetime Arts, Inc. He has spent over 30 years in parallel careers serving the arts community, and older adults and their families. He served as Deputy Director at the Bronx Council on the Arts, has directed programs at senior centers and home care programs, and created and led a caregivers' support group in the Bronx.

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