I have reached retirement age; at least, I have reached the age when people are either able to retire (because of sound investments and/or good benefit plans) or are forced to do so. In my case, while my investments are relatively decent and my employee benefit plan has provided me a little nest egg, I’m not planning to take the plunge any time soon. But, increasingly, friends, who, like me, have reached their mid-60s, are moving from fully employed to either unemployed or what might be called “casually employed.”
I have been observing the lifestyles they have assumed in this new stage of their lives. While overly simplified, there appear to be two basic versions of “being retired.”
The first version is exemplified by Bill, who was a CEO of a mid-sized regional bank when he chose to take a sizeable incentive and end his career (a career that had paid him well and in which he had been exceedingly successful). Bill began his retirement by taking a two-month cruise with his wife. Within two days of his return, he was volunteering to work in a cultural non-profit that needed someone with his business acumen. Shortly thereafter, he was asked to be a board member for another corporate entity. He also was elected president of his golf club and serves as the executive director of the local little league, where his sons played some twenty-five years ago.
When asked what he does to relax, Bill replies, “I play a couple of rounds of golf each week and my wife and I take in a play or a movie or have dinner with friends each weekend.”
As should be obvious, Bill is as active as he has ever been. But he’s retired.
My second version of retired life is epitomized by Sam. Sam was a 40-year employee of a Fortune 500 company who topped out in a middle-management position at the age of 60. Five years later, he accepted the retirement package his years of service had given him and moved with his wife (also retired) from the town where he had worked and lived for all of those years to a retirement community in the Sun Belt.
Sam describes his life as “care-free and completely unstructured.” When asked to describe a typical day, he gives the following account:
“I generally get up around 9:30 or 10:00 and putter around the house for a while. I have my cup of coffee while I read the morning paper. Sometimes, I might take a walk. Around noon, I’ll have a light lunch. Occasionally, I’ll watch some TV, a quiz show or a soap, just to pass the time, mostly. I almost always take a nap in the afternoon. My wife and I sometimes go to one of the local restaurants for dinner—nothing fancy, maybe a Denny’s or something like that. Once in a while we might go to a movie after dinner. Usually, though, we come home and watch TV. We can usually find something we both like. I usually read a little when I turn in—nothing heavy, just a romance novel or maybe a legal thriller.”
Sam and Bill are both 67 years old. Bill looks like he could easily be 57; Sam looks like he might be 77.
I’m not sure which of those two alternatives I’d be more like if I retired. I can’t imagine the Sam-version of retirement. But, in truth, I don’t know that I’d be thrilled with Bill’s hectic pace, either.
My father practiced medicine until he was 90-and-a-half. He finally retired when he felt he could no longer provide his patients with the kind of care he was comfortable with. Three months later he told me that he felt a lack of motivation. Six months after that he died (not of any specific disease, just of “natural causes,” which I take to mean, “no motivation to keep going”).
I haven’t figured out how this last passage to the death stage of life is supposed to work. I would love to keep teaching law for as long as the law students continue to respond to me, to “get me.” After that, I’d probably want to turn full time to my writing, work on another novel, maybe revise my memoir. I suppose, given the time, I could actually try to improve my golf game. I know my wife would like to travel more than we do, and I’d be content to join her on those excursions.
But really, when I get right down to it, I don’t want to move to that stage, that end-stage of my life. Stated positively, I fully enjoy the things that consume my time now, which, principally, are my position as a law professor and my writing in all the forms that hobby takes for me. I enjoy the time we spend with friends, but not so much that I would want a lot more of it. I like the cultural events and the nights at the movies that have always been a part of our lives, but I can’t see doing much more of it. I love to read, but how much can a person read?
In the end, I suppose I would like to die with my boots on. Keep doing what I enjoy doing, continue to work at what I enjoy working at, until I can no longer do those things because, ultimately, as was the case with my dad, I won’t be able to do what I feel I need to be able to do.
Life continues to be a puzzle to me. I think I have my day-to-day existence pretty well in hand: a wonderful life partner; grown sons who are a credit to us both and a joy to behold in their young adulthood; a fulfilling and rewarding career; a serious hobby that gives me great pleasure; a ball team to root for that is finally winning again; and, at least at this point of my life, good health and a sound mind.
The rest, what lies ahead, and what it all means, is a mystery, one I choose not to retire to contemplate.