Don’t Retire

Don’t go to bed. Don’t go to sleep. Stay awake, alert and sharp.

Retirement is fine if you’re bored and hate your job and have had it. But if your job is still stimulating and challenging, stay.

So many people I know who are retired are completely wasting their gifts. They’re healthy and vibrant but they’re are becoming old and uninteresting in retirement.

Don’t be like Ben.

Ben is 70 and bored. He makes homemade beer in his basement and gives it away to his friends.  When you ask him what’s new, he says he’s getting fat.

Don’t be like Carole.

Carole is a healthy, vibrant 72. She was a teacher for 45 years. She’s retired and doesn’t know what to do with her days. She used to volunteer,, but got tired of that. I overheard someone ask her the other day what she’s been up to lately and she said, “I walk my dog.”

This is more like it. Be like Jane.

Jane’s retired, also from teaching. She takes care of her ailing mother. But she’s recently taken on a big job as district liaison for a counseling organization she’s been involved with her whole life. She picked up the viola a few years ago, too, after not playing since college. She’s gotten so good that the local orchestra has asked her to play with them. The new music she has to learn is hard, she says, but she’s loving the challenge.

The problem with retirement is that people leave their jobs before they have a juicy, long-term project lined up in front of them. You ask them what they’re going to do with themselves and their answers are vague and sketchy.

Some are going to pursue their hobbies full time. Hobbies are fine, and you should have them, but they won’t give you the deep satisfaction of a difficult and worthwhile project.

  Here’s what I’ve picked up about retirement:

Only people with obsessive, engaging projects thrive in retirement.

The rest become dull and tiresome. They repeat themselves. They talk about the good old days over and over. They give unsolicited advice. They know everything. They’ve been there, done that.  They’re not interested in anybody else. They’re not interested in technology. They’re proud of their flip phones. They’re cranky and opinionated. They’re not curious. They’re obsessive about their food.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  It’s not inevitable.

You can stay interested.

You can learn new things.

You can stay curious about everything.

You can practice what in Zen is called “not knowing” and ask younger people for advice. You can decide whether or not to take it, but you can ask humbly, and without arrogance.

You can master the iPhone.

You can grow and do meaningful and worthwhile stuff until you die.

Let me ask you: When you reflect back, don’t you agree that the very best moments in your life came when you were stretched to your limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile?

Remember when you climbed that high peak in Yosemite?

Remember when you trained for and finished that Triathlon?

Remember what it took to build your business from nothing?

It was hard as hell. You frequently wanted to quit, but you didn’t. You stretched, you stuck it out, and you did it.

The view from the mountaintop was mind-blowing.

The endorphin high and the camaraderie in the Triathlon was something you’ll never forget.

You served countless customers and added value to their lives doing what you loved.

You can still play. You can design a project for yourself that will stretch you to your limits. You can do worthwhile things that utilize your talents and abilities.

And you must.

As long as you have life and breath and your wits and some energy, you must.

You must find an outlet for your talents and use them. Don’t lay around all day, reading the newspaper and puttering in the yard. Find a project that both lights you up, and stretches you to the limits of your abilities. Ideally, pick something that helps somebody else.

Think about your legacy. What do you want to leave behind? Get cracking on that.

You’re the only one who can assign value to what you do. If it’s worthwhile to you, and aligned with your beliefs and values, that’s your thing.

Go for it.

Go through all the Project Picking steps. Make sure your project is exciting, that it has an end date, and that you know what will count as finished.

Make sure it’s challenging, that it pushes your edges a little, or a lot.

Train for a  something physical.

Learn or re-learn an instrument.

Help raise your grandchildren.


Write your memoir

Build something

Fix something

Mentor someone through a project

Do something difficult and worthwhile and you will make  everyone around you happy.

Then you’ll be happy, too.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Use yourself up.

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