Recently, I talked to a clergy friend who confided in me that he is seriously considering retiring. I replied, “So, you’re thinking about retirement?” He said, “Yes, but I’m not finished yet. I want to explore other ways to find meaning and purpose in my later years.”
Many Boomers are in, or about to enter, their retirement years. But for Boomers — persons born between 1946–1964 — a traditional retirement is not part of their plans. The definition of retirement is evolving and will keep evolving for the foreseeable future.
People retire for a variety of reasons. One person might retire because he can afford to retire; another, because she experiences a lack of job satisfaction. One person’s job might be eliminated, forcing him into “involuntary” retirement. Another person simply wants more personal and leisure time, or perhaps her health is declining.
Some Boomers will keep working for money, meaning, or purpose, or because they feel healthy or simply enjoy the work. Other Boomers will retire to get a break, rest up, and get ready for a new encore phase of life. True retirement may get deferred until later in life.
Perspectives on Retirement
Some people say things like “I can’t wait until I can retire,” while other people protest, “Retire? Not me, never.” I once heard the saying, “People don’t grow old because they have lived a certain number of years. They grow old when they have nothing else to live for.”
The Boomer generation fears growing old! For many Boomers, the word retirement has negative connotations. It sounds diminishing and final — as if in retirement, one disengages from life. “Retire to what?” some may think. Unfortunately, in our society, many employers provide little opportunity for older employees to take a sabbatical to reclaim energy and creativity or to take on a more flexible and less demanding work schedule.
Ed Zinkiewicz, a good friend and retirement resource specialist, writes in his book Retire to Play and Purpose: “[during] the past several years of economic turmoil, some companies have decided their ‘solution’ is downsizing employees with the most experience…and highest paid.” For older adults who find meaning in and through their work and/or need the additional money for their later years, being unemployed in late mid-life can be tough.
While most professions do not have a mandatory retirement age, clergy in The United Methodist Church experience mandatory retirement at 72 years old. This is an unfortunate policy. The experience and wisdom gained by many older pastors does not cease simply because of age. Some pastors would welcome the opportunity to continue full-time ministry beyond the mandated retirement age and would be very capable doing so.
Retirement Changes and Challenges
Retirement confronts us with many changes and challenges. Some of the more obvious challenges are the losses: job, income, purpose, and relationship with co-workers/clients/parishioners.
However, retirement also affords us with the opportunity to embark on new adventures. Being freed from everyday work responsibilities, persons entering this stage can use their creative imagination, wisdom, and experience to engage in exciting, new opportunities.
Carroll Saussy advises in her book, The Art of Growing Old: A Guide to Faithful Aging, that “…successful retirement requires a conversion – a turning away from the familiar in order to embrace a new life with a different future.” But what is this new future? Is it an opportunity to dream new dreams, paint a new picture, envision a new scenario, or re-create a new me and a new future? Yes…and even more!
The psalmist wrote, “In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap” (Psalm 92:14). The writer was aware that even in later life, people are still growing, learning, and giving. Old age is not an end, but a time for renewal. Dreams are still in the making and yet to be fulfilled. For me, retirement is a proactive experience.
An Alternative View of Retirement
One way to start thinking about retirement is to ask yourself:
- What did retirement mean to your father and/or your mother?
- In your younger years, how did you think of retirement?
- What images do you have about retirement? Do you see it as being put out to pasture?
Today, we have newer images of retirement shaped by a radically different work environment. Most of the retirement maps in our minds are outdated. For many people, retirement today is very different from the retirement their parents envisioned or experienced.
I want to propose an alternative view of retirement — one that may include concepts of serial retirement, semi-retirement, or taking a sabbatical from work.
I am a serial retirement person. Like some professional football players, I keep coming out of retirement to do or be someone different. There is an excitement in re-creating oneself at work and finding new roles and responsibilities. It may mean taking a few months or years off from work and then re-entering the workplace at a new location or role.
Now into my ninth year following my retirement from the General Board of Discipleship and the Susquehanna Conference of The United Methodist Church, I have a sense of purpose with renewed energy, joy, creativity, and enthusiasm. I still have something to say, write, teach, and learn.
I don’t believe that God has taken away God’s blessing because I have reached the age of 73. My mind and body are still active. I have a new desire to contribute to the enhancement of the church, the betterment of society, and the well-being of older adults and future generations. I want to make a difference. I have, as one hymn reminds us, a “story to tell to the nations.”
In my encore years, I no longer feel the need to climb a ladder of success or to cling to some imagined security or self-image. I feel free to be me and be the person God intended for me to become.
Perhaps this is what aging and retirement are really all about — for each individual to become more deeply who they are meant to be. There is perhaps no more noble way to age and engage in retirement than to bear witness to the world as stakeholders for peace, love, wisdom, acceptance, and generosity.
For now, I am engaged in my encore years — my second wind — with a new sense of urgency, enthusiasm, and commitment. My retirement is a proactive experience. I plan to keep on keeping on for as long as I can and believe that aging is a slow and steady process of change that ultimately leads us to becoming our own unique, individual selves.
In retirement, we have the wonderful opportunity to become the person God has intended us to be. If we can dispel the myth that aging is a downhill experience, we can begin to affirm that life can be an exciting adventure at any age.
What about you? Ask yourself, “What else do I want to savor in my life?” Retirement is not a destination, it’s a journey. Retirement can be unproductive or it can be creative. Retirement can be a time of life’s decline or a time of life’s encore. The choice is yours.
As you discover your passion and joy in living, a new vision of retirement will emerge. Our encore years can help us become the person we think we are and the person we hope to become.
Dr. Richard Gentzler, director, oversees ENCORE Ministry’s mission of providing older adult ministry resources, leader training, and consultations. For more information, email Gentzler at email@example.com or call 615-400-0539.