There are plenty of people disturbed by the prospect of retiring. Inadequate finances are one reason. But I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about being psychologically unready.
For most us who have worked three or four decades (or more) the ethos of productivity is deeply ingrained. The pleasures of competency and accomplishment can be profound. The habit of work almost feels domestic, a comfort. Work is like a second home.
And yet there are all sorts of questions we might ask ourselves about work and its meaning if we dug just below the surface. Why is work so predominant in my life? Why do I fear leaving it? Are there chapters in life and, if so, why am I experiencing such difficulty turning the page on this one? What more awaits me in life if I don’t work? How will I feel if I’m not working?
I wonder if many people are reluctant to retire because retirement is, after all, unemployment. Unemployment in our society feels bad if you want to work. It carries a stigma equivalent in some people’s eyes to a disease condition or poor credit rating.
The stigma of unemployment is formidable in a work-obsessed culture. So retirement — supposedly a reward at the end of a long stretch of gainful employment — can be emotionally confused with unemployment and thus stigmatized in our minds the same way. That might not be logical but it can be highly emotional.
Do we see clearly when it comes to work? And if not, what is that costing us?
Andrew Carnegie, the American tycoon, when asked why he kept working, apparently replied, "I've forgotten how to do anything else."
In one sense, that sounds noble. In another sense, sad.
Andrew Carnegie could have had anything he wanted, except freedom from the demands of enterprise. Otherwise known as work.