In my own small way, I tried to redefine the word “retirement.”
In the first post on this blog, after months of carefully considering my intended audience, their struggles, my desire to help, my mission to explore this time of life, and the enormous swell of boomers retiring every month across North America — many without the slightest clue about what they will do with themselves, and feeling frightened by the void — I figured the word “retirement” had such currency that it was folly to adopt some cheesy substitute. The word merely needed to be redefined. It could be turned around slowly in the linguistic ocean like the Oasis of the Seas. It could become a big, shiny re-purposed old word pregnant with new meaning about this glorious stage of life for millions of people.
I no longer believe that. I’m afraid “retirement” might be sunk — at least underneath the title on this tiny, earnest blog.
I like the word. But many, many, many people do not.
Points of anecdotal evidence:
• My almost-88-year-old mother-in-law, who still goes to a workplace once a week, asked me months ago with genuine surprise, “Why would anyone want to retire?” I was stunned. She was resolute.
• More than half the people I know around my age either won’t retire in the traditional way or will not be able to because of finances. So if retirement means zero paid work and complete financial independence, as the definition hounds insist it should, then my blog means irrelevancy to half the people I know.
• In the past week, two friends I trust implicitly (the kind of people, along with family, willing to give us the hard advice we need) said they didn’t like the word, that it was off-putting.
One said outright, “It’s gotta go.”
I thought I knew better. “People need to find my blog through search engines,” I said. “How will anyone find a blog that doesn’t have an anchor word?”
The other friend said, “I would have passed your weekly email on to three other people, but they are not retired and don’t intend to be.”
I said, “If I take out that word?”
He said, “You’d have three more subscribers.”
It’s time to concede. “Retirement” gives too many people the willies. Sure, lots of us hear the word and feel years of stress melt away as the clouds part and the sun shines through. I’m one of those people. But too many others, at this point in our culture anyway, hear it as, “You are going to die soon, and in the meantime, you’ll shuffle around in big slippers and elastic-waisted pants that incessantly slip downward because you are also rapidly losing your ass.”
So, fine. It doesn’t matter. Search on Google be damned.
Those “Skills of the New Retirement” I proclaimed so optimistically in the blog’s subtitle bar for the past six months? They’ve morphed into “Rewiring After Work.” Sounds less threatening to me. Maybe more fun too. As far as I can tell, it threatens no one. And it probably opens the writing door a little wider.
I want to write for people my age. Period. And write primarily about personal growth (and struggles) at a time when that idea might seem antithetical. I like to think we need skills to grow into our older years. Here’s part of what I wrote last night in the “About” page of this blog:
What are these skills?
They are soft skills, ways of handling the emotional transition away from middle-age into older age, away from intensely full-time work into greater freedom, into growing rather than stalling, and being our best because, after years of full steam ahead, many of us finally have the time to practice.
Now’s our chance to engage meaningfully with ourselves, others, and the world. To have better relationships. To get healthier. To try new things. To break old patterns. To cut loose and experience more. To be more aware and thus more alive. To have the time of our lives.
So the mission is the same. Just not in name.
A few of my posts over the coming weeks will include the r-word. In the future, I will use it gingerly while seeking more benign terminology.
I would not have said this a week ago but will now: “Retirement” is just another word that dances around this fascinating stage of life in an attempt to get at what it’s all about, which is my intent.
What a relief.