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Retirement Doesn't Work
Professor David Demko, PhD
AgeVenture News Service 04-02-06

Retirement is the best time to stop acting your age Here's the best retirement advice you'll ever get ... DON'T DO IT. Forget retirement. There is no such thing. Retirement is just a convenient invention created years ago as an avenue to clear the work place for new blood. Over the years, entire industries became beneficiaries of this new concept called "retirement". Ironically, it seems that the last person to benefit from retirement is the retiree. It's time to start traveling in the right lane of your road to retirement.

So how did the Captains of Industry get mature workers to go along with the idea of retirement? Easy. Tell the workers that retirement is a reward, the best part of life. But was that true? As far back as twenty years ago, the American Medical Association called enforced idlement, like retirement, a health hazard. In fact, even before the AMA proclamation, studies by the National Institute of Mental Health suggested that the transition to retirement was so stressful that the average life expectancy of a white collar male at age 65 was only 36-40 months.

So why does the retirement myth persist? Well, there's too much at stake for too many special interests. You might even say that retirement was created for everyone's benefit but the retiree. Sure, you might end up benefiting from retirement, you might even enjoy it. But that's incidental. Let's take a look at the intended beneficiaries of your retirement.

Corporate America wanted "new blood" to strengthen the work force. "New blood" is code for "replace experienced personnel with younger people who will work cheap". Any how, the corporate thirst for new blood set off early retirement trends that continue unabated to this very day. Interestingly, industry's trend of pushing mature talent out the door has coincided with the downward spiral of America's competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Another benefactor of your retirement is the nation's huge health care industry that, ironically, prospers only when you're sick. Where's the incentive to keep you healthy, active and enjoying your retirement? If you're lucky enough to be healthy, then there's the "well-you-never-really-know" insurance industry trying to capitalize on your anxieties about life's uncertainties.

Another benefactor of your retirement is the financial planning industry that distracts you from pondering whether or not retirement makes any sense at all, because you're too darn busy planning to be financially secure in retirement. Never mind that you just might be financially secure, yet emotionally miserable, if you stopped working. Everyone seems to be having a great time living off your decision to retire. Everyone that is, except you.

If you want to get retirement right, you have to understand that almost everyone's interests are served by your retirement, except your own interests. Once you figure that out, you're half way home. Enjoying an active and productive retirement won't just happen. Retirement is more a state of mind than a stage of life. It's what you make of it, it's what you discover is in it for you. Retirement is doing what you want to do, even if it's work that you want to do. Here's a few rules to keep in mind if you want to make retirement work for you.

Retirement is the best time to stop acting your age and start living your life DAVE'S RULE #1
Ask yourself why you want to retire. Don't do it just because you hate the daily drill of your job. If you don't like your job, you should change jobs, not retire. I criss-cross the country speaking to thousands of retirees, and this is what their spouses would like their husbands to do ... GET A LIFE. Women say they are sick and tired of the "stopped living, stay-at-home, sitting-in-a-chair-waiting-to-die husband". So plan on retiring from one thing, like your job, to something else that's equally interesting. Just don't retire from life.

DAVE'S RULE #2
Find out what makes you tick. What makes your life inspiring, worth living? Ever wonder why a lot of self-employed people never retire? What for? Their retirement reward is to be able to continue to pursue their lifelong passion whether it's a hardware store, law practice, or photography.

DAVE'S RULE #3
Force yourself to set lifestyle goals. Since you can look forward to another two decades, plan to make it as interesting as possible. For example, make a list of ten things you'd love to do if you could afford to retire. Then, write down how much time you're spending on these activities now. Most likely, you have a retirement fantasy that includes a lot of exciting pursuits. But if you're not pursuing any of these activities now, what makes you think your preferences will change in retirement? People find time for the things they love to do. In a sense, successful retirement results from people who call their own bluff. All their worklife they talk about all the exciting activities they'll be engaged in. Then comes retirement and they don't pursue any activity. Don't wait for later to discover that your retirement dream is all show and no go.

DAVE'S RULE #4
Try to see through the dollar signs. A common mistake is to concentrate only on the financial aspects of retirement. Sure you need to have a nest egg. But what's the point if you aren't healthy enough, or don't live long enough to enjoy the opportunities afforded by your retirement income? One of the greatest ironies of so-called retirement planning is that most people spend fifty years building a nest egg, but only fifty minutes making plans to stay healthy enough to enjoy it.

If retirement exists at all, it exists as a state of mind. The ultimate in retirement probably means being able to live life on your own terms, doing what feels right for you. Continuing to work. Changing careers. Stopping work altogether. Pursuing a college degree. Or one of a thousand other pursuits. Today's retirees have based the retirement decision on economic feasibility without much thought to the personal consequences. Baby boomers may be a different story. Research suggests that boomers won't be financially capable of retiring in the same style as their parents.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the boomers will have to do a lot more soul-searching about the retirement decision. As a result, they may not retire at all. Call it necessity, or preference. Retirement, as we know it today, may never be the same. And quite likely just might disappear from the American experience.

Dr. David J. Demko is a doctoral graduate of the University of Michigan with certifications in Gerontology (UM), Geriatric Assessment (USF), and Retirement Planning Leadership (AARP).

AgeVenture News Service - ZOOMER MEDIA, 19432 Preserve Drive, Boca Raton, FL 33498 USA
Dr. David J. Demko, gerontologist and editor-in-chief
Voice-mail: 561-866-8251. E-mail: demko@demko.com
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