Retirement is a scam
This is what I heard from a gentleman I met at a meeting yesterday: “there might be a better way to say it but I think retirement is a scam”. He retired early and has second thoughts about his decision now. Obviously, those pictures that come up when you search for the keyword “retirement,” that show a couple at a beach in front of the turquoise water, a gray-haired man playing golf at the most well-groomed course are not the only realities of retirement. This gentleman I met was saying if he knew what he knows now, he would not have retired. He is bored and has a lot of good energy to spare. He is already doing great stuff but I can tell the transition was not an easy one.
I have heard this story many times. First of all, my husband is a financial advisor who helps people with their retirement planning to make sure they get the most of their hard earned savings. He tells me their conversations are mostly about their emotional challenges as they get close to retirement, more than talking about numbers. I also hear many are not so excited to retire. Most do not have a solid plan about what to do next. For some, those trips and the turquoise water lives only as a dream unfortunately with the lack of savings for a much longer life and retirement. I can tell from watching his business for years (he never tells me about his clients and their individual struggles but i get the common theme), deciding and transitioning into retirement is not a smooth process at all. My friend Roberta Taylor who I mention below again has co-authored a book The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle to prepare for this stage of life which is very much needed.
Another glimpse of retirement life happened when I wanted to give back to SCORE, an amazing community of mentors who help small businesses and start-ups. I met many very successful people who have retired, giving 30 + hours a week to volunteer. I admire them so much for putting their knowledge, wisdom, and experience to use. They are helping thousands of people to be successful at business. When I asked them why they volunteer so many hours instead of traveling and golfing (so cliché right?), they said it was fine the first year and maybe the second, but you cannot do them every day. They had ample time to spend. They had the urge to contribute and do something for their communities. By mentoring at SCORE, they also get to be around people like them and have a new community. (Belonging and socializing are important to stay healthy too.) I was surprised to hear someone can be bored during retirement but I loved the fact that they wanted to be helpful to others instead of sitting around and complaining this is not what they envisioned. We all see volunteers everywhere doing something in their communities. We want to encourage this.
I started learning more about the 50+ community in the US when I was selected to be part of a project at Life Reimagined, a subsidiary of AARP, in 2015. Named after a previous CEO of AARP, A. Barry Rand Fellowship was to look into “What is Next” for everyone in these changing times but particularly for the 50+ age group. It was so refreshing to see AARP trying to find other ways to serve their members and see what people at this age group need now that is different than 20 years ago. People at 50 nowadays do not relate themselves with anything that makes them feel old or obsolete. People feel they are at middle age at 50. They not only “have to work” because we live longer and need to set aside more money aside for retirement but people also want to work more, just like the gentleman I met yesterday. Life Reimagined looked at research to find people who work (that could be volunteerism or even taking care of your grandchildren) and stay active are doing a lot better in physical health too. They realized purpose has a prominent place in people’s lives. When I went to their beautiful office in November of 2015 for the first time, it was so rewarding to know there is an organization that is trying to understand the new realities of this century, embracing the notion that purpose has a significant place in understanding “what’s next in life”, embracing the changes in needs of all generations and working with amazing thought leaders like Richard Leider, Alan Webber, David Eilers, and many more. It gave me hope that no matter how grim things might seem at times, we have incredible leaders who are visionary and making progress after all. I felt so lucky to be among heart-centered leaders from all around the US working on what is next for Life Reimagined: Bill Jonhston, Bryan Dik, Roberta Taylor, Louise Morman, JackelineTorres, Zamiul Haque, and Lori Syverson. They are all leaders in their fields who believe in purpose and power of community. We got excited to witness how Life Reimagined wanted to democratize the access to the best tools and resources out there to millions of people who are searching for meaning in their lives. Being part of the project and doing a pilot proved that people need resources and guidance in coming up with next steps in life at their 50s, 60s, 70s, even 80s. Nobody is slowing down, nobody is thinking of retiring. And the reason is not only financial. #Retirement concept was introduced during Industrial Age which worked for a few generations but many of us are questioning it now. My husband for example loves what he does and he has no intention to retire as long as his health permits. My dad who is 88 never stopped working to this day. I am the same way; when you are aligned with what you do, you are not actually looking forward to retirement but may be having more freedom and flexibility to integrate more of what you love in your life.
Including my dad, everybody that I meet nowadays wants to feel useful and stay active. This helps everyone; their work and life experience, the new ideas they come up with, their active role in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives, their mentorship, the new companies they start, mainly, anything they get involved in that makes them feel needed have many benefits for the society.
As we completed our fellowship I got very excited about the potential Life Reimagined had to help millions of people. I believed AARP is at a perfect point to be a reenergized, modern brand that understands the new reality of their audience. Unfortunately, we were disappointed to hear they decided to close the doors of the organization at the end of 2016. Life Reimagined still lives in AARP from what I know. I really hope they do not give up on the real purpose of the organization I believed in so deeply: understanding and embracing the realities of being 50+ in these challenging and exciting times and in the future, when values and needs of the people have completely shifted; embracing the fact that their members, their community need a lot more than supplementary health insurance and travel discounts. Like many retirees I meet, travel is only a small fraction of their lives. They have much more pressing dilemmas to resolve on a daily basis. I knew I would have identified myself with AARP if they took Life Reimagined and its purpose into their spotlight.
If we are going to work from our 20s to our 70s or even longer, we better love what we do.
I think the reality of retirement is not fully reflected in those nice pictures we see in brochures! That is why it feels like "a scam". Obviously, there are some who enjoy all the well-deserved freedom after working 30-40 years, do not want to work and are happy, but many more need something else to fulfill their lives. I hope more people open up and have honest conversations so that government and organizations like AARP that work with this demographics can serve them better.