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What Is Retirement?

What is Retirement?

Retirement is bad for you. It’s official. It increases your risk of depression by 40% (according to the Institute of Economic Affair’s paper, Work Longer, Live Healthier). It’s not financially sustainable (see the World Economic Forum study dated May 2017). And the stereotypical image of the concept of retirement is outdated, outmoded, DEAD.

Many of us no longer have – or want – the option of stopping work at the end of one week and waking up at the start of the next adrift on a sea of nothingness, aimlessly floating through the years of old age dozing in an armchair.

Consider retirement a change of career

Everyone’s talking about the need to redefine what retirement means to you and me. From the Harvard Business Review to The Guardian and all stops in between. Neale Godfrey put her finger on the crux of the matter when she described retirement as a ‘career change’ in Forbes magazine last September. According to her, retirement no longer represents a “winding down, the beginning of old age. The start of irrelevance and built in obsolescence”. Instead, it’s an opportunity to choose the life we want to live. Today’s retirement is about making choices and living the way that feels right for us.

I don’t know anyone who wants to retire and do nothing, do you? For many, of course, not retiring in the conventional sense of the word is an economic necessity. The widening financial gap between our aggregate savings and expected annual retirement needs means (according to the World Economic Forum study mentioned above) that two-thirds of the population of eight of the world’s largest nations don’t think they will ever be financially comfortable enough to give up work entirely. Which is a daunting prospect when we are all living longer than ever before.

Baby boomers lead the way

But the challenge of living longer is not just a financial issue, surely? While governments grapple with the political and social implications of an ageing population, those of us experiencing its impact are taking matters into our own hands; redefining retirement, reimaging stereotypes and creating a more fluid way of living out our senior years.

As members of the Baby Boomers generation (born between 1946 and 1966), we’ve already played a part in restructuring the education, housing and labour markets. And, according to the book Redefining Retirement: How Will the Boomers Fare? (published by the Oxford University Press), our sheer numbers and enduring energy are now having a major impact on pensions, healthcare and social policy.

We’re living longer and staying healthier. Health is the new wealth when it comes to remaining in the workforce, enjoying our quality of life and not outliving our savings.

Just as more and more individuals are adopting the concept of ‘portfolio careers’ (earning a living by working multiple part-time jobs for different employers rather than a conventional full-time job), so baby boomers are reshaping their retirement years to reflect lifestyle choices, viewing them, as an opportunity to seek out new challenges and find more meaning in their lives.

The Japanese approach

Research shows that some cultures don’t have – never have had – a word for retirement. For them, the concept of retirement has never even existed. In Okinawa, for example, nothing in the language describes the concept of stopping work completely. Instead the people of Okinawa use the word “ikigai” (pronounced ‘icky guy’), which roughly translates as ‘the reason you wake up in the morning’.

Actually, ikigai is having a bit of a moment right now. First there was ‘hygge’ – the Danish word for enjoying life’s simple pleasures, identified as ‘friends, family, graciousness’. Today, the Japanese concept of ikigai is attributed in no small way to the health, well-being and longevity of its advocates – like the good people of Okinawa.

Retirement – a flawed concept

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Neil Pashricha calls retirement ‘a flawed concept’. Citing a 7 year project in Japan studying the longevity of over 43,000 Japanese adults based on the significance of ikigai in their lives, he believes none of us really wants to retire (and do nothing) in the conventional sense of the word; rather, we just want to do something we love. Something that embraces the essence of ikigai and fulfils the human desire for structure, stimulation, social interaction and involvement. Ideas similar to those addressed here at Retireista.com, where we’ve thrown away the ‘old’ concept of retirement as no longer being fit for purpose, and introduced a new one: the retireista.

Redefining retirement

And if you’re left wondering what (or who) exactly is a retireista, let me enlighten you. Here’s our very own dictionary definition of the word and what it represents:

Retireista (noun)

  • Someone of 50 or older who still works and lives with active, not passive, purpose.
  • A person intent on getting the best out of the best years of their lives.
  • Someone adept at making life work when work life ends.

So, there you have it.

Retirement is dead. Long live the Retireista!

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