Two female friends of ours recently announced that they plan to retire from their jobs in September.
But not my friend, Larry. The idea of retirement bugs him.
He is 64 and has no plans to retire anytime soon – (in part due to the recent addition of a lovely screen porch on the back of his house where he plans to relax if he ever retires but he first has to finish paying for the screen porch so he can’t retire anytime soon even if he wanted to.)
But he actually doesn’t intend to retire. Ever.
Larry likes being a lawyer. He worries about how he would fill his time once he is retired. So far he has come up with only two retirement tasks.
The first is to clean out his garage.
He and his wife, my friend, Susan, have lived in their house for 32 years where they raised two kids, now young adults, and a cat named Phil who thought he was a dog; sadly no longer with us. The clean-up of Larry’s garage is long overdue.
That should take about 10 days, he figures.
The second task is to organize a large collection of family photos. Ektachrome slides taken by his late Dad beginning in the 1950’s, color snapshots of his own family taken in the 1990’s and a jumble of more recent travel shots residing on his iPad, iPhone and various computers in his basement.
Larry thinks the photo organization project will take about two weeks.
So if he were to retire, let’s say, as of September 4, he will be done cleaning his garage and organizing his photos by about September 29th. Then Larry would go sit on his renovated porch, have an iced tea and think about what he will do for the rest of his life.
This is why Larry is concerned about retiring.
He only can think of two things to do.
He does not play golf or tennis. He does not have a man-cave to putter around in. He does not want to start a new business. He already bikes, travels and does volunteer work.
So why retire?
I told Larry that retirement isn’t what it used to be. We aren’t supposed to sit at home, on our renovated porches or otherwise, and just rock ourselves into mental oblivion. The new thing is to reinvent ourselves upon retirement. Why not, I suggested to Larry, take a look at one of those popular web sites that encourage pre-retirees to find their passions and reconfigure the second acts of their lives.
Larry’s response: that’s a ridiculous idea. Why should I have to reinvent myself? He has already had 40 years in his working life to invent himself and he doesn’t think he can come up with anything new. Nor does he want to.
We had a small friendly argument about this recently.
I had to retire; I was cardiologically-told that going back to DC law firm life was not a possibility. So Larry tells me – you had to stop. I don’t. I like working for a living. My income is quite useful. Why should I give it up if I am still capable?
Maybe thinking about retirement is scary because we don’t want to face old age?
The very word “retirement” does have unpleasant connotations. It comes from the French word retirer – “to go into seclusion”. The Oxford dictionary defines retirement as “leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.” The word retirement is also said to refer to “the period between employment and death.”
The thought of not being able to go to work every day makes Larry quake. He believes that he isn’t old enough to stop working and that (unless fate knows otherwise) he is too young to die. Larry has been leaving the house every day to go to school or work since he was five years old. He likes putting on his suit in the morning and commuting downtown to his K street law firm office. It is a big part (the main part?) of his identity.
I liked lawyering too but it didn’t define me. Like many women, I always had interests beyond my day job. As I hit my late 50’s and retirement loomed on the post-60 horizon, I could easily think of a number of productive and fun projects and activities to look forward to doing – none of which involved cleaning out the garage or organizing my photos or even playing golf. (not that golf isn’t a fine sport, just not for me.)
So I wonder:
Do men – more than women – fear leaving their day jobs because they can’t think of what to do in the (hopefully) long pre-death stretch of years?
Larry recently had his annual physical. He told me that his female internist asked him about his future plans. Larry told his internist that he did not intend to retire. His internist nodded in approval, “Good”, she said, “Men don’t do retirement well.”
So are some men like Larry, bound to flunk retirement?
And women of many interests like me and my friends destined to get straight A’s?
Not that it is a competition or anything.
But sometimes, according to Larry, it just seems easier to keep on going to the office everyday than to have to come up with a creative retirement plan beyond cleaning out the garage and organizing photos.