Here’s the fantasy of retirement that I grew up with. Get up late, have a leisurely breakfast reading the newspaper, 18 holes of golf with friends, capped with a drink in the clubhouse afterwards. A nap in the afternoon, then something fun like a movie or bowling at night. No schedules, no responsibilities. Retirement meant a life of leisure and relaxation, the reward one got at the end of a career of hard work.
Now that I have stepped back from my career, I have one word for that view: BORING. I could also add emotionally flat, unproductive, unfulfilling, and unrealistic. It’s time to redefine retirement and come up with a definition that more closely resembles the lifestyle of my generation.
One of the challenges of aging is staying vital. Stepping back from one’s career shouldn’t be the equivalent of being put out to pasture. It’s a time to redefine and reinvent oneself—a time to take skills learned over the years and craft them into something new. Or a time to learn something put aside by career demands. Moving forward rather than stagnating: retirement as a beginning, not the end.
I had a terrible time letting go of my almost two decade career as president of Sokol Blosser Winery. I assumed I would continue as president until I died, but then realized it was time for the next generation to take control. Despite being my decision, stepping back was so difficult, I wrote a book about it, Letting Go: How One Entrepreneur Energized Her Business, Empowered the Next Generation, and Embraced a Bold New Vision.
The experience of “retiring” made me realize how outdated the traditional view of retirement had become. In my book I examine not only the emotional upheaval entailed in giving up control of my business, but also how liberating it was when I finally did it. The world opened up to me in ways I could not have foreseen. All the energy I had expended on my business, was suddenly available for other adventures. I could build on what I had learned. I ran for office, wrote two books, and started a public benefit nonprofit to work on community issues that interested me. The point is that I had all this energy to continue being productive. My generation has not retreated. We may have wanted to slow down a bit and balance our activities, but retirement for us has been merely a temporary stop for redirection. Our retirement lifestyle is vibrant, productive, and fulfilling.
I’d like to find a word that describes this phenomenon better than the word retirement, which denotes the end of the line. I vote for something like the word graduation, with the idea that one has finished one thing and is ready to move on to another. We use this word in connection with school, why not with work?
What do you think?