Successful Aging: What we need to do to change our perception of retirement
Last week we congratulated Doug McIntyre on his retirement after 22 years from the “McIntyre in the Morning” radio show. McIntyre, a noted Southern California News Group columnist, KABC 790 AM radio host, TV/film writer and producer shared some of the struggles in making the retirement decision and coming to grips with the “dreaded ‘R’ word.” His candor was a societal commentary on how many feel about retirement.
A significant number of hard-working Americans have no problem with the decision and look forward to the long-awaited gift of freedom with no commute or workplace hassles. But that’s not the case for all.
We know age is intrinsically connected with retirement. “Retirement is something old people do. I’m not old! Or am I?” McIntyre wrote in his Dec. 23 column, “Sliding down the dinosaur of life.” In response to his question, what is happening or needs to be done to change our perceptions?
Language: Some argue we need to eliminate the word “retirement” because it has a negative connotation. Sociologists, demographers, psychologists, gerontologists, journalists and others struggle with the term and cannot agree on a substitute. Assuming retirement is perceived as a new life stage, many have made suggestions to replace the term. For example, Harvard sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls it the Third Age; Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Stanford Longevity Center, names it Act IV; Ken Dychtwald, founder and CEO of Age Wave, refers to retirement as middlescence; and Marc Freedom, founder and CEO of Encore.org, calls it the encore years.
Beyond finding a different term there are initiatives, programs and movements that expand the concept of aging, and in doing so, have implications of retirement.
Frameworks Institute: This institute has taken on the issue of ageism in an attempt to change our understanding of the actual and potential contributions of older adults to our society. They have developed a tool kit about the use of language, identified what people think about aging compared to experts and challenged the media to portray aging in a more realistic way, suspecting their representations of aging as skewed and inaccurate.
Frameworks emphasizes the importance of narratives defined as a problem or issue that states why it is of concern, the cause, a vision of improved outcomes and actions to be taken. According to the Institute, the media and advocacy efforts often present incomplete narratives, of problems without solutions, of ideal representations of aging or a focus on problems – exposing the public to just bits and pieces of information that easily lead to misunderstanding and biases. In this case, it’s a misunderstanding about aging.
See frameworksinstitute.org for more information.
Encore Network: This network, part of Encore.org, is a stunning example of what’s happening nationally and internationally. The network is a coalition of over 127 leaders and organizations from 32 states and 13 countries that connect with one another to share resources and ideas in their commitment to make longevity an asset to individuals and society. Although living longer includes the retirement years, the Encore Network does not mention the word. From my perspective, this absence is an attempt to prescribe a new meaning to this later stage of life. Thinking about retirement as a new life stage suggests opportunity rather than withdrawal.
Network members include Experience Matters, University of Minnesota, National Council on Aging, The Radical Aging Movement, Pass it on Network and many more. The Network’s organizations and leaders concentrate on employment, meaningful transitions, foundation giving, education, volunteering, encore careers and attending encore university programs and more. All subscribe to the concept that later life is not necessarily a deficit but rather a time for exploration, growth, creativity and giving back. See encorenetwork.org/encore-members/.
Of course, this approach to aging and retirement is not a perfect picture. We have problems indeed – dementia, frailty, abuse, financial insecurity and more. However, these challenges cannot and should not solely define this new life stage, sometimes called retirement.
So, here’s to 2019 as a year for more realistic views of retirement, eliminating negative perceptions and promoting opportunities for personal growth, creativity, exploration, fulfillment and giving back – while having the best time with family and friends.
Thank you, Doug McIntyre, for inspiring this conversation.