If Retirement Isn’t For You, Retire From It

Many people, especially those in their late 50s or older, count down the days until retirement. It’s their reward for several decades of hard work, an opportunity to do whatever they want – sleep all morning, watch reruns of “Law & Order,” take a nice hot bath every other month.

Having no boss is like being released from prison: there’s so much freedom to enjoy. No more dreading Monday mornings, no more dreaming of Friday evenings. It’s just one lovely day after another, as long as you don’t overdose on Netflix.

But is retirement really as blissful as it seems? For some people, it certainly is: they absolutely love retirement and wouldn’t exchange it for any job, not even Ambassador to Jamaica. But for others, it’s not quite what they had imagined. While they once looked forward to retirement, they’re now looking forward to unretirement.

If they can’t get their old jobs back, they’re eager to find new jobs, even if it means waking up at 6 a.m. again and getting reacquainted with the BIC razor.

70-year-old man: “Ouch, that hurt!”

Wife: “You cut yourself with the razor again?”

Man: “Razor? I thought this was the tongue cleaner.”

The New York Times recently reported that a growing number of Americans are “unretiring” – returning to the workforce after getting a taste of retirement. A Pew Research Center study showed that almost 19 percent of Americans aged 65 and older worked part-time or full-time in 2016 compared with 13 percent in 2000. About 40 percent of those senior workers were once retired, according to a survey by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research firm.

While some retirees return to work because they haven’t saved enough money for retirement, financial concerns aren’t usually the primary reason for unretirement. Because people are living longer and in better health, they don’t want to just sit at home, watching birds and squirrels through the window and waiting for the next “Breaking News” alert on CNN.

They want to resume working, especially if they are able to work in jobs that aren’t physically demanding. “You hear certain themes: A sense of purpose. Using your brain,” Dr. Nicole Maestas, an economist at Harvard Medical School, told the Times. “And another key component is social engagement.”

A sense of purpose is really important. Many people are able to find a sense of purpose in retirement. Some help their children by taking care of their grandchildren. For many of them, this is the “tiring” part of “retiring.” For others, it’s truly a joyful experience – from start to finish. They’re overjoyed when their grandchildren arrive, and after a whole day of running after the kids, they’re overjoyed when they leave.

Volunteering is another way that many retired people find a sense of purpose. But some discover that they miss the actual work they once did and want to return to it, at least on a part-time basis. Imagine being a doctor for 40 years, then hanging up your stethoscope and staying at home. It can get boring pretty fast, even if you spend your mornings watching re-runs of “Grey’s Anatomy” and your afternoons diagnosing your spouse’s ailments.

Retired doctor: “Honey, I think you have an iron deficiency. Look how misshapen your nails are.”

Spouse: “Honey, I think you need new glasses. That’s Rover’s paw you’re holding.”

Not everyone can go back to work, of course. There are so many hurdles, including mandatary retirement in certain types of jobs, age discrimination, and health concerns. But it’s something more people should consider. If you can be the leader of a country in your seventies, why can’t you be a lawyer or librarian or cashier?

Next time someone asks me if I’m looking forward to retirement, I’m going to say, “Nope, I’m looking forward to unretirement.”

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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