Toward a Rhetoric of Retirement

“Life is something to do when you can’t get to sleep.”
-Fran Lebowitz

No matter how old you are, you’ve probably thought about and/or been lectured to on retirement. In this case, the retirement to which I’m referring is when you no longer go to that 40-60+ hour-per-week job. Maybe you retired early, say around 30, because you played the stock market or dabbled in real estate, and “did well”. Or maybe you’re 55 and put in around 30+ years in a government job. Or maybe you put in a 20-year stint in the military, followed by 5-10 years in a school district, etc.

There’s no one type of retirement, is there? There’s no one type of retiree, either.

Not everyone “retires well”, as I’ve often heard it said. Some of you may be living on social security or disability, and can barely come close to taking care of your basic needs. Still others realize that once retired, they’re “bored out of their gourd” and don’t know what to do with themselves. That long-awaited-and much-deserved-time of R&R has come and past.

Now what?

Let’s look at some definitionsâÂ?¦

“Retirement” is a noun, which is a person, place, or thing. When a person “goes into retirement”, they are a “retiree”. It is also an adverb, which describes a person, place, or thing, such as in “that person is retired”. There are “retirement homes”, “retirement communities”, and “retirement packages”.

“To retire” is a verb. According to the online edition of The American Heritage Dictionary (2002), it is from the French “retirer”, which means “to retreat”. Old French language sources indicate that it means “to take back” or “to draw”. The hardback edition from 1975, has the following: “to go away; depart, as for rest, seclusion, or shelter; To go to bed; To withdraw from business or public life so as to live at leisure on one’s income, savings, or pension; to fall back; retreat; To remove from active serviceâÂ?¦To lead back or away (troops, for example) from action; withdraw; To take out of circulation; Baseball: To put out (a batter)”.

While the online edition has most of these, isn’t it intriguing to see what remains, how the “standard” definitions shift? The primary difference in the two definitions, twenty-seven years notwithstanding, is this one: “To withdraw from business or public life so as to live at leisure on one’s income, savings, or pension.”

Synonyms in Editor Marc McCutcheon’s Roget’s Super Thesaurus (1995) include: “leave, retreat, withdraw, depart, exit, part, run along, turn in, go to bed, call it a day, hit the [correction mine] sack, quit, resign” (432). Then there’s “retiring”, an adverb, which includes the following: shy, bashful, backward, withdraw, unsociable, shrinking, quiet, reserved, reclusive, keeping to oneself, private, solitary, preferring one’s own company” (433).

There are euphemisms, slang, and all sorts of idiomatic phrases. I’m still hearing “Golden Handshake” when someone retires early, often under unfortunate circumstances (i.e., budget cuts, outsourcing, “fishy goings-on”, etc.).

What do retirees do? Do they paddle around the world in a dinghy or a canoe? Visit all the countries they only read about when working? Over the years, I’ve seen more than a few T-shirts that announce retirement status: “On permanent Retirement”, “Waiting to Retire”, “Just Retired”, and “Practicing for Retirement”. What are the purposes of these slogans? Something to stir the competitive spirit, to invoke-or evoke-envy? Perhaps this is a message to those of us who aren’t retired, or who may never retire: Look at me! I’m retired and loving it.

Or maybe it’s a wish-fulfilling talisman-or “just” a shirtâÂ?¦

Some of us may not want to retire, don’t understand the concept-or are doing what they love and don’t want to stop until they transfer to the next employment office in the sky.

But what is retirement? What are you retiring from? To? What sorts of people retire? What sorts of people GET to retire, are able to retire?

People with 9-5 jobs retire. Ok, many of those 9-5 jobs are probably Monday-Friday, approximately 50-60-hours per week, often long into the night, often on Saturdays and Sundays and you-need-to-take-this-home-with-you-and-have-it-done-by-Monday sort of jobs. Corporate jobs. Government jobs. Teachers with full-time jobs (not adjuncts), and so forth. Sure, other people retire. They have pensions and savings and 401Ks and savings and play the stock market and receive inheritances and hey, maybe even gamble�but I ask you again�retire from what, to what?

I remember the 80s, when I worked for several different San Diego County offices. I went to several retirement parties during that period of time, knew, and was acquainted with more than a few folks preparing to retire. Retirement was a common topic of conversation. While I was younger than many-even most-of my co-workers, it seemed that many of the people I knew claimed that they made it through the day by fantasizing about their retirement. It was a bit of a mantra for more than a few people.

Ok, it’s not like none of them liked their jobs. For some, their work was meaningful, albeit emotionally draining, even stressful at times. For others, I often wondered what they were doing there if they hated it so much. I’m naÃ?¯ve, though, as I’m one of those people who insists that their job be meaningful. When it’s not, then it’s “buh-bye”.

Recently, I’ve overheard and/or participated in conversations on this subject with a variety of people from all walks of life. Hey, it’s good to plan for the future, but when I hear 18-year-olds who are all stressed-out because they’re worried about having enough money to retire, I start to worry. When I hear so-called debates about tampering with social security and other retirement plans, I start to worry. When I hear stories about people who work hard all their life then retire to poverty, I start to worry.

Should I start to worry about myself? As the saying goes: you need to start making a difference in your own life before you can make a difference in the lives of others.

As an adjunct professor without investments, without a 401K, who has paid into the Social Security system, APPLE, and now STRS, my monthly payments when I reach retirement age will be meager indeed. One could even argue egregious. A further irony is that if I were to die anytime soon, my kids would actually get more money than if I were to survive into retirement.

Where’s the logic in that?

Ask me if I’m worried. Go ahead.

No, I’m not. Okay, maybe some of the time, but then I focus on being proactive, on figuring out what I can do. I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in 20 years much less next year. I have ideas. I have plans. I have hopes and dreams. Change, as more than a few physicists say, is one of the few things upon which one can depend in the universe.

And change is good, right?

Where a person teaches, writes, organizes campaigns-or whatever they do – may shift, but the actual activities and/or job tasks may not. I like to think that I further develop my skills every year. At retirement age, I’m hoping to be even more skilled than I am now. City College may tell me to go home when I’m 65, but hey, they might let me come back to teach a class here and there until I’m well into my 70s-even 80s!

People like me don’t retire. Do you want to know why? It’s not only because we can’t (i.e., that pesky money issue), but it’s because we love what we do and we don’t view it as work in the same way as other people may. I’m not going to stop reading and researching, I’m not going to stop writing or pursuing other artistic endeavors because I’m at an age where United Statesian society says that it’s time for me to go home and plant flowers or take a cruise or learn how to whateverâÂ?¦
I’ve listened to many older and wiser people telling me things like the following: Do what you love and the money will come. Follow your calling and the money will come. A job is where you make money; it’s not supposed to be meaningful. What sayings have you collected and/or heard?

So, retire from what? To what? Life?

Tragedies aside (and even then in many instances), can’t we make conscious choices-plot, plan, and so forth-as to how to live our lives? There are different stages in our lives, and “retirement” may be one of them, but what about living our life NOW. I’ve known several people too many who have denied themselves basic joys (and not only the ones that money can buy), who have postponed certain aspects of their life, until retirement, only to die shortly thereafter retirement. Then again, I’ve known many people who did and are doing “it right”-whatever that meansâÂ?¦

While the above may be an oversimplification that doesn’t even begin to burrow beneath the surface, the issue of retirement is notâÂ?¦What happened to live life to the fullest, follow your dream, your calling, your bliss? Why not make a difference now-not when you’re retired? If you’re about to retire, just retired, planning to retire soon, make it meaningful.

What about the money, you’re asking? Ah yesâÂ?¦that. A financial planner I’m not, but when I figure out about the money, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, to give you a little taste of what a bit of googling can bring you, consider these sites:

How to Retire Early from, has this introductory blurb:

How to Retire Early
More and more people are becoming enamored with the idea of early retirement. There is a rising sentiment to enjoy the good life while you’re still young enough to fully enjoy it. Some feel that it would be much more difficult to participate in certain activities such as skiing and traveling abroad if they were approaching 70 as opposed to 50. Others simply want ample time to participate in activities that they find rewarding or enjoyable. However, in order for people to make this dream a reality they will need to find a way to accumulate the necessary funds. (available at, which looks a lot like “the tired investor” with typo or “their tired investor”, doesn’t it?)

Another site that urges you to plan for your “golden years”, states: “Retiring early requires a good amount of hard work and sacrifice. However, many people find that it is well worth the effort. If you have decided to pursue this goal then following the above mentioned tips should prove beneficial (available at:

How to Retire Rich by Jordon Goodman welcomes you to the site with the following: “Personally tailor your “second life” with your own individualized Fortune Formula Retirement Planning Kit” (available at:

Then there’s Sam Hinden’s How to Retire Happy, which claims that “[n]early 2 million Americans reach retirement age each year. Before anyone can begin to enjoy all the leisure time ahead, there are difficult decisions to be made about a host of crucial issues, such as Social Security, HMOs, insurance, and estate planning” (

If you’re a writer, the Writer’s Guild Pension Plan is available. They indicate that “[t]urning 65 is a milestoneâÂ?¦for some it may mean retirement and a chance to relax and begin enjoying the second half of life. Turning 65 also means that you are now eligible for Medicare” (

I think the “for some” speaks volumesâÂ?¦
According to Social Security’s website:
Full retirement age (also called “normal retirement age”) has been 65 for many years. However, beginning with people born in 1938 or later, that age will gradually increase until it reaches 67 for people born after 1959. The 1983 Social Security Amendments, signed by President Reagan, included a provision for raising the full retirement age beginning with persons born in 1938 or later. The Congress cited improvements in the health of older people and increases in average life expectancy as primary reasons for increasing the normal retirement age. (
While I was conducting research for the average retirement age as well as for longevity information, I came across The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. If you have a bit of time and are interested in this type of research, there is some fascinating material here. According to The MPI:

Life expectancy is rising in many countries around the globe, and a large portion of the current increase in average life spans is due to reduced mortality at old and very old ages. In combination with decreasing fertility this will lead to a ‘greying world’ and the consequences will pose considerable challenges on tomorrow’s societiesâÂ?¦(
Furthermore, since mortality is decreasing, they are further researching factors which contribute to longevity. They claim that “complex mechanisms of genetic disposition, early life conditions, current lifestyle and available medical technology – to name only the most important causes – jointly determine individual life spans” (

Another organization to research is the International Longevity Center-USA, a Center for Policy, Research & Education on Population Aging (
Another thought-provoking site houses the Longevity-Science Organization. While this site is sparse, and primarily leads to links for books, it bears visiting. (
That should get you started�One can never be too informed�

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