What Do You Do?
Exploring Opportunities in Retirement
Asking people what they do is a standard conversation opener. If you are in the paid work force, you might answer, “I am an engineer.” Or you might provide your company name and department, “I work for Telus in marketing.” And if you’ve left paid work behind, you’ll likely answer, “I’m retired.”
According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, retire is from the French: “re” meaning back, and “tirer” meaning to draw. “Retirer” became retire – to withdraw to a place of safety or seclusion – and that does not reflect the lives of most people in retirement nor reveal anything about how time or effort is spent.
The challenge when approaching retirement is figuring out how you want the future to look. If you don’t have a clear vision, you are not alone. Researchers at MIT’s AgeLab asked people to list five words that describe life after career. Words like hobbies, travel, and relax were favoured by older men and peace, calm, and time were popular with older women suggesting no clear vision of life after work.
How do you create a vision? Start by acknowledging that paid work provides many benefits: financial remuneration; time management (structure to the day); a sense of utility or purpose; status; a social network; and, not insignificantly, intellectual stimulation.
In an April 2019 Wall Street Journal article Dr. Richard W. Johnson noted that “without the purpose of fulfilling work, retirees can feel adrift and become depressed. Without the camaraderie of their co-workers, retirees risk becoming socially isolated. Without the intellectual stimulation that work can provide, retirement can accelerate cognitive decline.” That said, purpose, camaraderie, and intellectual stimulation can be realized with unpaid work and other pursuits.
Planning how to fill the void that opens up with either decreased or complete disengagement from paid work is a required task. In the meantime, let’s change the conversation. Instead of asking “What do you do?” how about “Tell me a bit about yourself?” In this way we can begin to create a tangible picture of the retirement experience.
Read the full version of this article with references here.