Retirement is a meaningless concept when it refers to 20 – 25 years of our life. There are 2 dominant scenarios – one a picture of loneliness, waiting to die in an old-age home. The other, an idyllic life walking the beach at sunset, sipping exotic cocktails, in the company of a still-adoring spouse.
Both tell the same story – our useful life is over. Is it not instead, that our LIFE is about to begin?
In the ‘career’ phase of our life we were beholden to ‘The Man’, there were bills to pay, we had a bond to cover, our kids got progressively more expensive as they continued their education, we got caught up in our consumer society and we had to keep up with the Joneses.
Our lives were driven by goals, objectives, deadlines, budgets and loooonnnggg working hours. Our lives were prescribed by our employer, our customers and our expense sheet.
And then for 2 or 3 weeks a year we were released to some ‘free time’. Even there we got caught up in a whirlwind of competition – golf handicap, race times, personal bests, bench presses, number of repetitions – bigger, further, faster, stronger!! Perkier breasts, 6–pack abs, botox, corn-row hair implants and let’s not even mention the type of car we drove.
And then we retire – old and useless in a youth obsessed world?
We don’t have to buy into this paradigm – and if fact, we’d better find that elusive Planet B if we allow that paradigm to endure.
It’s no accident that the number of people living beyond 80 is growing exponentially – we need their wisdom. In a world that has gone mad in the pursuit of growth, we are destroying our environment, our climate, our plant and animal diversity, our families, our communities and our societies. And that all in the name of a financial system that disenfranchises most and benefits few – a bubble that is due to burst at any time.
It is our generation that set this situation up and we are massively privileged. We have benefited from medical advances that have made it possible for many, many, of us to live to 90, we have enjoyed a lifestyle that is unmatched in the history of the world and we have developed technology that has made the impossible possible. But, we need to ask – are we the first and the last generation to enjoy this privilege.
The nutritional value of our food is dropping, the quality of the air we breathe is dropping, the quality of the water we drink is dropping and with the exception of the few, the quality of our lifestyle is dropping.
So what is the role we can (and must) play? It is Eldering.
The Eldering Institute conveys the idea that life can continuously improve as we get older, provided that, as Elders, we continue to add value (be of service) and that we create and sustain authentic relationships with others of all ages.
The world needs Elder wisdom as much as Elders need to give back. The end of the Elder’s useful life is not when their career ended – it is after they had given their wisdom. By hiding our elderly away in retirement homes we deprive them of the opportunity to “give back”.
4 Types of Elder
The Artisan, the people who get things done! They are the people who know how things work, they know how to cut through the “red tape”, they are the teachers and the crafts-people.
Their gift is their skills and a “hands-on” understanding of how things work. Their value is in Mentoring and passing on their “how to” skills. Their role is to maintain standards of quality and service.
The Architect, the executive, the self-made man, or woman, the entrepreneur. Their lives were ruled by their need for success – wealth, power, influence and status. They were prepared to sacrifice all around them, friends and family, in pursuit of success. In retirement they look for meaning and continue to change the world.
Their gift is their vision and their drive. Their value is their ability to see the bigger picture and to make things happen. Their role is to sit at the right hand of tomorrow’s movers and shakers and to hold the question “but should we – is that the best way?”
The Artist, the innovator, the maverick, the experimenter. Their lives were ruled by their passions and they often crashed and burned. Some rise like the Phoenix, many die young. In retirement they follow a deep spiritual quest to answer ‘who am I’
Their gift is their creativity and their courage to give things a try. Their value is to help people think outside the box and find unexpected solutions to problems. Their role is to help us find ways to adapt to a changing world.
The Activist, the protestor, the crusader, the knight in shining armour. Their lives were ruled by their principles and they stood by them against the odds.
Their gift is their moral courage and preparedness to “stand up and be counted”. Their value is to bring awareness of injustice and exploitation and to expose the “lie behind the promise”. Their role is to be the moral compass for their community and for society.
Each of us is a combination of all 4 types, but we are likely to have a dominant characteristic. Our challenge in retirement is to find where we can fulfil our potential and “give back” the wisdom we gained throughout our life. If we don’t, we leave it to our children and grandchildren to clean up our mess!
Alan Maguire “retired” in 2012 and was disturbed by the “useless” image of retirement. To help others answer the question “where can I make a difference, and how do I care for myself in order to fulfil that role” he has developed The Elder’s Journey, a support programme for people going into retirement.
Click here to view the Transitions and Change website