Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Goal of Retirement

Retirement is the light at the end of the tunnel, the brass ring to grab, and the finish line of a long race.  We work in order to retire; our ultimate goal is to stop working.  Eight to five, five days a week for years we toil to attain the final reward of retirement, the target we’ve been striving to reach.  We check our Social Security statements to make sure the annual reported salaries are correct, we carefully monitor our savings and perform endless tasks related to our financial well-being.  Sometimes we feel satisfied that our progress is on track and sometimes we feel that we have fallen behind.  Short-term issues balloon into major stumbling blocks in the trek to that wonderful goal, the unending vacation called retirement.

For years retirement has been a goal in the very distant future, so far away that it is only a theoretical concept.  One day the goal creeps into our vision, still far away but rapidly approaching; the distant retirement dream begins to race towards us at an even quicker rate.  We have been planning for it, but not thinking about what we will do.  Retirement is here.  The first week we complete our to-do list and our spouse wants us out of the way.  Yikes.  What am I going to do?  

I’d rather ask a different question.  Not what am I going to do when I retire, but why retire?  Paid retirement is a relatively new concept; the first government paid program only began in 1883.  German Chancellor Bismarck formulated retirement to counter the growing influence of Marxism in Europe.  Bismarck tried to give the German people hope, a dream of a better future.  The concept of retirement stuck even though the 65 years of age needed for retirement was higher than the average life expectancy.  Paid government retirement became the norm in Europe and the United States within a few decades.  Despite the newness of the retirement concept everyone accepts the fact that we are entitled to it, we’ve worked for it, and it’s our right.  Paid retirement may be new but that doesn’t mean it is bad or we need to turn back the clock.

I’ll rephrase my question: What should we do now that we are ready to retire?  Those fortunate enough to have sufficient financial capacity to stop working may actually stop working but they still need productive and meaningful activities; those whose financial circumstances force them to continue working must now adjust their mindset away from a permanent vacation, heaven on earth, and long days on a rocker.

Recently, I heard sermon by Pastor Robert Emmitt, from Community Bible Church San Antonio  Texas, on the subject of retirement (This a mp3 weblink; download time and function depends on your computer, browser and internet connection. I have noticed a problem with their server.) I suggest that you listen to his inspiring sermon.  In essence, he states that retirement is not a historic condition; most of the ancient prophets lived long lives and influenced their followers with inspiring beliefs and actions.  He believes we should stay active and devote our lives to family, faith and service.  Find something you enjoy and do it for the rest of your lives.  If we are financially secure we should volunteer, serve our community and perform acts of kindness during our later years; if we are not financially secure then we should try to work at something we enjoy and give of ourselves as best we can.  The benefits of life are not available for us to sit back and enjoy while doing nothing else.  I suggest you listen to his sermon and gain your own insights.

I know of many retired senior citizens who contribute to the overall community welfare by volunteering and sharing their knowledge and skills with others.  A retired military officer who is an instructor at a local art center and volunteers at a homeless shelter, a retired businessman who started second and third careers, a former engineer who works at his church and produces beautiful pastel artwork, and another who runs a library at a synagogue are a few examples of retired people I know who continue to contribute.  I know of an executive director of a non-profit organization who is still working at 70 years of age and a financial adviser who is much older than me who work because they want to, not because they need to.  I know others who work because they need the income, but they too also participate in other community orientated activities.  These people go a vacations or trips and they also remain active in meaningful activities.  They participate in the new retirement life to the fullest extent possible. 

Austin Texas
Although I am working fulltime (at 67 years of age) my hobbies are meant to be shared.  I have photographed over 1000 images of outdoor murals and other artwork in San Antonio, ( many highlighting a social issue.  These pictures are not sequestered in an album or framed for display in my home; these images are shared for all to enjoy in my on-line photographic essays.  I regularly update these images and notify about 100 friends and acquaintances when new images are added.  Many of my friends have commented on those images and given me suggestions for additions to my photo essay.  I am now engaged in several writing projects, one of which is this blog.  The purpose of this blog is to share my thoughts about working seniors, write about their lives and to satisfy my inner urge to write for the joy it brings me.

I continue to pursue creative opportunities for my inner-self but also seek ways to help the community.  My wife and I have volunteered at the Wounded Warrior Center, and assisted at the local blood bank with recruitment activities; my wife stuffed envelopes after a shift at a food bank program that fed children during the summer when school is out.  We still go on vacations, enjoy purely leisure activities or just chill out at times; we know that our life should not be solely self-centered  but rather outward looking.  Staying active is good for our society and it is good for us.

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