There is a lot of talk about the future of work which has prompted me to revise and update a piece about the future of not working. Suffice to say if you have this choice, take it sooner rather than later as I have known no one who comes to the end and says, “I wish I had worked longer.” On the other hand, there is no need to stop work that is meaningful, fulfilling, and rewarding unless you have some kind of mandatory retirement age where you work. Artists, writers and performers are among those for whom good work often continues as long as one is able. There are those who say they can’t wait until retirement and that often means they have to put in a certain amount of time before they are eligible for the defined benefits.
About 8 years ago I wrote an “official” letter of retirement after 12 years of working with a group of professional colleagues in a consulting business. I was technically a self-employed, sub-contractor. I had the liberty and benefit of a “home office” in northern New Mexico although that required a fair amount of travel. 114 miles to the airport! It was the cost/benefit ratio of take your choice and pay the price in order to have it the way you want. We lived, and worked from, a beautiful home that we remodeled, 12 acres on a river, complete with a barn we built, small sheds for animals, including chickens, gardens, a pond and some great neighbors.
In December, 2010, I reviewed my work, looked ahead, and I believed the time was right to make the transition. The past eight years have confirmed that it was a good decision. It was the conclusion of 50 years of full-time employment in several different settings. Each job was challenging and rewarding, and perhaps most of all, they contributed significantly to my experience of lifelong learning. For those interested in this kind of review, I set some of them down in this little book: tinyurl.com/nxlvqjn Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir (2013)
During these past 8 years I have enjoyed the luxury of working part-time, accepting only those invitations that interest me the most. I have had more time to read, write, travel, fish, hike and be immersed in the natural world. In 2015, we moved from the house and property in the country and downsizeds to a smaller and less expensive place in Santa Fe. Then, a year ago, we pulled up stakes and moved to a condo on a lake in northern California. We are more focused on convenience and comfort while remaining adventurous and engaged in the larger world. We like to spend some of the winter in Mexico. For those worried about safety, don’t go. We feel very safe there, love the culture, and the values of local families. We have met numerous friends from the north, from other parts of the U.S. and Canada as well as local families.
For many of us retirement does not mean at all what it sounds like but rather a shifting of gears, a different agenda of activities and continuing to be aware of our mental, physical, social, emotional and spiritual engagements. It seems like a new chapter in an unfolding and evolving life that is as interesting as we decide to make it. There are a myriad of choices in the menu of opportunities and we are fortunate to enjoy sufficient good health and the necessary resources to make the most of each and every day.
Among the many positive contributions to life at this stage are the freedom from stress and worry and taking whatever steps are necessary to address those issues when they occur. They occur, sometimes unanticipated, and they will continue to do so. Our extended family is mostly in good shape with one remaining parent who will celebrate her 105th birthday in January. Our seven children and fourteen grandchildren are scattered coast to coast. The adults are gainfully employed, independent, have minds and lives of their own, and we are proud of their achievements and accomplishments.
These later years are rich with occasions to celebrate life, the benefits of freedom and time to enjoy it in many different venues. For those of you who would like some resources for the future of not working, consider these: www.refirementnetwork.com and Rewirement: Rewiring The Way You Think About Retirement! a book by Jamie Hopkins. Many so-called retirees have found meaning and purpose in serving as volunteers in their local communities in a variety of settings. One of my favorites is the mentor programs in schools. Others may include food pantries and deliveries, Meals on Wheels just one example. There are service clubs that raise money for local causes; environmental groups; and Habitat for Humanity, popularized further by former President Jimmy Carter’s involvement. If you’re into the political or social justice scenes there are a plethora of opportunities.
The future of not working can be bright and the clues for a happy and successful transition seem to lie in staying active, especially physically and mentally, as well as socially. When those characteristics and behaviors are diminished, the quality of life also seems to recede significantly. There are tons of research on aging and the factors associated with decline in later years. Here is but one sample: https://www.nia.nih.gov/about/aging-well-21st-century-strategic-directions-research-aging
I have been and continue to be a proponent for lifelong learning as indicated by the book I referenced at the end of the third paragraph above. That was my third of four books and now I am thinking about a fifth. Thinking about what’s next, making some plans, looking forward to what lies ahead and enormous gratitude for the opportunities. That’s more than enough for now.