Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Retirement and death

Why do people want to retire?

Part of it is they don't like their jobs. That's certainly a problem. And if someone says, "I want to retire because I hate my job," my advice is to find another job. Life is too short, and there are no guarantees, so stop making yourself miserable.

But that's not what I'm talking about today. What I'm talking about is a bigger issue, one that I don't think we as a society realize or want to acknowledge. Sometimes people retire because they want to boast. Boast, brag, whatever you want to call it, they want to be able to say, "I made it."

Because -- usually -- that's what early retirement is. The person in question has made a lot of money, made good investments, been employed at a company that had some kind of phenomenal plan, or some combination thereof. We look at someone who is comfortably retired at 54, and think, "You're the man."

This past year has not been pleasant, financially speaking. It's not easy to see investment accounts drop, often precipitously. But the other irritation is that many folks are going to have to postpone a planned retirement for years. Often many years.

Not retiring -- for most people -- is a public statement that, "I didn't do as well as I'd thought I would."

And that's tough.

Men should never retire. Men who retire traditionally die within a couple of years. This happens so often that I'm astonished that men don't take it into account. But we seldom do. We imagine a retirement filled with luxurious travel, fine dining, and leisure. What we get is a quick decline in health, and an early death.

Women are different. Women can retire, enjoy their lives, care for a home, enjoy grandchildren, whatever. And they don't die.

Men need a purpose. And men who retire lose the primary purpose in life: their calling, their vocation, their job.

Some men will argue that they can retire into another calling. That they'll do volunteer work, play golf, whatever. That's not wrong, but the reality is that most of those pastimes are just something to fill the time. And if it's just filling the time, there's something very deep within us that says the time can be filled quite easily by just dying.

I'm not suggesting we shouldn't change work. Most professional football players won't be doing that work at 63, or even 43. But I think that men should consciously plan to work for decades after the now-traditional age of 65. Men need a purpose. Retirement is not a purpose. It's death. If you were planning to retire next year, and the current economic debacle has put that on hold, be thankful. There is little to appreciate about the venal politicians of this or the past administration, but their blundering incompetence (which is the kindest way I can describe it) may have saved your life.

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