To retire or not to retire? The question of retirement and ageing

Most people go through their entire lives with the idea of retirement being an attractive one - not ‘having’ to go to work, being able to spend your time however you like, what a luxury, a dream. However, when that time actually comes, it's often a very different story.


Things that were never thought about previously suddenly come into play, such as ‘how will I describe what I do to other people?’ ‘What will I actually do with my time?’ ‘Is retirement just a slow decline into old age?’

These are all thoughts I’ve heard clients echo time and time again.

And I can empathise, it's only natural to have such thoughts in consideration of what most of us have experienced growing up. 

What I mean by this is that as children, most of us have watched grandparents and elderly retired relatives, we’ve seen how they act, dress, think, and love them as we may, it's not exactly filled us with envy to be in their shoes.

Think back to the retired relatives in your family - how did they look, behave, think, what was your impression of them? This is the belief you have probably ingrained of what it means to be retired.

What we observe as children leads to stories and perceptions in our mind of what retirement is, to be specific, it's created neural pathways - ways of thinking, belief systems about retirement and ageing. And so, when you’re on the cusp of this life transition yourself, all of this programming comes right back up and causes huge resistance - you don’t want to be old after all!

And so, as we fast forward to the present moment, it doesn’t matter how wonderful friends and acquaintances are telling you retirement is - you have had other beliefs ingrained in you since childhood and now you’re in a state of conflict. Part of you wants to believe them and enjoy retirement, the other part is refusing to have any part of it.

Are you resisting retirement because of what you think that means about your age and future?

On a side note - something that I realised when I was doing my life coach training was this: whenever I felt stuck, in a narrow-view like state, like there was no way out, I began to realise that I’m just stuck in a perception. That it's not necessarily reality, it's a state of mind. And we can all get in these unresourceful states. The goal is to change your perception because when you change your perception, everything suddenly looks different, the sun comes out, the weight lifts off your shoulders and the birds begin singing again.

So, as much as we can, let's get down to exploring and dismantling some of those unhelpful beliefs about ageing and retirement.

The World Health Organisation takes a somewhat old fashioned view of age, it defines old as ‘65’ but I have to disagree. I don't know one ‘old person’ who is in their 60s - that includes my parents, family, clients. They are not who I envision when I think about an ‘old person’ and gerontologists seem to agree(a gerontologist is someone who has advanced education in the field of gerontology, the study of ageing). Heck, I also know plenty of people in their 70s who appear to break those pre-conditioned beliefs of what a 70-year old is.

Are we living by old beliefs and paradigms of what age means when in reality it's a different story?

Professor of gerontology, Takao Suzuki calls those in their 60s - 75s as the ‘Young-Old’, “The ‘Young-Old’ are very active and healthy and productive — totally different from 30 years ago,”. 

Being 60 now, even being 70 is not what it was in times past. People are living longer, healthier lifestyles and enjoying retirement with a new zest for life, taking advantage of the opportunities they perhaps couldn’t when they were younger because of family commitments or lack of finances.

It seems, in modern society, we’ve created an extended middle age where the idea of retirement is not for those who are ‘old’, old-old is for those in their 80s and 90s - and even then, I would say it depends on the person!

What does old mean to you? Because this might be part of what is holding you back from retirement

Not everybody ages the same.

Work gives us many vital things - purpose, social connection, identity, independence. Yet many of these things are often overlooked in Western culture where it's customary to put on coffee mornings and bingo for the elderly.

However, if we take a look at those who live exceptionally long lives, those on the islands of Ikaria in Greece and Okinawa in Japan, they continue to fish and look after their grandchildren until they die. 

People need purpose and to feel needed, and this is what those activities give them. Ingredients like this define how people age - their quality of life, enjoyment and how long we live. It's necessary to ask questions such as 'what can you do to feel needed, and a sense of purpose after retirement?'

Lastly, not to overlook one of the single most powerful predictors of whether we will age well (according to various studies all over the world) which is, you guessed it - exercise.

In one study, two groups of cyclists were monitored, one group was in their 20s, the other group was aged 55 - 79. Researchers found that they were actually unable to tell how old participants were based on their physiological data because both groups had similar strength, muscle mass and immune systems.

It seems how we age is a choice that can be influenced by how we think, the ingredients we incorporate into our lives and how we choose to spend our time.

There are often still many other things to explore with retirement, for example, giving up that sense of identity associated with your profession, that sense of pride, worrying how others will perceive you and how to explain what you do. Those are all concerns my clients express, and so if you’re feeling that too, know you’re definitely not alone.

Those are all things that need to be dug into, to get rid of any limited perceptions to start building new beliefs and ideas, to tap into that expanded, resourceful state, to reclaim that peace of mind back.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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