Retirement? Bah Humbug!
The case for a rebellion against retirement
I had a fascinating conversation this week with a man who believes the whole notion of retirement has outlived its usefulness. He would like to lead our generation in a rebellion against it.
George Jerjian, a British businessman, has written a book called DARE to Discover Your Purpose: Retire, Refire, Rewire. In it, he argues that retirement is, effectively, “sleepwalking to a quiet death.” He’s not opposed to ending a first career, when and if you’re ready, but he thinks playing golf or watching Netflix while eating bonbons is unhealthy, unsatisfying, and a waste of many useful years of life.
30 Bonus Years
Odds are that most of us will live long beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. “If we retire in our 60s, we’ve still got 25 to 30 years to go,” he says. “We need to be engaged and living, not just so that the money lasts, but so that we continue living, because if we stop working and living, we are slowly going to die.”
Besides which, as he points out, it’s unlikely that most of us have accumulated enough savings to cover 30 years without income. “For 99% of us, retirement is no longer an option because we’re not going to have enough money to sustain us comfortably in our old age,” Jerjian says.
As for government-sponsored retirement, “the retirement formula is broken,” When Otto von Bismarck established 65 as the age to qualify for military pensions, he was well aware that life expectancy was 58. The pension was a reward that very few lived to collect. When Social Security adopted 65 as full retirement age half a century later, few Americans were expected to live past their early 70s. Now, with tens of millions of us living decades longer, the financing scheme is in trouble.
We Are Not Expendable
Beyond all that, Jerjian passionately objects to the expectation that people need to be put out to pasture in their 60s. It’s demeaning and dangerous, he says.
“In our consumer society, everything is expendable, including old people,” he says. “As rebel Baby Boomers, it is our duty to challenge this toxic thinking, just as we have challenged every other part of our lives.” To do otherwise, he argues, is to buy into the belief that we have no further purpose in life – that we are, in fact, expendable.
Far better, he says, to continue being productive and working at something you love doing. You’ll be busy, happy, and maybe you can stretch your savings and investments to last as long as you do.
In light of our increased longevity, he says, we need to toss out the traditional notion of a neat and tidy three-stage life: about 20 years of full-time education, about 40 years of full-time work, and up to 20 years of full-time retirement. Two professors at the London Business School, Lynda Gratton and Andrew J. Scott, have developed a new model called the “multi-stage life” that seems more in tune with today. They see leisure, work, learning, sabbaticals, and caring occurring at intervals across a longer lifespan. In their view, working until 75 makes sense.
Jerjian came to his ideas about retirement from learned experience. At age 52 he was told by his doctor that a bone tumor “the size of a large eggplant” was sitting on his pelvis and he had six months to live. Three weeks later he got a reprieve: The tumor was benign, but it needed to come out. After six months of surgery and recovery, with his previous career fully disrupted, he entered a decade of what he calls “semi-retirement,” and he despised it. In 2017 he returned to active engagement with the world.
When a crisis in your life causes you to question your purpose, he says, “this is life giving you a wake-up call to start living your dream now, before it’s too late. Instead of tiptoeing to a quiet death you should be going out with a bang. Because what else is life for?”
Jerjian knows it is no easy matter to discard notions that have been firmly planted in our brains for our entire lives. Rebelling against retirement requires a new mindset. He offers an online program and individual mentoring to help people envision a new alternative for their later lives.
Jerjian’s notions are very consistent with the positive aging mindset that I write about weekly. It also jibes with my own retirement experience: At first it seemed like a blessing, but without a purpose to keep me energized and eager to move forward it became a trap – a slow, withering death. I feel blessed to have found a purpose, and I wish the same for you.