If we go back in time and look at the average life expectancy, we would find it is only recently that significant numbers of people have the fortune to live till older ages. For example, according to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy in 1900 was only age 40. If infant mortality is accounted for and taken out of the average, life expectancy goes up to age 50. According to the CDC, the current life expectancy in the United States is age 79. This is not to say there were no people with gray hair in years past, but it does indicate there were very few compared to today.
The reason the above statistics are important is because the idea of retirement is relatively new. Throughout most of human history, only those individuals who had wealth could afford to retire. In many cases, these individuals still had to manage their estates, keeping them engaged in life and busy. Fast forward to the 20th century and things have changed dramatically. More and more people are living longer, and for many the idea of retirement is something achievable.
Now that large numbers of people are getting to an age where retirement can become a reality, a problem is emerging in terms of what to do with all the extra time. In fact, there is a whole new industry that has emerged to help coach people as they enter retirement to figure out what their next chapter in life looks like. For many people work can become their life and it defines a significant portion of their personality. When work stops, a new definition of yourself may be needed and this is not necessarily an easy task.
Here are some of the options to stay connected:
- Keep working: If you enjoy your job, you might want to keep working or consider working part time to stay involved and to continue helping people or to be part of the team. If the type of work you did for all those years is something you would like to leave behind or is too physically demanding, you can find something totally new, perhaps in a field where you can learn new skills that are interesting or fun.
- Hobbies: Take up a new hobby or get more involved with the ones you currently have. Woodworking, birding, hiking, reading, all can be enjoyable and have local groups that gather to share ideas and experiences.
- School: Go back to school and learn something new. Become a career student and earn multiple degrees. Make it fun and learn a new language, then visit a new area of the world and use your new found skills.
- Mentor someone: Get involved with your community and mentor someone. If you worked in HR for many years, you might be great with conflict resolution and could help people in need. Perhaps you were an engineer and can tutor students at the local college in math. Your local boys and girls club would probably love your help too.
Whatever your later years look like, just remember that there is no “traditional retirement”. You have probably heard people talk about what retirement should look like but it is not something our culture has had much time to get used to yet. We are still defining what retirement means, so go out and forge a new path for yourself.