3 Reasons Not To Retire


We are living through what is being called the silver tsunami. According to Legal Jobs, “about 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, and the entire generation is expected to reach retirement age by 2030.” While many people spend their working years aiming to eventually retire, there are reasons why complete retirement should not be a primary goal. Even synonyms for the word retire sound negative—withdraw, relinquish, depart, expire.

For my book, Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts, I interviewed more than 100 top authorities about leadership and life. A recurring theme during these conversations was the idea that complete and total retirement should not be anyone’s end goal. These leadership experts argued that when we retire from our day jobs, we should move on to a different kind of work—something meaningful, purposeful, and intentional.

Here are three top reasons not to retire.

1. Retirement Is An Antiquated Term.

The Social Security Act was passed in 1935, establishing 65 as the official retirement age. This was set at a time when the average life expectancy was about 61 years old for men and 65 for women. Life expectancy for men is around 74 and for women it is about 80. Based on his research, MIT Age Lab Director Joseph Coughlin says that retiring at age 65 gives us about another 8,000 days—basically 21 years—to figure out what to do with our lives.

In a 2019 post on Forbes, Coughlin calculates his conclusion as follows. “8,000 days is also roughly the same amount of time from birth to legal drinking age – 21 years old. Put another way, “life between 21 years old and what many might call midlife in their later 40s, is another 8,000 days. And, from midlife, to the seemingly preordained retirement age of 65 years old, is about another 8,000 days.” He says the typical retirement is equal to one-third of a person’s adult life.

2. Midlife Is A New Life Phase.

While the Covid-19 pandemic did affect longevity, we are still living longer and healthier lives. Chip Conley, in his latest book Learning to Love Midlife: 12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better with Age, defines midlife as ages 35 to 75—or 40 years to enjoy. Conley reminds us how it is not about living longer, but we instead have a new life stage called middlescence. Similar to adolescence, midlife is a time when our bodies and our identities are changing just as much as they did when we were teenagers—physically, hormonally, and emotionally. It is important to understand these changes so that we don’t make mistakes usually attributed to a midlife crisis.

3. Connection Is Protection.

For most people, workplaces are where they get their social interaction. When people leave the workforce, they often feel disconnected. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and author of Together: The Healing Power of Human Connections in a Sometimes Lonely World, said “When people are socially disconnected … the increased risk of premature death associated with social disconnection is comparable to smoking daily — and may be even greater than the risk associated with obesity.”

A more recent Surgeon General report titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” finds that even before COVID-19, loneliness was an epidemic. The consequences of feeling disconnected is devastating: “a 29% increased risk of heart disease; a 32% increased risk of stroke; and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults.”

What Should You Do?

Don’t retire from life. Consider life after work as another phase of life. Discover, explore, and experiment. Find the cause or purpose that will help you get up in the morning. If you have one-third of your life still in front of you, dream how you want to spent this time and make something happen.

Reframe aging. Becca Levy, a professor at Yale’s School of Public Health has found that people who shift their perspective on aging from negative to positive live 7.5 years longer. Embrace aging as a time to contribute in the world in an encore career, part-time work, volunteering, or even becoming an entrepreneur. Today, the average age of entrepreneurs is 42.

Find new ways to stay relevant and engaged. When people feel disconnected and lonely, they often feel irrelevant and invisible. Join organizations and clubs. Mentor and teach others what you know. Being curious goes a long way toward finding a new meaning in your life.

You don’t have to know what you want to do for the next 8,000 days. But figuring out how to use this expanded life phase takes time and thought. Start thinking now about how you want to live a meaningful life—on purpose and with intention—and without ever having to retire.

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