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How Retirees Shaped My Attitude About Retirement

How Retirees Shaped My Attitude About Retirement

The last pharmacy I worked in was the best job I ever had because I was older than many retired customers and what I learned from them forever changed how I felt about retirement.

They told me everything about themselves and the world they lived in. I listened intently, asked questions, and observed. It was a priceless education. I soaked it up like a sponge.

I heard many comments and ideas with which I disagreed, but I said nothing. After all, I knew I was getting an education about a world and lifestyle I knew nothing about, but I wanted to learn.

One of many things that surprised me was this comment from an older woman: “I’ve done for others all of my life, and now it’s time for others to do for me.”

To me, that was a shocker. By all means, do for others who need help, but if you don’t do it out of the goodness of your heart, then don’t do it. When you do something kind, please don’t expect anything in return. Family members and others may or may not want to be caregivers, nor should they be if you can take care of yourself. When you can help yourself, you will stay physically strong longer, and your brain will be sharper longer, which is a blessing.

Other than the loss of cognition and physical health, possibly the worst thing older people should fear is dependence. When you become dependent, either by choice or necessity, you lose a part of yourself.

Another thing I learned about retirees is that many did not have enough income, which opens the door to dependence. More than a few had only Social Security income to carry them through the rest of their lives. It’s common for many to retire thinking they won’t need as much money anymore, but they soon find that inflation makes that idea a gross miscalculation. You find yourself thinking you worked hard all of your adult life in anticipation of enjoying a carefree retirement, and when the time comes — it’s a rude awakening that what you did to prepare (or even if you prepared at all) — was not enough.

But there is good news here for those willing to deal with reality. I am a staunch advocate of work. I recall listening to Pastor Rick Warren, author of the very successful book, A Purpose Driven Life, discussing political issues with John McCain, who ran for president against Barak Obama. I remember Pastor Warren emphatically stated, “We are made for work.” Not everyone agrees with that sentiment, but it made perfect sense to me. It gave legitimacy to the phrase, “use it or lose it.” If you don’t challenge your brain and body consistently, it deteriorates.

I bring up the work issue because I saw many cash-poor retirees capable of holding a job of one kind or another, yet they didn’t want to work. I recall one customer, a retired engineer, would clip food coupons out of the newspaper while waiting for his prescription to be filled. He always complained about the cost of his medication, determined not by the pharmacy but by his insurance plan. But, unfortunately, he never seemed or wanted to understand that.

One day, in what I thought was a casual and pleasant conversation with him about his work experience, I asked if he had ever considered getting a part-time job that would allow him to use and share his considerable skills. You would have thought I had insulted his mother. He became angry and reminded me he had earned his retirement, and there was no way he was going to work again. Ever. For me, it was a lesson learned: be careful what or how you ask a question.

On other occasions, women would tell me they would like to have a job but didn’t think they were qualified to do anything because they had been out of the labor market (or had never been in it) for a long time. They could have found work suitable for their talents, but truth be told, they really didn’t want to work. They were settled in their comfortable leisure-oriented lifestyle and were unwilling to disturb it or give it up. That’s easy to understand.

But then there was Margie. She had an attitude that said she could chew you up and spit you out. In particular, she said she was tired of the everyday get-togethers at 4 PM at the local burger place with residents of her retirement complex. All they did, she said, was complain about aches and pains and tell how much they loved (or hated) their doctor, and reminisce about the past and tell and retell demeaning old people jokes. “I’m tired of it,” she whined.

One day Margie began wearing makeup and colored her hair “old age orange” and started to wear what was considered business clothes. She had gotten a job as a clerk at a local auto body shop. Did she look like a million bucks? Absolutely. Soon after, she was showing off a lovely engagement ring. At 78, she had gotten engaged to the 67-year-old owner of the body shop. Was it a miracle? More likely, it was just that Margie took the bull by the horns and took charge of her life.

I understand why people are eager to start retirement. After 40 years of work, you are tired. Retirement provides the opportunity to take a deep breath and finally call life your own. Even with difficulties, the lifestyle becomes a warm and loving friend.

But here’s the thing. After a year or two of enjoying the freedom of retirement, that initial “honeymoon” phase starts to get boring, or the need for more money kicks in. That’s your opportunity to be decisive about what you want to do with the rest of your life. Before you get too tired and your brain and body get too “mushy” to do anything of value, take control of your future. It belongs to you.

The lifespan has increased enormously. More people take better care of themselves, and it’s not uncommon for some to reach 100 or more. So if you retire at age 65 (or before), you may live another 30 years.

Please don’t allow awareness of your chronological age to rule or ruin your life! Indeed, age is “just a number.” We agree that’s true, but we often act as if we don’t believe it when making life decisions. What should concern you is your biological age — the health and vitality of your cells. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m 92, and frankly, I don’t give a rat’s behind what my birth date is. I recently had an extensive test done to determine my biological age, and it’s 74. Trust me; it changes your outlook on life. It gives you the freedom to dare to act upon all the possibilities open to you.

You can have a fulfilling, purpose-driven second life after retirement. You can and should experience the magic of accomplishment in your older years. Remember Harlan Sanders, founder of the KFC chicken franchise? He wasn’t a kid when he decided to start his business. Remember Grandma Moses? If you don’t know who she was, Google her for some inspiration. Or perhaps you are familiar with Gert Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear. She went to the office every day until she passed at 94. Advanced age is not a death sentence. Be confident; what others have done, you CAN do, too, and maybe, a whole lot more!