Just Saying: Retirement - Just a Phase?

By Shelley Wildgen

Cher did it. Oprah did it. George Foreman and Muhammad Ali both did it. They all retired then came back with a vengeance. Lance Armstrong did it too, but we don’t care. Cher’s still “shoop-shooping” it up in Vegas, Oprah went from talk show maven to network mogul and the famous boxers kept returning to the ring until one of them got grilling.

One of the most remarkable celebrity retirements was Shirley Temple, the corkscrew curled little cherub of movies from the 1930s. Shirley didn’t spiral into the cliche narcotic fuelled adulthoods of many child stars. After making 44 movies before she was 12, she came back as an adult and became a U.S. Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana, first female Chief of Protocol and rounded out her stellar political career as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. How do you like them apples Mr. Bojangles?

So that’s them. The finest and fanciest. How about the rest of us? If a senior leaves their career after 30 years and no one notices, is it still called retirement? Maybe yes, but likely no. In our world of ‘rehirement’ many seniors still have several decades left in a whole other career. With our extended life spans, often times work income is needed long after our peak working years expire so buckle up baby, this ride could be very bouncy.

The actual word ‘retirement’ is a noun, not a lot of action in it, and it’s defined as:

1. The action or fact of leaving one's job and ceasing to work.

2. The withdrawal of a jury from the courtroom to decide their verdict.

…aaaaaand sometimes it can feel like the jury decided it was time for us to leave work. However the process unfolds, unless you’ve socked away cash since you were 12, it can be a less than comfortable prospect so creative reinvention becomes a clever option.

Racehorses retire at a definite time. Stop running well and finished. No second chances. Well they may take up buggy hauling but their race days are non-negotiable. Finished. A little more planning is required for us. As humans we can take what we learned from the first career and apply it to the second or third career. For example, I spent a long chunk in broadcasting and then I taught media and now as I cuddle up to some form of retirement, I write. Kind of all in the same family and fairly easy transitions. What’s really cool is when someone does a complete 180. I have a friend who was first a graphic designer, then a college professor of Graphic Design and now at age 60, she runs an inn three provinces away from where she called home, for her entire life. Racehorses could never do that!

Sure, you can put on your greeter cap if that floats your boat, but you can also entertain a myriad of other ideas. It’s looking like it might be a long 30 years so we better make sure we’re enjoying ourselves! More and more it’s becoming clear that a sense of adventure is a valuable tool for a happy retirement. Harness all of the acquired skillsets and fearlessness we can possibly pull from within and dare to touch a few of our dreams with a practical hand. Most of it starts with the ever-growing art of downsizing. Strip our housing down to what we can live in most easily, with the least amount of extra stuff. If we’re very honest with ourselves that really only requires one to three well-appointed rooms.

Keeping our overhead down and our walls fewer creates less to be afraid of losing and adds to whatever cash stash we’re working with. The money end of things can take a few twists and turns over the years. Some people have everything set and ready to go with a financial planner but many of us fumble our way along sprinkling any available spare dollars around into various crises and comfy little bank accounts that grow at about the same rate as our eyebrow hairs.

Inevitably we look to the internet for guidance and support and it is there. Oh yes. The Canadian Retirement Income Calculator spells it all out. Isn’t that handy? Or it would be if we could predict our annual salaries in this funny world of multi-part time and often under-employed pre-retirees.

So, we work with what we have and contemplate our next move, making sure to talk openly and often to this century’s booming bundle of like-minded retirees. Surprisingly, most of our friends are eager to talk about this life phase. No one schooled us in it and we only had our parents’ example to observe, so coming up with fresh ideas on how to navigate this new reality of getting old can make for some inspiring dinner parties.

Like contentment and excitement, the word ‘retirement’ holds the promise of a happy transition into an altered state. Whether that state is spent troubleshooting in a call centre, running an inn in the Maritimes, becoming a professional dog-walker, Golden Girling it with a couple of good friends, or selling off all wordly possessions and following the weather in a Winnebago, it’s all possibly possible.

Only one thing is certain: our cover girl days are probably behind us but what’s ahead is quite likely to re-work the old idea of retirement.