Retirement – what does that really mean?

Prudential is a large insurance company that has a brilliant marketing scheme, which just happens to also be a wonderful testament to retirement.

The Day One project consists of photos and videos documenting the very first day of retirement for each of hundreds of people across the United States who retired in 2011. I do not know how it is that the specific people in this project were contacted, but their stories are interesting, touching, inspiring, and a vivid reminder that – barring circumstances beyond one’s control – we will each eventually reach that ripe point in time when change is ours to make; when we may leave our jobs and craft an adventure; when we redefine how we spend our time.

What is retirement? Last year my husband left his job of twenty-seven years. He was successful at what he did, highly liked and admired by colleagues, and on the younger side in terms of typical retirement age. People figured he was retiring, or taking a sabbatical. He replied that he was taking an adult gap year, for sabbatical implies returning to one’s position, and he was definitely not returning. He absolutely did not want to retire; he simply wanted a change.

Synonyms for retirement, according to one online definition, include retreat, seclusion and withdrawal. Yikes! These couldn’t be worse prescriptions for one’s long term cognitive health! Take an aging brain and induce it to retreat, seclude itself and withdraw, and you have a recipe for old age decline.

So what did my husband do? He is taking courses at Yestermorrow in Vermont, focusing on a sustainable building and design certificate program. He is teaching AP Computer Science online. He is engaged in experiments revolving around his sustainable architecture practicum, which involves a curved roof system. He is reading books, both online and in print. He is tweeting. He is writing a book. Well, more accurately, he is taking a book that he hand wrote over part of a year, rereading it one chapter at a time, editing it and posting it online. He is thinking about ideas. He takes daily long walks. He has time. He makes his own time. And the stress lines are gone from his face. And he’s dropped a few pounds. And he cooks dinner every evening.

I’d describe this as retooling or retreading, but not retiring. And perhaps there are even more apt words to describe this next phase of life. When the time comes for you, what will you call this phase?

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