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The Betrayal of Retirement

I once bought a BMW. It was a 1988 325 model, or as a real Bimmer fan would say, an E-30 Three Series. It was a sturdy and practical vehicle, with a robust six cylinder engine, a solid five-speed transmission with the reverse gear in the proper left-and-up position, and it tracked through turns like it was on rails! It got fairly good mileage, and was a hoot to drive. I drove it for many years, and eventually turned it over to my son, who drove it through a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and two years of young marriage and one child. He recently brought it back, being the new proud owner of a Nissan pickup with four doors and plenty of room in the bed for mountain bikes.

So I have been driving a pretty old BMW (E-30!). I wonder if it is worth saving, so I called Dennis, one of the best BMW mechanics who ever lived. I wanted him to evaluate it and advise me. I thought with his guidance I could mess with the little car and bring it back to peak condition. His number was disconnected. Panic stricken, I madly searched the internet, and found a Bimmer discussion group where I learned he had retired and moved to Hawaii. How can he do this to me? He is the only one I trust, the only one who can tell me what I want to know.

It may be rationalization based on the undeniable fact that I can’t really afford to retire, but I am skeptical about the value of retirement. Dennis was great, and I am sure he’ll enjoy living in Hawaii, yet I wonder if he will miss all his fans, all the Bimmer drivers convinced he walked on water. I wonder if he will miss taking an old 2002 model (a BMW model that preceded the E-30 and not made in the year 2002) and restoring it to pristine condition.

A woman called me today, and being pretty busy I didn’t want to take another client. Yet she said nice things she’d heard about me, and had a problem I can usually help people solve, and I accepted her. I am her Dennis.

Whose Dennis are you? If you live your life in the right way, in the way you are connected. You help people in one way or another, you make a positive impact. That connection gives our lives significance, and retirement casts us adrift.

I happened to be talking to Bud and asked him his age. He is now 85, his birthday this week. As a young man he started buying rental properties and today he owns many. They are all paid off, so the rent gives him an amazing income. He enjoys his fancy Italian sports car, and he enjoys driving a nice pickup, but mostly he enjoys managing his apartments. He likes the people who rent from him, and he is particularly pleased that he offers his tenants low rent. He takes very good care of the properties and his renters are extremely loyal. While the money is nice, his joy is serving his tenants. It gives his life a sense of meaning.

Some people look at their work as a job, some as a career. The “job” people want to earn money. Their work is something they do to get that money. The career people want to get ahead, they want to achieve recognition, they want status.

But the third group has achieved a calling. They see their lives as meaningful to the extent they express their talents and gifts and serve others. Their happiness doesn’t come from money or from status, it comes from having real meaning in their lives.

So I don’t think I will retire. If you are looking forward to it, may I suggest a second thought? Maybe you should be thinking about how you will spend the so-called retirement years. How will you find significance and meaning in your life? What is your calling?

Now excuse me. I have a car to restore and no one to guide me.

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3 Responses

  1. Helen West-Rodriguez, Ph.D.
    | Reply

    As a “retired” gerontologist, I have to add my 2 cents. Many studies point out the falacy of thinking you are going to pursue hobbies like fishing, golfing, reading or knitting once you have the time…i.e. are retired. That will usually be deligihtful for about 2 weeks. The bad news is that for many people, the next step is ‘depression.’ This can be garden variety or clinical. Either way it helps account for the fact that older people are the second largest age group to suffer from depression. Please heed the wise advise in this blog before you plan/implement your retirement.

  2. Judith Boswell
    | Reply

    I found your comments on retirement to be interesting….and almost identical to what I thought a year or so ago. After over 35 years in psychiatric social work, I knew that my work was my calling—what I did for a living was my life’s passion. One cannot be more blessed than that! And I felt that I would never retire. I was a therapist at a community mental health center, following years of employment in a state psychiatric hospital. As I grew older, I realized that I had fewer years to develop my creative interests (which provided the “balance” in my life), and I decided to “retire” ——knowing that ending employment, per se, would in no way dimenish my commitment to others. Of course I miss my former clients and the challenges of being a therapist, but retirement has, in fact, freed me to give more purely to others in the form of volunteer work and help to friends and neighbors and acquaintances, as well as provided me a chance to find fulfillment in creative endeavors. My “calling” is not about work—it is about who I am in every relationship and deed in my life. Retirement is wonderful and has not changed who I am…it has only changed how I live-out the person that I am. (Dennis is likely loving Hawaii…and enjoying helping folks there with their cars—just doing it on his terms!) Do not fear leaving a job, i.e., “retirement”. It can open new doors, and it will not change your ability to continue your “calling.”

  3. Carol Fechter
    | Reply

    As usual, I loved reading your rant and was inspired by the landlord- awesome idea to see property management in that light! God bless your day, you have been a steady source of inspiration for me!

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