I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Are you ready to live a long time, or do you dread it? Recent medical advances mean we could live longer, but doesn’t guarantee the quality of that life. In the words of one senior, "We’re not living longer, we’re dying longer."
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Getting older doesn’t have to mean living a limited life. Author Lyndsay Green has interviewed forty successful seniors to talk not just about the problems of old age but its strength and benefits.
If you are of an age to be starting to think of retirement, you could probably benefit from Ms. Green’s little volume. As she points out, we all tend to obsess over the financial details and we don’t spend much time pondering what we will actually DO when we are retired.
Although some of the details are a bit dated (web sites which I’m not sure will still work, that kind of thing), the advice is still outstanding. Green reminds us that we will still need to fill our days with meaningful things to do and maintain links with people to avoid isolation. If you retire at 60 and live until your late 80s, that’s another 30 years of life. That’s a long chunk of time to experience without any structure!
The vast majority of us are going to face some health challenges as we move through our senior years. I’m already struggling with knee and balance problems, so I know what she’s talking about! So, make your plans, but be ready to be flexible because things will change.
Also, be aware that we do better if we start doing some of our retirement activities before we retire. If you’re planning to volunteer, maybe get a foot in the door while you still have a job. (Employed people are apparently more appealing to some volunteer agencies.) We are also much more likely to continue an activity than to seek out new ones—just human nature, I guess. Many people have invested so much of their personal identity in their paid work-role, that they feel like they are experiencing a major loss when they leave the workplace—avoid this happening to you by getting other sources of satisfaction arranged before you pull the plug at work.
I think the best advice she gives is twofold: one, keep in touch with your current friends, by whatever means necessary (phone, text, email, skype, even cards & letters) because you will value your contemporaries when you are older. Number two, MAKE YOUNGER FRIENDS! I can’t tell you how many of my friends and relatives in their 80s tell me that their contemporaries are dwindling and they rely on younger friends for stimulation and a connection to the current world. One of my beloved aunts has just passed away—she was a devoted teacher and after retirement, she tutored children to stay in touch. I think she was 86 before she gave up that activity. She was the last of her siblings and I know that she missed them a great deal.
I’m planning to phase out of work gradually over the next few years, so this book really spoke to me. I also took a course on being ready to retire and I think I’m on the right track. I have practice, having given up a volunteer role that used to be central to my life. I didn’t think I’d have friends or a social life once I left that position, but thankfully I was very wrong. Be ready to take some risks, to make as many new friends as you can, and to find a reason to get up & get dressed every morning! Retirement is looking very appealing.