Work – income-generating work, that is – is regarded by many as giving meaning to life. And for those many the idea of retiring strikes fear into their hearts. Because for all of us, the word “retirement” conventionally means retiring from such work.
And such fears can be reinforced by views such as those expressed by Dr Shigeaki Hinohara, a Japanese specialist in longevity, who lived to 105 and died recently in July.
As reported In his New York Times obituary, with longevity on the rise he recommended as one of the basic health guidelines, that one should never retire, “but if you must, do so a lot later than age 65.”
He himself followed that guideline to the letter, working at his medical profession until shortly before his death. At the same time, however, according to his obituary, his time in his later years “was devoted largely to volunteer work.” and he also wrote a musical version of a child’s book as well as scores of books.
And he would definitely have tipped his lid to 96-year-old Prince Philip, who has only just called it a day as far as his royal duties are concerned, after clocking up 22,219 solo engagements since his wife became Queen in 1952. And she, at the age of 91 years, is continuing in her active role. Dr Hinohara would have approved of both of them.
Regarding Prince Philip, however, it was also salutary to read that he would still be involved in many activities, both in terms of his hobbies – such as driving antique royal carriages, painting, reading, and photography – and of charities that he has long been working with.
The key point that was made about him at this stage, and which triggered a light bulb moment for me, was that “he’s not giving up on life, he’s just stepping back from full-time public engagement and taking it a bit easier.”
And to me, that suddenly produced the key to redefining – or at the very least expanding – the idea of retirement:
Because while not everyone can decree when they are going to retire from work, we do have control over whether we are going to retire from life, or to continue to engage with the richness of being alive. If we choose the latter, then each of us as individuals, with our personal sets of circumstances, relationships, personalities and preferences, can enjoy working on the ways in which we would like to spend this most valuable commodity, of extra time to do what we like. What luxury to be able to chose a range of activities that can continue to give us – as a mix – a combination of fulfillment and pleasure and sense of connection with our world.
And thinking about all of this, I have had another light bulb moment: that it is hardly surprising that this sort of insight has come from a woman of my age. As a member of that very recent generation of women making the transition from the expectations of full time domesticity to fulltime paid employment, I can see that while for men the connection between paid work and meaning is a deeply rooted cultural reality, for women it is far more recent and still less entrenched. We are, in fact, still more aware that work – too – has a much broader definition than simply being linked with a $ sign.