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SeniorSite.com - Retirees Should Be the Ones to Define Retirement
SeniorSite.com - Retirees Should Be the Ones to Define Retirement
Retirees Should Be the Ones to Define "Retirement"

George Fulmore, is a retired educator and programmer who retired on the younger side of the scale. With this column, George will introduce you to the concept of "The Art of Retirement".

Retirees Should Be the Ones to Define "Retirement"

For every American "minority" there has been a tendency by the general media to come up with definitions for the group--as opposed to granting the minority, itself, that honor. For American retirees this is no exception.

"Retirement" in the US is a fairly recent phenomenon. And its definition early on tended to be more of a projection than anything else. For years, investment companies and insurance groups took the lead by promoting ads and imagery of a heaven-like "golden retirement." And the Del Webb Corporation built the first Sun City in 1960 with a vision of what a physical layout of that golden retirement might be. Thus, in the first phase of defining the concept of "retirement," non-retired folks defined it as it could be.

We are now in the second phase of defining "retirement," and, as before, it is dominated by non-retirees. But this time, the definitions tend to accent what retirement should be.

Back again are the investment companies, insurance groups, now joined by developers of "active adult" communities, who continue to define retirement through imagery. But they do it now with the growing confidence that that imagery is coming true for more and more Americans.

On another front, however, others suggest that the older definition of "retirement" needs to be revamped. For example, in his classic book, "Age Wave," Ken Dychtwald talks about "restructuring" retirement so as to allow us "to interweave work and non-work throughout our adult years." In another example, Neal Cutler from the National Council on the Aging has said, "Retirement used to be defined as what one was no longer doing…. Increasingly, it will be defined by what one does do-second career, volunteer work, travel, sports activities, etc."

And finally, there is a school of thought wants to burst the balloon completely. For example, author Stephen Pollan includes "Don't Retire" as one of his four major tenets in his book "Die Broke," urging older workers to "say good riddance to retirement." And in "The Retirement Myth", author Craig Karpel argues that there is simply no way, economically, that "the vast majority of baby boomers will be able to quit work at an arbitrary age and be supported in idle affluence for decades."

So where are we? We have industries dedicated to building images of retirement and selling financial products, homes and other stuff that they say can bring these images into reality. And we have authors of books and in magazines giving us new definitions for "retirement" and/or urging us to resist the concept completely.

But what about AARP? Surely it will help us with a more concrete, positive definition. Not so, AARP, which now goes strictly by the acronym to eliminate the "R" and "Retirement," seems preoccupied more with "fighting employment and workplace discrimination" for older workers than praising retirement as such. In a February 1999 editorial in AARP's Modern Maturity magazine, for example, readers were assured that AARP would be there to aid members to "flunk retirement."

What's wrong with this picture is that American retirees are out there buying concepts and stuff from working folks and then told to make it happen, while those who just sold them the stuff get back to work!

As has taken place and continues to take place with other American minorities, more complete and less self-serving definitions of this minority-the American retiree-will not come forth until the retirement community, itself, makes those definitions.

But how will they be communicated? To date, there is no "Retirement Magazine" And few, if any, newspapers or magazines have "retirement" columns.

But stay tuned. Where there is a void, someone or something will come along to fill it. And in the inevitable third phase of defining "retirement," we'll get some beauties. To be sure, they will be coming primarily out of retiree-advised or -controlled media products. That way--and only that way--will they be coming "from the horse's mouth."

Retirees Should Be the Ones to Define Retirement

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