Is “Retirement” becoming a Dirty Word?

If you’ve been around here for very long, you know that I’d just as soon retire the word “retirement” from the dictionary, even though we haven’t really come up with an acceptable substitute yet. But make no mistake about it, we are witnessing a cultural phenomenon that is rapidly changing the way we view the final 1/3 of our lives. Today’s piece of evidence is blog article from Contemporary Retirement called “Has retirement become a dirty word?” which in turn refers to a New York Times article, “Whatever You Do, Call It Work.” Both the blog article and the Times piece relate how uncomfortable many people already are at referring to themselves as “retired.”

In the past, it was fairly normal for such changes to take a generation or so, with holders of the old ideas literally having to die off in order for the new to take hold. Our attitudes towards such things as smoking and alcohol consumption, sexual mores, political ideas, etc. take years to work their way through the culture. But the internet age seems to have greatly speeded up such transformations. And globalized them. Contemporary Retirement is authored by UK retirement coach Ann Harrison, and some other recent articles I have read describing the same phenomenon were from Canadian blogs.

And so it is with the idea of retirement. I’ve already noticed the reluctance of friends my age to use the word, preferring rather to talk about the activities they’d like to pursue in this new phase of life. And we’re all trying out new cultural words like “downshifting” or "transitioning" to describe what we’re doing.

And so we have popular books like Encore:Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life, with its corresponding website, and other websites like ReBootYou and of course Platinum Years, all of which have within them other trial words to replace the “R” word.

But tonight I began thinking that maybe the “new retirement” will become so cultural that it will no longer need this categorical description. Do you remember in the early days of the internet how people struggled with the “www” in website names? It was so cumbersome to say, especially in advertising. I remember thinking that "www" couldn’t last, but wondering what we could possibly replace it with. But the internet became so ubiquitous that in the end, we just didn’t need to say it at all.

So maybe, in the end, we'll eliminate (or greatly downplay), the need to give "retirement," as we now know it, a category. We'll just need an umbrella word that can encompass all these other words that describe the exciting things we're doing with the rest of our lives.

But meanwhile, here's another potential umbrella word entry. It's in the title of best selling book I’ve just started reading … Don’t Retire, ReWire, by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners. Here is the first sentence of the promo of this book:

"Through research Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners discovered that three out of four boomers said they hated the word retirement, and didn’t ever plan on totally retiring."
Now I ask you, given the above, is there ANY possibility that I'm not going to love this book? The authors have a website too, but I’ll save all that for the book review. Stay tuned. - Bob


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