Recently, as part of a series of posts about leisure and retirement, I relayed that today’s older adults are less likely than those in the previous generation or two to quit working entirely, and those who do quit working or switch to part-time employment are less interested in using the time thus freed up to pursue pleasure and more interested in pursuing significance. Given that most older adults plan to keep on doing something productive or meaningful, should we even call their status “retirement” anymore? As I noted in another post, the Free Online Dictionary defines “retire” as “to withdraw, as for rest or seclusion,” and most of us don’t seem to be planning such a retreat from the realm of active engagement. I asked “what should we call the change in activities that many older adults make after years or decades of full-time work in a particular occupation? If ‘retirement’ is a misnomer, what term is a better fit?”
This question has a personal dimension: I don’t really know what to call myself. I left my full-time job as a professor at Methodist University at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. I was given a retirement reception and received a retirement gift. I have no plans to ever take another full-time job. Yet I don’t consider myself retired, and don’t think the compromise term “semi-retired” describes my status very accurately. Why not? Well, I remain active in my profession of psychology, seeing clients an average of 10-12 hours a week and providing supervision. I write most days with the intent of making much of what I produce publicly available. I also spend a good deal of time helping my elderly parents. I haven’t withdrawn from the world of activity, and don’t expect to do so anytime soon. If I have more “rest or seclusion” than I did before I left Methodist, it is only marginally so.
One of the secondary definitions of “retire” is “To fall back or retreat, as from battle.” Thus, troops who are in an unfavorable position may pull back out of the line of fire or leave the battlefield entirely. Like many working or non-working older adults, my troops—my energies and abilities—may not be engaged in the same way they once were, but they haven’t been withdrawn entirely from the field of endeavor. Instead, they’ve been redeployed to other positions. In my case, these positions are working part-time, meeting family responsibilities, and writing. Since I can’t give a succinct answer when asked whether I’m retired, perhaps what I could say is that I’m redeployed but not retired. I like that as a way of stating that I’m no longer in a full-time job but still am more focused on productive activity than on rest.