Carol Larson’s work recently placed in the 2013 Writer’s Digest annual competition. She’s an Emmy award-winning alumnus of Milwaukee TV and Wisconsin Public Television. She “retired” in 2010 after a 33-year career in broadcast journalism. Find her at CarolsVoice.net.

The Retiree Revolution

'Some Of Us Are Ticked Off'


March 2014

BY CAROL LARSON

Hi, I’m Carol and I’m retired. Now without thinking, does your mind immediately picture someone ancient and befuddled, physically and mentally in decline? That’s one of the ageist stereotypes applied to retirees–people who are worn out, dried up and a burden on society.

Just so you know, I’m an active 59 years old. I work out four times a week, and I just finished writing my first book.

Granted, I retired early, adding one more to the 8,000 Baby Boomers who, starting in 2011, retire every single day. We are people who, on average, will live 20 to 30 years past retirement age.

But before you start wailing that the economic sky is falling because of the burden we pose to the Social Security and Medicare systems, know this: most retirees today are still healthy, and probably will remain so for years.

Another thing you should know about the new retirees? Some of us are ticked off.

Why? Because of the stubborn stereotype foisted on us, not only that we’re old and decrepit, but worst of all, that when a person retires we will never make another meaningful contribution to the world ever again. I mean how could we? We’re not WORKING.

Well, kids, welcome to the next revolution. Surveys over the last few years show most Boomers have no intention to stop working. Oh, we’re going to retire, but not to crawl off and die, or slide into 30 years of forced leisure.  We’re retiring in order to live–and work–in the ways we want.

Why? Because Boomers have always anchored their identities to their jobs and careers. What boomers do for work defines who they are. Just because we decide to collect out pensions doesn’t change that. What it does change is the kind of work Boomers intend to do.

Baby Boomers are, speaking in general terms, altruistic. We believe we can make the world a better place. Those surveys also show the work Boomers want to do in retirement is often in education, health care or social services, and we’ve set our collective sights on joining the nation’s struggling non-profits. Just a heads up there, folks. So prepare yourselves.

Many Boomers talk about working at least part-time because we have to, to supplement pensions and IRAs that shrunk in value during the recession.  But it’s also because we want to do something meaningful with the rest of our lives, to work for a cause, for personal satisfaction, for a purpose…not just to leave a legacy, but to live that legacy, leaving the world in better shape because of their contributions.

Why do Boomers think we can do that? Because we already have! Baby Boomers were the demographic shove behind most social revolutions of the last decades, like civil rights, feminism and the environmental movement.  Historically, whenever Boomers run into a barrier we don’t like, we bust it down with the sheer force of our giant collective will.

And the wall we are now running into is the social and professional barrier of retirement.

Oh, pshaw, you say. There’s nothing preventing a retiree from working or pursuing a new purpose in life.  I thought that once, too.  Was it just me? Why couldn’t I get anywhere?  All those unreturned phone calls and emails, the indulgent smiles from working people about my new “hobbies.” How nice for yooouu. All that free time, such a wonderful carefree life you must have…call me sometime, we’ll do lunch!

I finally checked with older retirees and learned the ugly truth.  There is an unspoken prejudice against those who have left the mainstream workforce.  We’re not taken seriously; our dreams of new pursuits are considered a form of dementia. We’re thought of as people who have to be taken care of, except for the services we provide in babysitting, volunteering, or sending gifts.

Let me cue you into something. The baby boomers are not going to stand for being shrugged off into insignificance. It’s not in our nature. Already there are retired boomers starting new businesses, non-profits and service organizations, muscling their way onto town boards, school committees and into political action groups.

Boomers see our retirements as a new phase of life when we can live–and work–on our own terms, and as assets to our communities.  We are people who already know what we’re doing, who are storehouses of knowledge, and yes, even wisdom.

So with that, here’s another final revolutionary thought. With all the new retirees, all of our experience and know-how, and our desire to make the world a better place, the retirement of the Baby Boomers might not be the cause of more problems in this world.

We might just provide the solutions.

Carol Larson can be reached at tashkentwest@msn.com

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