The Four Stages of Retirement
By Daniel Rigney
I propose that we think of retirement not as a state of being (permanently unemployed), but rather as a process that commonly proceeds in four stages. I call these stages Tirement, Pre-retirement, Retirement, and Post-tirement.
Tirement is the state of having worked for decades to the point of exhaustion and burnout. Either we have been worked nearly to death by our employers, or we have chosen to work ourselves nearly to death. In either case, we can’t go on like this forever (unless we are among those fortunate folk whose work is truly life-giving). Many of us begin to dream of stepping off the treadmill before it treads us.
Pre-retirement, the second stage in the process, finds us thinking more concretely about whether and when we can afford to retire. Panic sets in when we realize either that we can never afford to retire, or that we have no idea what we would do with the rest of our lives absent the structure and resources that our work provides. Maybe we’d better just keep working and die on the treadmill with our work shoes on.
But what if we get fired or are forced to retire by our employers for reasons of age or our inability to compete with the youngbloods, who are energetic, up-to-date and more technologically adept than we can ever hope to be? Then what do we do? We’d better start making realistic plans to retire.
Retirement arrives at last. We may get a reception, well wishes, and a digital watch, but co-workers are already forgetting our names and wondering why it took us so long to pass the baton to fresh runners.
There is an optional stage here in which we may describe ourselves as “semi-retired,” unable to face the thought that our unemployment is now probably permanent. But at least we’re now thinking more realistically and imaginatively about what we want to do with the rest of our lives. Who knows? Maybe we’ll start a second vocation or avocation as a volunteer tutor or a bird-whittler or a cabinet maker or a best-selling author, writing books with titles like “The Four Stages of Retirement.”
Finally, we acknowledge that we are really and truly retired. Denial is no longer an option. Here we enter the final and finest stage of retirement: Post-tirement. We discover or rediscover things we really enjoy doing, even if they won’t make us rich. We find a hidden talent for tutoring, or carpentry, or playing the kazoo. The distinction between work and play dissolves, and our playwork doesn’t make us tired. In fact, it energizes us. We’ve reached the stage of Post-tirement, if we’re lucky.
Unfortunately, though, nowadays too many of us can’t afford financially to get past the initial stage of Tirement. We can’t stop the treadmill. Sooner or later the treadmill stops us.
Here’s hoping you make it all the way to Post-tirement in decent health, and that the birds you whittle, or the music you write, or the kites you design, or the children you tutor, take flight as evening falls.