Use your leisure
On retirement, running through the tape, and turning off the TV
America has built quite the cult of retirement: From The Villages (a planned retirement community in Florida with 138,000 residents) to robust public-sector pension plans that almost always offer the allure of earlier retirement than in the private sector, we focus mightily on treating ages 62 to 67 as a finish line at which everyone ought to be single-mindedly focused upon running through the tape before coming to a complete stop.
■ Considering the vast number of adjustments that went into accommodating the broad, instantaneous switch to working from home as a pandemic precaution starting in March 2020, it is surprising we haven't seen more energy and creativity invested in finding ways for people to remain plugged into work after reaching retirement age.
■ The retirement age is artificial, after all. Certainly there are many occupations in which people are entitled to a physical rest after decades of labor. And there are lots of people who find considerable fulfillment in non-employment activities, like volunteering or caring for grandchildren.
■ But we also find many examples of people who had much to do and contribute well after their mid-60s. Mike Krzyzewski has taken until age 75 to retire from coaching college basketball. Norman Borlaug continued working on the Green Revolution into his 90s. Benjamin Franklin was 70 when he signed the Declaration of Independence and 81 when he signed the Constitution.
■ Nobody ought to be indentured to their work, but it's a mistake to underestimate how many contributions people can still make well after many of their peers decide to take up golfing as a full-time pursuit. As Franklin himself put it, "It is not leisure that is not used."
■ For all the concern expressed about children's exposure to television, adults 65 and older watch an average of more than 7 hours of television per day. That number has risen a lot in recent years. And that's not the only boom in screen time for retirees, who are significant social-media consumers, too.
■ It might be worthwhile for society at large -- not just the retirement-age cohort -- to put some creative energy to use in deploying some of the time available to willing people in productive ways outside of the almost-nonstop consumption of entertainment. Finding fulfillment in useful activities -- being needed by one's community -- is an important aspect to psychological wellness.
■ If we found the resources and creativity needed to get people around extraordinary barriers to normal work because a pandemic forced us to do it, why shouldn't we put some similar resources to work figuring out how to better connect people to purposeful things they could do in new and meaningful ways even after they've earned the right to walk away? It's not the path for everybody, but it's hard to imagine we aren't leaving a lot of talent and pride on the table just because we haven't done much innovation in the new world of work.