The World Does Not Expect Much of You. Make It Sorry.
Busy, busy, busy. That's what you'll hear if you ask a retiree how things are going. Inquire further, and you discover that "busy" means an assortment of leisure activities (pickleball is hot right now), cool courses (medieval instruments, anyone?), doctor visits, language lessons, and a round of golf. Occasionally you'll hear about volunteering, starting a new business, or writing that novel put off for decades.
For today's boomer, retirement reality is an experiment…what shall we do with our time? A vortex of growing longevity, financial pressures, and societal confusion regarding our role in the later stages of life has opened the door to reimagining retirement that will be longer than childhood, middle age, and even working years for many.
The world demands and expects less and less of us as we age.
When we are old, we are IN…incompetent, incontinent, and invisible. Institutions, marketers, and younger folks might be ageist, but their prejudice is chump change compared to our internalized ageism. Since the world expects less of us, we give ourselves permission to do less…and less…and less until our skills get dry and our life mission gets pushed aside on the pickleball court.
It's gotten so bad that when an elder acts against stereotype, like Maye Musk posing on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, we react as did Samuel Johnson in 1763. The latter referred to women preachers, "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done."
Anyone working hard after retirement is admired and often called an "icon." That itself shows how much society gives elders a pass on productivity.
It also explains why most so-called active adult communities are designed for indolence.
The gold standard of retirement living includes a pool, gym, leisure club, and restaurant. Ageism goes just so far to explain this. Not one person who lives in these communities was brought there under duress. They love it.
Age-based communities are not a new idea. Augustus Caesar, the adopted son of Julius Caesar and the first leader of the Roman Empire (27BC-286AD), enacted the Aerarium Militaire, a pension fund for retired soldiers. Augustus built the town of Timgad in c. AD 100 at the southern edge of the Roman Empire, now Algeria, as a reward for them and their families.
The US had its own Augustus Caesar. Delbert Eugene Webb (Del Webb) wanted to reward retirees of the WWII generation with a life of leisure. He built Sun City in 1960, paving the way for the Villages in Florida, Margaritaville, and at least 221,000 other age-based communities.
Now. don't get me wrong. I am not picking on age-based communities. It's that they are a Petri dish for observing the lifestyles that “sell” and both lead and reflect our tastes. People aging in place are doing much the same as those in communities; only they need to travel to the pickleball courts. But it can be disheartening to see so many of my peers with good education, excellent health, and money to boot, letting their brilliance languish.
The times, are they "changing”?
Fortunately, there are forces afoot changing societal expectations of elders and, in turn, what we expect of ourselves. Certainly, MEA has a transformational take on the modern elder as one who is not just older but also wants to make the most of positive aging. They'll benefit from the extra healthy years that curiosity, productivity, and contribution bring…studies say up to seven years above those with no life mission.
But modern elders also have a burden. They need to be clear in their quest to make a difference. I conclude my weekly podcasts with the words, "Get out there, kids, and make it happen." I mean to convey that the world underestimates you…just show 'em!
Fortunately, there is still time to contribute.
According to gerontologists, in advanced age, we enter a life stage called “gerotranscendence” when our legacy becomes paramount. As a cohort, boomers, even the eldest among us, are not there yet. But when we reach a healthy eighty-five plus in large numbers, we may experience that tipping point toward contribution and away from leisure as the ultimate reward.
By then, we will be twenty years in retirement; pickleball gets old too. MEA participants are preparing for that day earlier in life and will be ahead of the pack by decades. Instead of a purpose-driven end run, they will have a purposeful elder life stage of many years. And have time to play a little pickleball along the way.
Adriane Berg is the host of the Podcast Generation Bold: The Fountain of Truth About Aging, author, speaker and consultant on boomer and mature lifestyles.