Fire Fighting in Canada

Comment: Perhaps retire is not the right word

August 28, 2023  By Laura Aiken

Retirement: A feared phase? A coveted time? Something too far away to contemplate or counting down the days? The word itself conjures up so many emotions, even for those of us who are decades away from it. Everyone has heard the parable of someone that retired and perished shortly thereafter, presumably death by lack of purpose, stripped of one’s purpose and shelved like a sedentary pack of raisins. But it is hard to quantify all the causes of such decline. 

Retirement is also portrayed as fantastical, a life of leisure playing golf, gardening and horsing around with the grandkids. I suspect the reality is often a gradient of the two. Whatever vision retirement evokes for you, I’m betting it’s a strong one. Retirement is a powerful word. 

Words are manipulated all the time in the English language. You may recall the late comedian George Carlin famously blitzing about softening terminology. Shell shock became battle fatigue, then operational exhaustion, and lastly post traumatic stress disorder. He viscerally quipped: “I’ll bet you if we’d have still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time.” Carlin’s point — words have impact. 

Retirement is a cumbersome word, and the action of it can be as well with all the planning. But is it that fitting? By definition, to retire means to “cease work,” but also as a verb, to withdraw or retreat. A stepping back from life is a negative connotation. Though our bodies age, our minds, so long as they remain healthy, keep quite youthful in thought. Who we are inside tends to feel the same through the years and be mainly perplexed by the wrinkles in the mirror. A survivalist instinct does not want to retire from life; that smacks of mortality. But change — that’s a concept we’ve had a lifetime to become accustomed to and yet often still find unsettling. 


Perhaps retirement needs new terminology. Retirement could become “transition” (albeit, that has too many other connotations).How about, “next chaptering”? It is typical to think of life in phases. Or, “reorienting”? I kind of like reorienting. I picture retiring to be an experience that would certainly be disorienting. I am so unnerved by the thought of it I simply make jokes about the many creative ways I will ride off into the post-work sunset. I’m sure I’m not alone. 

To reorient your life from one of its chief daily purposes is a tremendous undertaking. Who are you outside such a significant role as your life’s work? The inner penchant to give back is strong, particularly so in those that choose fields of service. There are many ways to continue to be of service, and how you choose to shift your energies is largely personal. Thankfully, by the time you reach retirement age, you ought to know yourself pretty well! There’s always more to discover.    

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