Having been without a job (in the strict 9-to-5, on-the-HR-rolls sense) for nearly 30 years, it does feel strange when I occasionally encounter the question, “So, when do you plan to retire?” You mean I can be more retired than I am? Come to think of it, why should I retire at all?
When The Economist recently echoed that question, I thought it would be fitting to put the retirement question to a few friends who are otherwise too busy working to answer my questions.
The Economist column says most people don’t want to retire simply because they can’t afford to. Blame it on insidious inflation! Of course, some of the rich and the famous don’t want to because they don’t want to leave centre-stage. Where else can they draw the adrenalin from and get attention unless they are sitting behind that table day after day after day?
Yes, money matters, tells my friend Lovaii Navlakhi, for the umpteenth time. He should know; that’s his job. If you started your job just last year, expect him to ask you next week if you have started saving for your retirement. You need to work for it, is what he says.
He does not prescribe what you ought to do after your retirement. But he will run a stern eye down your investments and tell you what you need to put away if you insist on rounding the world. If the numbers say that’s an out-of-the-world possibility, he will gently point to the resort round the corner and remind you how much you can save by changing your goal.
By the way, Lovaii has no plans to retire. Don’t ask me why.
In the true spirit
What I can tell you is why Geetha opted for early retirement from the bank where she used to work.
She was part of the team responsible for reaching old age pension to poor, illiterate villagers. That experience exposed her to, in her own words, how the “other half” lived. When the first opportunity came up for voluntary retirement, she quit. And the very next day volunteered to work for a trust that provides ayurveda treatment and also serves the community around in several ways.
Over the last 12 years she has been through it all—teaching the village women how to make chapatis to conducting odd-hour online meetings to raise funds to do more good for more people. “While I was in the bank, I was not seriously pursuing promotions. Now, given all the skills I have picked up here, I think I could have pushed to be the CEO of the bank,” Geetha joked.
Geetha does not think retirement is synonymous with not doing anything. She is sure that’s the right time to reach out and help. Start at home. “It could be just sponsoring the education of your servant’s child.”
Spiritually inclined as she is, Geetha is not too worried about the money part. A single mother, her daughters are settled and they had wholeheartedly supported her plan to leave the bank and take up community service. “What I have learnt is you should shed your ego. Keep yourself empty. Before you do anything, ask if it is for the larger good. Then go ahead and do it.”
A different work code
Unlike Geetha, Siva has a long way to go before he attains the conventional retirement age. Yet, he too feels there is something spiritual about the idea of hanging up the boots (if that’s what software engineers like him wear).
“Retirement,” he says, “is the time usually one could rest internally and, as the rush gradually slows down, one might begin to understand a lifetime of conditioning and its impact in terms of real inner peace and acceptance.” He accepts that it would be difficult to give up the skills that kept him fed all these years. But he is open to the idea of “doing the same thing differently” if only to derive satisfaction out of accomplishing some challenging work.
He is clear that when he retires, he would not be financially dependent on whatever “work” he does. He hopes to save enough and then maybe “teach or mentor students from the underserved sections of the community.”
This is his prescription for a happy retired life. Whatever your job or business was, “grooming ourselves to foresee and deal with the simple and common realities of life—health, contentment, forgiveness, acceptance and faith.”
Helming a social cause
Suprabha too is sure that she would lend her leadership skills for a social cause and not for a “corporate outfit” when she chooses to retire.
She is some distance from retirement, but candidly admits that “my motivation has always been money.” In case she does not enjoy the work that delivers the money, she has a number of hobbies (partial list: running, trekking, biking, boxing) that keep her “adequately engaged.”
Her motivation has always been to continuously upskill herself. So, what is her idea of retirement? “As time passes by, my ability to take breaks would increase. That's what I would call retirement.” And yes, she would love to be a nomad, not attached to a single place, and move where she would like to (preferably near the mountains).
Peace in the bustle
No mountains for Umaya, though. He was born and brought up in a city and he would prefer to be in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and “yet retain my peace.”
He is convinced that “or faculties remain sharper when we keep ourselves occupied.” That means you are unlikely to find him curled up in bed when the sun is at its zenith because he will be busy widening “the application of skills that I have gathered over the decades.”
Now that Umaya has had his say, I have a confession. I had started writing this piece, confident that my friends would give me enough masala for something humorous. Instead, this is shaping out to be just the kind of boringly seriously work guaranteed not to upset the boss or a client. Very work like, in other words.
More than a sip
Maybe I should ask Jairam, who has always been my favourite Wodehousian writer, and who has just birthed his first book, Masala Chai for the Soul.
His advice is not to retire if your job is your life and you have practically nothing else to do. Keep yourself involved in something for the sake of a timetable. It prevents you from drifting. “In the end,” he says, “runners easily overtake drifters.”
He recommends picking up a job that is a mix of the old mixed with something sufficiently new. “That gets you to think anew.”
“The mind is built such that it needs to dwell on something. An attractive dwelling place is your own aches and pains. A job gives your mind alternative pasture. Those aches and pains can wait. They may even reduce.” Not that I am an expert, Jairam, but that’s palatable philosophy without any masala.
Don’t believe me? Listen to his parting advice. “The inconvenient truth is that our sense of self-worth is dependent not on who we are but what we do. So keep doing, keep living.”
Maybe if I had caught him after he had just finished a cup of his favourite, he would have asked Jeeves to fetch his happy hat and then maybe, just maybe ….
Too serious to relax
Someone advised that I should speak to people from all age groups to gather a more representative view of what the world thinks of retirement. Well, the two youngsters I reached out to said they were too busy “working” to talk to me. One even went to the extent of suggesting that I was in the best position to write about retirement.
Such impudence, I say! Lasso these youngsters, Lovaii! Pull them in, deny them their iPhone 15 and make them suffer, I mean, save!
Now that I have caught my breath, I am beginning to wonder. Is retirement serious business? As you cope with the hiccups of life, do too much time and not so much money combine with the looming full stop to reduce life to a sentence to suffer?
What do you think? Whether you are on this side or that, pretty close or very far from the retirement fence, what are your thoughts on retirement?
You don’t want to run into or read about Richard Morgan. Not when you are just waking up after another online fitness session you dozed through. He can make you feel ashamedly unfit.
At 93, screams The Washington Post heading, he’s as fit as a 40-year-old. Typical media exaggeration, so thought my jealous self. Until I came to the research part of it.
Three researchers from Ireland assessed the “physiological, performance, nutritional intake, and training characteristics” of Richard Morgan, a “four-time master world champion indoor male rower”.
The good part was “the onetime baker and battery maker with creaky knees" didn’t take up regular exercise until he was in his 70s” and still trains mostly in his backyard shed.
Very like me! Just substitute the corner room with all the junk in my apartment for the backyard shed. I am sure the creaks must sound and feel the same.
He was around once when his grandson was practicing rowing and the coach persuaded Richard to have a go at the rowing machine. He did. And just took off.
Maybe next time one of the youngsters persuades me to accompany them to the gym, I should. You never know. (Ouch!)
They called Richard over to the physiology lab at the University of Limerick in Ireland. While he rowed a simulated 2,000-meter race, the scientists monitored his heart, lungs and muscles.
The 165-pound “powerhouse” had 80 percent muscle and barely 15 percent fat. His heart rate peaked pretty fast at 153 beats per minute, suggesting excellent cardiovascular health.
Like me, Richard has no qualms about sharing the secrets of his good health.
Thanks to people like Richard, scientists now know that “the human body maintains the ability to adapt to exercise at any age”, and that exercise can help build and maintain a strong, capable body, regardless of age.
You are amazing Richard Morgan! And you have inspired me.
You started at 72, right? I have some calendars to flip through yet. As soon as I finish my next nap, I will read that study in full.
Based on this report by The Washington Post.
Image: © www.row2k.com. Shows Richard Morgan at a 2018 event. Image published in The Washington Post.
The to and fro
But yet again
We spelt it wrong
Get the new, use it
And hear hearts
Close at hand
The new ear
To truly hear
Every chirp, rustle
And the loud hush
With this ear
Whether new or year
Let’s just be
Image created using Microsoft Designer.