Friday, October 23, 2015

Transitioning Potential (with Malcolm)

Trev:
We should retire the idea of retirement. A better concept would be managing how we spend our time. Segmenting our lives into school, university, work and retirement forces us to define a path. It feels a little like a trap. I prefer the idea of life long learning, and building buffers that allow you to explore. If we overdefine ourselves by work, there can be incredible trauma when that rug is pulled from beneath us. Even if we know the date that rug pulling is coming. Even if you are lucky enough to have prepared financially, preparing emotionally is perhaps more important.

Malcolm:
Yes, we should retire the idea of retirement. It was a concept that had a usefulness at a time when innovative ideas were required to solve some economic challenges. It has served its purposes and many innovative and progressive organisations have seen the light and started phasing it out of their operations. However, many others have not, and for those people who have been in jobs they may have hated all their lives, the prospect of retirement is a freeing notion. Many organisations around the world still have retirement ages in place, and the trauma that the transition causes needs to be addressed so as to enable people to have meaningful retirement lifestyles.

Trev:
As successful businesses scale, by necessity they put processes in place where employees become 'standardised'. They are thought of in terms of years of experience, qualifications, feedback ratings and various other ways of quantifying them. When an organisation is small, it is easier to think of a person as an individual. As things get bigger, each action sets a precedent. The very same progress you speak of has meant that as retirement reaches its retirement, the bigger organisations are relatively dehumanised compared to their founders. These transitions are difficult, emotional exercises that value a person beyond their value to the company. Addressing the trauma requires reconnecting to the community beyond the company.

Malcolm:
Reconnecting to the community beyond the company is not as easy as it often appears and many people go into retirement believing that a "permanent vacation" is just what they need. After a period of enjoyable relaxation there is often an awareness that the workplace provided for a lot of things other than just a paycheck. Status, social interaction and mental stimulation are just a few, and these need to be replaced as the retiree reconnects with the community outside the workplace. When they don't replace these or find a place in the community where significant and meaning can be found, there is often trauma and disappointment.

Trev:
I have heard of a few useful techniques and ideas. In Denmark, they have 'Communal Homes' with a variety of families sharing facilities while maintaining sufficient private space. Older generations can help with homework or provide sage advice. In the Netherlands, there are students being offered cheap accommodation in retirement homes. A quiet, clean, affordable place to live and study. They play chess with, read to, and generally become friends of those living there. Social Media can also help! If youngsters can be patient enough to help. As you say, it is important to find ways that all people's 'status, social interaction and mental stimulation' doesn't come solely from work, or the rug can be pulled.

Malcolm:
We could say that it is not so much the idea of retirement that should be retired, but rather the idea that the idea that retirement means "doing nothing after a lifetime of being busy". It is the prospect of doing nothing and therefore being nothing, not of any use to society, that creates the psychological trauma. If the concept of retirement is seen as a transition from doing a job, or having a career, that you perhaps did not choose in the first place (because of life circumstances), then retirement becomes the time to get in touch with what motivates you. To make some new choices that are meaningful and significant. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot makes this very clear in her book "The Third Chapter", and highlights the possibilities for learning, involvement and growth. As humans strive to raise their level of consciousness and contribute to the well-being of the world, the contribution of the "retirees" could be of great value.



Trev:
Vedantic Philosophy talks about life stages in quite a dramatic way. Brahmacharya (Student), Grihastha (Householder), Vanaprastha (Retired) and Sannyassa (Renunciation). Vanaprastha is supposed to be a gradual handing over of responsibilities for doing 'the stuff you have to do' while acting in an increasingly advisory role. This allows a greater focus on 'Moksha' which if you are religious may mean spiritual issues, but I take to just mean the stuff of life. Really thinking about and doing more of the 'meaningful and significant'. The final stage of Sannyassa is where the Swamis or Teachers come from. This seems very analogous to shifting a focus from 'now you are working'/'now you are not' to lifelong learning and a gradual transition from the stuff of need to the stuff of meaning.

Malcolm:
It was inevitable that this discussion about retirement should take a philosophical direction as the issues involved are concerned with the meaning of life, and how to live the best life possible at all times.  If we are growing in awareness and consciousness as we advance through the years, then what we do each day take on significant and enhances our sense of having a meaningful and happy journey on this earthly plane. And as we become more aware of what motivates and drives us, we can discover what brings us joy, and what makes other people happy, and the world a better place. A change can be made with awareness, whatever it is. Perhaps an extended contract with the company you always worked for because it was a job you loved, or a change to making and selling furniture because this is your passion, or taking care of the grandchildren every other day for a few hours. All that matters is that it is significant, meaningful and fills you with joy.

Trev:
I also like the idea of porous or interchangeable life stages. Whether it is taking mini-retirements to recharge, going back to university for a life change, moving countries to expand awareness, or simply taking on projects that push your circle of competence. I get the impression that the main reason retirement can be debilitating, or intimidating, is because of reduced engagement. As more meaningful, significant and joyful connections are created, the idea of age becomes redundant. An 80 year old can learn about iPads as a toddler learns the monkey bars. Friendships, mentorships, and other ways to keep people feeling a part of a bigger us than the one that struggles with decaying skin and bones.

Malcolm:
Many companies still have a retirement age in place. Some organisations have started increasing the age of retirement as the awareness dawns as to its obsolete nature. Others have realised the cost of getting rid of experience and the skill that goes with it. But few companies who still have a retirement age in place are caring enough to provide exit training to assist employees to deal with the trauma, and make the transition to a new, and meaningful, lifestyle. At Potential Unlimited, we provide just such a service, both on-line and in house (see www.potentialunlimited.co.za). This enables people to identify what work has meant to them, and to replace all these aspects with new, meaningful and significant activities. A gradual transition from the stuff of need to the stuff of meaning. After all is said and done, once and for all, we should retire the idea of retirement.

Three Black Boys. Different Ages. Equally Silly.

Malcolm Black, my Dad's, first guest post was  'Time to Retire'

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