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Alternative to Retirement

April 2, 2010

When my grandparents moved into another “fixer-upper” house at age 70, we all knew the routine. For the first year, grandpa would wax eloquent on all the changes he wanted to make and then the second year he would make them. And his efforts always paid off – at the end they would have a beautiful, ultimately livable space that had once been a run-down shack. I remember being over there one time when he was gutting some electrical circuits out of a wall. “Time to rewire the old man” said the old man.

That is the perfect picture for an alternative to retirement. The fourth supposition about traditional american retirement is this: The money we spend in our retirement is ours to do with as we please. It is the classic sense of entitlement. I am entitled to my savings, my pension, my Social Security, my golf, my retirement community, my peace and quiet. It’s mine. I am spending my kids’ inheritance. But as with any sense of entitlement, it is a selfish focus and ultimately leads to an unsatisfying, unhealthy lifestyle. It also offends God.

Yes, it offends God. Ultimately, He owns everything. He gives us what we have so we can work in partnership with Him throughout our lives. When we squander our talents, energy, money, friendships, jobs on ourselves and a headlong pursuit of entitlement, it will never end well. But that is the nature of our country, a society hell-bent on retiring.

Back to the rewiring. I love what Barbara Morris says in her essay “The Re-Wirement Alternative to Retirement”

What does it mean to re-wire, and what is the value? An electrician will tell you rewiring is often necessary to prevent fires or to enhance capacity of a system. Improving and upgrading electrical power coming into the house or business, installing more outlets to improve productivity or convenience is one of the most effective ways to improve the value of an old but very serviceable building.

You can rewire your post 65 life in the same way. You can rewire your mind and body to prevent the mental and physical meltdown that manifests as loneliness, boredom, and depression. You can enhance the capacity of your life by improving and upgrading what comes into your brain and how you use your mind and body. Your re-wiring can improve your productivity and be the most positive thing you can do to enhance the value of your aging but very serviceable mind and body.

Just as my grandfather rewired the house so it could meet the future, so too our post-65 years need to be rewired. During the years when we raised a family and paid off the mortgage, we were focused on those time-heavy and demanding responsibilities. But when we began our fifties and sixties, those demands lessened and they give us a lease to become really productive members of society. Morris says that there are now 1200 physicians who are still seeing patients after age 90 (and by that I mean treating them, not just “seeing” them).

Rewiring often means retraining, re-equipping, learning new skills. There is a health benefit to doing this as well. A well-known study out of the University of Chicago followed a large convent of nuns. They found that nuns who continued to learn, to do puzzles and help others with their problems had virtually no symptoms of Alzheimer’s. When autopsies were performed on them after death, they found that many of them had Alzheimer’s, but because they continued to learn and grow, they showed no symptoms.

The government now gives grants for companies that hire people over age 65. And advances in medicine virtually guarantee most of us will live well past 80. How will you re-wire? What skills do you want to add to those you already have? What truths would you love to pass on to others? How wonderful it would be to go to a marriage counselor who has been married for 70 years. Think of the incredible truths a 90-year old can pass on about being a pastor, a teacher, a writer, an architect, a mother and grandmother.

Jeff Galloway, author of “Running Until You’re 100” tells how he taught his own mother how to run at age 63. She was in a walker at the time and her health was deteriorating. Slowly, but surely, he helped her set goals for walking and then jogging and finally running. She has now completed two marathons over the age of 70. And as she achieved these goals, her health has improved dramatically.

What will you do to re-wire instead of retire?

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