Retirement – Now what?

It is no secret that world demographics show that many people are planning to retire or have already retired. Most industry sectors have not done a very good job at rejuvenating themselves and replacing this retiring talent. However, for those near retirement, this is should not be their concern. For this group, retirement is a good thing. In this case, I can not help but think that the world, as Shakespeare said, was a stage and each of us played many roles. There always is, as we move from one role to another, certain sadness, for life is a series of farewells; but there also is promise. Each age or role has its special gifts and joys. As we move from one to another, the rule is to look back with gratitude and forward with hope.

There inevitably comes the time when we must give over to others the work we have done and the position we held and it is truly pathetic when we cannot do this but clutch what we can not hold. We must learn that we are pilgrims, that “here we have continuing city”, and that our inner security comes from being able to step into the unknown with only our families and ourselves.

The peculiar pathos of retirement is that we are, so to speak, stripped of the titles, positions, and associations that gave us at least some of our identity. Naked of the titles, needed no more, we become “has been”. Naked, we step into a new life that must be created. Then we discover, perhaps for the first time, where our inner security really lies. If we are strong only because of title or position, then retirement is a profound crisis. If, on the other hand, we are inwardly strong, then retirement simply is another marching order.

In our youth culture, some people dread retirement because it is a clear sign that age is upon them. What our culture fails to recognize is that youth is not all the happiest time of life; indeed, because the young often have not found themselves and often lack the perspective and inner resources to deal with life’s problems, youth may be the unhappiest time. Robert Browning, a great writer and poet, was nearer truth when he said: “Grow old with me; the best is yet to be, the last for which the first was made.”

One of the great things about growing old is the simplicity it can give to life. We no longer are prisoners of many desires; we know what we like and no longer try to keep up with the Joneses; we are content to find our joy in the simple things. There is outer simplicity as we learn to live on a reduced income and an inner simplicity of desire as we begin to “centre down” on life’s essentials.

While retirement is an open door to many of the things we always have wanted to do (deepened personal relationships, travel – though it may be simply to see the sights in our own city, hobbies, and reading), we must never forget that while there is a breath we never retire from our responsibilities to our families and the Church.

Because the old routine and pattern of life suddenly is removed, one of the dangers of retirement must be the danger of empty days. During our working days, the demands of the office or the plant forced a pattern upon us but now we must create our own – and new friendships, too. A good idea is to create an evening list of things to be done the next day. And new friendships will form if we volunteer our talents and skills in the mainstream of life, where many charitable, community and religious organziations would welcome our presence. There are countless religious and charitable committees in dire need of motivated volunteers.

I recently visited a former noted entrepreneur that moved into a large retirement community. While I could not see into the hearts of the people, I was depressed by what I considered the superficiality of their lives. Perhaps I was wrong but I may have been right. If life is filled only with golf, fishing, bridge, domestic chores, and eating, it is not wicked, but it is trivial. It lacks depth, joy, and significance, and there is a sadness about it of wasted hours and boredom.

By contrast, there are many that seem to have retired in a creative fashion and to have made their retirement “the last for which the first was made”. Boredom comes with a lack of meaning and significance. As there is a qualitative and inner difference between loneliness and solitude, so there is an inner difference between hectic triviality and creative leisure. We can escape, or try to, from life’s great demands by fierce work or fierce play.

The secret of a good retirement is, after all, no different than the secret of life at any other time. It is to seek happiness. We all know that happiness is a mysterious-by-product of good battles, of having the wind in our faces, of getting out of bed because there is something God wants us to do. Emptiness and nothingness is the ultimate curse.

If we have any talents, we ought to use them until we draw our last breath. If you are retired or retiring, please consider volunteering your time (and money) to charitable, religious or community organizations. They need you and you need them. Live happy in retirement or perish.

By: Mark Borkowski is president of Toronto based Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corporation. Mercantile specializes in the sale of privately owned mid market businesses. Mark can be contacted at or (416) 368-8466 ext. 232