The Retirement Question

By Lloyd Graff

Is retirement a curse or a blessing? Obviously, there is no single answer to the question.

I have answered the question for myself without a lot of soul searching. I enjoy the challenge of working, of pushing myself, interacting with people and creating new stuff.

If I can be productive I would like to work for the rest of my life. I am 73 years old. I find the number scary, but doing the mundane of “showing up” everyday still stimulates me like nothing else that I have discovered. I am very conscious of having the enormous asset of working with my son, Noah, and a cadre of bright reliable caring people who have my back and challenge me to be smarter than I am.

I am also acutely conscious of the fact that the year that somebody is most likely to die (other than the year they are born) is the year they retire. I’m sure that is partially related to folks retiring because they are ill, which may skew the numbers, but I also believe that for many people, the loss of interaction with peers, the boredom, the solitariness, the lack of purpose is a curse.

72-year-old Finn Esko Ketola. Four-times World Champion Weight Lifter.

I think the self-professed financial gurus who preach the virtues of retirement to feed their advisory services tend to be a group of circling vultures.

The traditional retirement age of 65 is totally outdated today. It was an invention of unions and do-gooders when the lifespan of workers (many of whom smoked cigarettes regularly) was rarely past 65. Today if you live to 65 you have a good chance to pass 80 in reasonably good health. With 4% unemployment now, there are many interesting job or gig opportunities as well as an infinite number of volunteer possibilities.

I want to identify my own biases at this point, because I do write this piece from a position of white privilege in America. People in failing health, weak in skills, or chronically depressed certainly lack the opportunities that I have. For them, retirement may be more of a blessing than a curse.

But I think that the notion of retirement has been sold to people from childhood, partly as a job preservation tool for workers and unions that see older people hogging the prime jobs. In an economy that increasingly is filled with service jobs and people doing part-time gigs, I think there will be loads of interesting opportunities for older people if they are not crippled by the notion that the world undervalues them.

My view of the world is colored by my wife Risa’s passion for Taekwondo at 67 years old. She is a 4th Degree black belt and is proceeding with the long test protocol to get to 5th Degree. She drives 37 miles each way to her school twice a week, partly to train with other women who have a similar commitment. She also maintains a private practice as an educational therapist in which people pay her $100/hour to help their children learn. Her clients do not care about her age.

I certainly know about the fragility of life. “Man plans, God laughs,” is the line I live by, but understanding how blessed I am to be alive and live in America makes me determined to keep squeezing the juice as long as possible. For me, that means to write, make deals, expand my networks and have fun.

Question: What’s your plan at 65? Keep working, retire, volunteer, hang out?

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19 thoughts on “The Retirement Question

  1. BH

    I plan to finish the full time gig at 66-ish. I will hopefully do my own thing for a number of years on a part time basis (light handy-work). Virtually all of those I know that have retired tell me that they are busier than ever and they have no regrets about retiring.

  2. Peter Schroth

    I’m with you on this one, work as long as it is fun. It is easier if you are self employed to wind down a bit if the long day is just too much.

  3. al bjork

    lloyd, i think you left out one thing. as a business owner, you can come and go as you please. if there is something you want to do, maybe a cubs game, you can leave anytime you want to go. there is nobody breathing down your neck about what you are doing at work, besides yourself.
    when you have the ability to work whenever and where ever you want to, it is really not work anymore. now saying that, you are probably working the 80 hours a week that you pick.
    i am in a similar spot and there have only been 4 or so days in the last 10 years that i have not had my laptop with me and worked, vacations included. i am not complaining about it.

  4. Raymond Torresdal

    I’ll turn 66 in July, plan/hope to work a couple more years full time, and hopefully will then transition into working something less than 45 or 50 hours/week. I don’t intend to fully retire as long as my health is good, as I like what I do and the challenges I find at work.


  5. Robert Knopik

    I “retired” at 53 when my position at a large steel company was eliminated. Fairly well off, I was still way too young to think about retirement. I ran a small company for awhile and then got into the executive search business. After one year of learning the business I opened my own firm. 18 years later I am now going on 73 and still working with no plans to retire. I work from an office in the Chicago area in the summer and autumn, then travel to my other home in southern CA and work from an office there during the winter and spring. I keep six research professionals busy, all of whom work from the Midwest. Our work is throughout the USA and Canada. Given the mobility of my work, I can make all this happen seamlessly with no negative effect on my clients. If all I had to look forward to was another day of golf I would not be anywhere near as satisfied as I am today. Life is GREAT!!

  6. JZ

    Virgin Islands – sailing catamarans in late 50’s – but maintain contact with our company office as needed & work PT during most of the year. Fully retire at 70. It is much easier when you have a capable staff and own the small business. coming soon to St Thomas VI.

  7. Keith

    Good Morning Lloyd et al,
    I am going to be 77 this year and still love working at my contract machine shop. I had open heart surgery last year (planned) and am still in really good health. Before that incident I always thought that I would live to be 140 so I was not in a hurry to move into retirement. My new heart valve has a 20 year potential, so 96 does not seem too bad. Still working on 140. I have a really wonderful team here and as business picks back up I will hire at least 2 more professionals. We live in a place people pay to vacation so all we need to do is walk out to the beach. Thanks Lloyd for providing this forum.
    Best regards,

  8. SC

    I’m turning 60 in July and promised myself if the machine shop business wasn’t better by then I was done. Well it is worse then ever so I’m going to do what I love, restore muscle cars and start my paintless dent repair business. My dad started the business in 1964, I took it over in 1996. Internet killed it. I’ll keep working but will wake up wanting to go to work.

  9. Jim Hanna

    The gent who thought that because you own your own business you can take off any time you want to do what you want obviously has never owned his own business! That said, I am mostly retired, a couple of weeks from turning 71. I’m still doing a little consulting to help the new owners of my former business transition. I won’t miss the business much, just the people I worked with, but I have lots of other interests, many of which I did not have time to pursue while working. You are right that you have to have a reason to get up every day, and if that is your work, more power to you. Just be aware that the day may come when you can no longer work, and if you have no other interest that you can continue to enjoy it will impact your longevity. I have been involved as a volunteer in our public school system for 31 years in a wonderful program called Destination Imagination, an international competition in creative problem solving. It teaches kids divergent thinking, a skill mostly missing from the formal curriculum, and helps them learn to use science, technology, engineering, art, and math in practical ways so they understand how the things they learn in school will help them in life and careers. Besides, hanging around with a bunch of smart kids keeps me feeling young and has made me some wonderful friends that I am unlikely to outlive. Their accomplishments as students and in their careers are a matter of great pride for me. I also volunteer in our church, in several history organizations, some non-profit boards of directors, and my daughter’s horse club. Keeping busy at things which have purpose is the key, whatever they may be.

  10. Grimstod

    I am still in my early 30s so I have a way to go. By the time I retire there will be no SSecurity left anyway. Ill probably retire at 80. With the way life expectancy is increasing for those with healthy life styles, like myself, my generation will be living to 100 easy anyway. Why would I want to spend almost 40 years or more retired. That sounds way to boring.

  11. Dick Crosby

    Thank God for my decision to start my (1) man business (43) years ago. I don’t know what i would do to make my days any more full or satisfactory than the ones I enjoy now. I’m (85), have had (1) heart attack in 2011, and a A-valve, and pacer put in just a year ago Tuesday. I have no pain, except people who don’t or won’t return phone calls, etc. People ask me “Crosby! When are you going to retire?” I tell them ” When I hit the wall!” It’s fun to BS with guys all over the country and Canada. A great wife and big
    family helps too.

  12. Ed B

    Hello Lloyd; Always a good topic as usual. Most friends and workers I have known who retired early either died young, got bored to death, or returned to the workplace to keep from going crazy at home and driving their wives crazy too! I plan to keep working as long as it is challenging and enjoyable. The interaction with smart young people keeps you thinking young and keeps you young. That said there is a balance if you can keep purpose in your life. The Good book says ” Without Vision people perish” But my best retired friend always reminds me that no man on his death bed has ever said ” I wish I had spent one more day in the office !”

  13. Emily

    I wonder if one of the reasons people often die shortly after retirement is that over the years we unconsciously identify more and more of our value by our work, so when it stops we’re lost. The work grind also becomes a powerful habit that seems difficult and pointless in our teens and twenties, but when done over 30, 40 or more years slowly becomes a central part of who we are. When the refrain, “I’ll start living when I retire,” becomes rote in our head it’s easy to forget what we’re wanting to retire for, but it can be remembered with effort. When I start to get in a rut I think back to my childhood and recall the things I used to naturally gravitate toward; being in nature, religion, animals, reading, swimming, board games, family fun, trips that bring out a sense of awe. That creative, alive feeling I remember is what I hope to be able to pursue more when I’m not exhausted from my working life, and the worry and stress that being a normal American adult brings. I hope that retirement gives me space, space to pursue the things that really matter to me and make me feel alive, space to carefully consider what I want my legacy to be and how I can leave a positive footprint behind me. I think we all know deep down that our day job is not the point of life. It can take effort and bravery, when freedom finally avails itself, to jump up, embrace change, and seize the opportunity. Retirement is a luxury I hope to experience one day. If I’m that lucky, I promise not to squander it.

  14. JD

    Work should be a means of making money. Period. It isn’t supposed to be source of your identity or purpose. If it is, you need to work on making yourself more interesting as a person. Life has way more to offer than work, you should too.

  15. Donnie M

    Good article Lloyd,
    As I’m a couple years from 60 and owned my machine shop for a little over 33 years I do think about retiring, or semi retiring around 60. I really love what I do and it doesn’t feel like a job. Most of the time I look forward to go making parts. I like programing, setting up my Star Swiss machines. I like solving problems for customers helping them get the product they want. By semi retiring my idea is selling off most of my machines and keeping a Star or 2 and just do what I can on them working a couple days a week. Maybe get products or shipments produced ahead of time in the fall so I can enjoy January and February somewhere it is warm. I do not do well in cold weather. It may not happen that way but I’m hoping it will happen that way. Only God knows how long each of us have here on earth! If we know him we will not have to fear where we will spend eternity.

  16. Dave Bradley

    I quit working at 63 1/2. 5 months later I had 2 heart attacks. They would have arrived sooner if I had stayed. I also would likely have not survived them had I stayed. One thing for sure, if you drop over dead working for a company, they will just find some other asshole to take your place. I sincerely wanted to work until I was 67 to give me 50 years in the trade. But that and 2 bucks will buy you a coffee in most coffee houses.

  17. Beth

    I’ll be 68 next month and I am still working. I love what I do and I love the people I work with. My health is good–better than a lot of people younger than I, and I plan to keep on working as long as I can. Living into my 90s or beyond is totally within the realm of possibility. JD sounds asif he thinks we are not supposed to enjoy our jobs, but I found my passion early in my career and that is what I do every day. Sure there are frustrations, and the days I have to put in 11-12 hours exhaust me, but I have been on vacations where I could say the same thing (traveling to Europe, for example). I am helping people and my company to get better. Right now we are preparing to undergo our transition audit to the new IATF standard. This is critical to my company and I am instrumental in that preparation. When it gets to much for me, I may back off and work only 30-40 hours a week. Maybe. Or maybe not. My job doesn’t define me, but the contributions I make over my lifetime do–not in totality, but definitely in a significant proportion.

  18. Miles

    Your post brought to mind the lyrics from those popularizers of 20th century existential angst, The Clash:
    “Should I stay or should I go now?
    If I go there will be trouble
    If I stay it will be double.”
    -Should I Stay or Should I Go? , Combat Rock, 1982.

    I don’t have the answer, but I do have the criteria: “What can I do to operate at my highest and best use?” Evaluating our highest and best use goes beyond mere economics. As you and others have pointed out (or denied)- our connection with others, and the meaning that we find in our work is part of that calculus. As are evaluating the economic aspects of leaving money on the table by delaying taking benefits earned, the uncertainty of the Social Security System’s sustainability, etc..
    Add in a pair of other unknowns, our possible need for long term care near end of life and the uncertainty of our longevity. These all make the terms on the left side of the equation quite undefinable. As for the terms on the equation’s right side – our hopes for greater time to be spent with the people that we love, and joy of new places and new activities as yet undiscovered- these too, are difficult to assign a definable value.

    Calculus is never easy.


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