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Here… would you like a cup of fragrant coffee, a steaming green tea, or one of my… ahem… superb lattes?

You might need one because I feel a “sermon from the mount” moment coming on…

Look out, here it comes …

IF you’re retired now … get out!

Hurry!!

Or… if … IF … you’re thinking of retiring… think again.

Lose the word retirement from your vocabulary. Just chuck it out the window of life’s fast-moving train. Clickety-clack… clickety-clack… gone.

Escape like super-stud Steve McQueen on a motorcycle jumping razor-sharp barbed-wire Nazi fences in The Great Escape.

mcqueen_motorcycle

Retirement is a crappy word and a shitty concept. Truly-retired people die. Fast.

A May 2013 report published by the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs found that retirement increased the chances of suffering from depression by 40%, while it increased the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical ailment by about 60%. That impact was assessed after controlling for the usual age-related conditions.

Now, I’m not telling you to stay or to leave your current job. Nope. Not at all.

As a matter of fact, if you truly love what you’re doing in your work – if you feel a glow of enthusiasm about what you do (almost) every day when you awake that doesn’t relate to morning nooky  – then please DON’T move on because the world has told you that’s the thing to do… stuff like, “you should just relax, you’ve earned it“… “you’re 65 and should retire” … “you should make room for younger folks to have opportunities“.

Nonsense. Don’t let yourself be should upon.

But really… REALLY!! My message here is don’t quit life. Move on to a new world but don’t retire. Re-invent and renew.

Never retire.

I love the La-Z-Boy as much as the next guy, but let’s make it a restorative tonic to clear our heads on our way to the starry constellation of our passions.

Never stop learning and pushing to grow. Never stop finding new experience in your days.

Die soon list

The SIX FEET UNDER Club List …

A half dozen years ago my friend Jennifer gave me a cool Sudoku techie-machine to exercise my brain.

I packed it with me it to the high oxygen-thin Andes of Cusco, Peru, where my wife and I sat and mind-sweated Spanish immersion classes alongside other enthusiastic young travellers in a school for 4 hours each weekday for almost 4 months. Aye ay ay Dios Mio! Divertido, si!!

In a strange twist, this Sudoku “machine”, the exerciser that was supposed to pump heavy iron in my dumbbell mind became my go-to relaxation elixir.

The brain stimulator became the soothing pillow to relax my poor worn-out head at the end of a challenging session of verb conjugations and long vocabulary lists en espanol.

I… we… you and I? We need to exercise our brains just like we exercise our bodies. Four more, three more … A holistically healthy approach to life necessitates exercising our physical, our mental, and our spiritual bodies.

For me, one of the main reasons and benefits of writing this blog each week is the mental workout it puts me through. I’m – marginally – more coherent in my day-to-day life because I do my weekly “exercise”.

I was strongly reminded of this last week when reading a chapter in Neil Pasricha’s book The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything (what can I say… I’m a self-help junkie! HELP!!). (Aside: I try to have at least 2 books on the go at any one time… one a non-fiction one like the book above, and a fiction book to nourish and stimulate my creative side … my (pseudo-) fiction book choice currently is The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer)

Pasricha talks of the final column, written in 2005, of famed New York Times columnist William Safire. Offered as Safire’s “retirement” column, it really was something far more than that.

William Safire

William Safire

I’ll let Safire explain in his own words…

The Nobel laureate James Watson, who started a revolution in science as co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, put it to me straight a couple of years ago: “Never retire. Your brain needs exercise or it will atrophy.”

Why, then, am I bidding Op-Ed readers farewell today after more than 3,000 columns? Nobody pushed me; at 75, I’m in good shape, not afflicted with political ennui; and my recent column about tsunami injustice and the Book of Job drew the biggest mail response in 32 years of pounding out punditry.

Here’s why I’m outta here: In an interview 50 years before, the aging adman Bruce Barton told me something like Watson’s advice about the need to keep trying something new, which I punched up into “When you’re through changing, you’re through.” He gladly adopted the aphorism, which I’ve been attributing to him ever since.

Combine those two bits of counsel – never retire, but plan to change your career to keep your synapses snapping – and you can see the path I’m now taking. Readers, too, may want to think about a longevity strategy.

We’re all living longer. In the past century, life expectancy for Americans has risen from 47 to 77. With cures for cancer, heart disease and stroke on the way, with genetic engineering, stem cell regeneration and organ transplants a certainty, the boomer generation will be averting illness, patching itself up and pushing well past the biblical limits of “threescore and ten.”

But to what purpose? If the body sticks around while the brain wanders off, a longer lifetime becomes a burden on self and society. Extending the life of the body gains most meaning when we preserve the life of the mind…

… So I told The Times’s publisher two years ago that the 2004 presidential campaign would be my last hurrah as political pundit, and that I would then take on the full-time chairmanship of Dana (a research foundation). He expressed appropriate dismay at losing the Op-Ed conservative but said it would be a terrible idea to abandon the Sunday language column. That’s my scholarly recreation, so I agreed to continue. (Don’t use so as a conjunction!)

Starting next week, working in an operating and grant-making foundation, I will have to retrain parts of my brain. That may not make me a big man on hippocampus, but it means less of the horizon-gazing that required me to take positions on everything going on in the world; instead, a welcome verticalism will drive me to dig more deeply into specific areas of interest. Fewer lone-wolf assertions; more collegial dealing. I hear that’s tough.

But retraining and fresh stimulation are what all of us should require in “the last of life, for which the first was made.” Athletes and dancers deal with the need to retrain in their 30’s, workers in their 40’s, managers in their 50’s, politicians in their 60’s, academics and media biggies in their 70’s. The trick is to start early in our careers the stress-relieving avocation that we will need later as a mind-exercising final vocation. We can quit a job, but we quit fresh involvement at our mental peril…

…how many of us are planning now for our social activity accounts? Intellectual renewal is not a vast new government program, and to secure continuing social interaction deepens no deficit. By laying the basis for future activities in the midst of current careers, we reject stultifying retirement and seize the opportunity for an exhilarating second wind.

Medical and genetic science will surely stretch our life spans. Neuroscience will just as certainly make possible the mental agility of the aging. Nobody should fail to capitalize on the physical and mental gifts to come.

When you’re through changing, learning, working to stay involved – only then are you through. “Never retire.”

Yup. Never retire.

Find a new sport to delve into. Volunteer at the local college. Take an online course in winemaking. Sign onto a building crew at Habitat for Humanity. Study to get certified as an Undertaker. Join a theatre club. Join a book club. Join a bowling or golf club.

Whatever… wherever…whenever… you find that youthful lightning bolt of enthusiasm or excitement? That will be the magnet that pulls you out of “retirement” and into a sense of usefulness and aliveness in your days.

Make sure your brain sends new signals through the synapses of discovery feeding the fires burning inside you as surely as your heart pumps life-giving blood to your active muscles.

Reach toward that crimson sunset of each day with an eager anticipation of a beautiful sunrise to greet your morning eyes.

Yup. Screw retirement! Oops! Sorry about the language.

How thoughtless of me.

Your cup is empty. Can I offer you a refill?

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The Retirement Race?

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