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I Think I'll Keep Working
Old 05-09-2011, 12:45 PM   #1
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I Think I'll Keep Working

Someone here on this forum suggested the book "The Experience of Retirement" by Robert S. Weiss and David J. Ekerdt (Cornell University Press). So I bought it used on Amazon for $0.88 (plus $3.99 shipping). It arrived last week and I read it over the weekend.

They (Weiss and Ekerdt) are academics and do a fabulous job of categorizing the distribution of emotions and issues both before and after retirement. They interviewed 89 people going through the transition all from middle class backgrounds.

My takeaway from reading the book is that retirees enjoy the freedom of retirement but suffer (some quite a bit) from re-defining themselves and their identity in retirement. Also a number of retirees suffer from social isolation in retirement.

My personal reaction to the book supports my decision to (for now) keep working.
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Old 05-09-2011, 12:51 PM   #2
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I'm glad I didn't read it!

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retirees enjoy the freedom of retirement but suffer (some quite a bit) from re-defining themselves and their identity in retirement. Also a number of retirees suffer from social isolation in retirement.
I suffer from these exactly as much as I suffered from them on Saturday afternoons, when I was working. In other words, they are non-issues for me. But please, keep on working! Somebody has to pay for Social Security...
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Old 05-09-2011, 01:04 PM   #3
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Since I didn't have much of a work-based identity and since I was already socially-isolated before retiring, the transition has been pretty smooth...

In all seriousness though, I think my social life has improved since I retired. While I was working, most of my social interactions were happening with people (coworkers, clients, etc...) and in settings (business dinners, company picnic, etc...) that were not of my choosing. Now that I am retired, I can choose when and with whom to socialize. My interactions with people are so much more satisfying.
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Old 05-09-2011, 01:45 PM   #4
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Since I didn't have much of a work-based identity and since I was already socially-isolated before retiring, the transition has been pretty smooth...

In all seriousness though, I think my social life has improved since I retired. While I was working, most of my social interactions were happening with people (coworkers, clients, etc...) and in settings (business dinners, company picnic, etc...) that were not of my choosing. Now that I am retired, I can choose when and with whom to socialize. My interactions with people are so much more satisfying.

+1

I have more real friends now than before as there is much more time to be a friend.

I also never counted co-workers as friends unless there was a real friendship outside of work.
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Old 05-09-2011, 02:30 PM   #5
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In all seriousness though, I think my social life has improved since I retired. While I was working, most of my social interactions were happening with people (coworkers, clients, etc...) and in settings (business dinners, company picnic, etc...) that were not of my choosing. Now that I am retired, I can choose when and with whom to socialize. My interactions with people are so much more satisfying.
Ditto. I was so tired when I got home from work I didn't feel like doing anything except kicking back. Then I had to cram all my fun, housework, yard work, laundry etc into the weekends. My social life is much better simply because I have time for it and feel like it more. Being retired is much better for me.
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Old 05-09-2011, 02:36 PM   #6
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I'd rather be hanging by my neck than be back at work.
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Old 05-09-2011, 02:49 PM   #7
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My interactions with people are so much more satisfying.[/QUOTE]

My experience exactly. And once I made the decision that I would let go of my work identity I found that it was only skin deep.
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Old 05-09-2011, 03:28 PM   #8
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My takeaway from reading the book is that retirees enjoy the freedom of retirement but suffer (some quite a bit) from re-defining themselves and their identity in retirement.
I've had zero problems adjusting after leaving my job 15 months ago. The key here, may be, that I never defined myself by what I did. I didn't really lose any of my identity when I walked away from my career because what I did was never who I was.

I can, however, understand how some people may find the transition difficult. People who were very proud of what they did professionally, of what they accomplished, of having underlings to boss around, of being needed by an organization, may miss those things. And although I was proud of what I did and how well I did it, I view those things as historic accomplishments - like climbing a mountain. I'm still proud to have done it, but I don't feel like I have to keep climbing the same mountain to maintain bragging rights or my sense of self. I'm happy to be off tackling new challenges, which don't define me either.
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Old 05-09-2011, 03:38 PM   #9
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OK so there are 4 or 5 posts contradicting the author's findings.

The book goes on to discuss emotions of feeling useful to the world and of being ignored by the world. The author pointed out how difficult it was in some cases to get respondents to discuss these matters.

The author did indeed state that on balance retirees were (in general) pleased with being retired. Again, they enjoyed the freedom from work's toll but did not so much like the loss of identity and purpose in life.

So I would take from your (collective) posts that you indeed are happy being retired. Flippant posts aside, I am not so certain that none had any big adjustments or difficulty re-defining yourself after retirement. We have indeed seen a number of posts in this forum along these lines.

The author did a painstakingly careful analysis of 89 middle class retirees for his results.
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Old 05-09-2011, 03:38 PM   #10
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I thought I would have major difficulties adjusting to my "lost identity" since I had always done health/human services work. I at first wondered if I was a still a "good person" since I was no longer actively helping others. Volunteer work was the obvious answer to fill in the gap, but I just couldn't bring myself to work for free when the work was no more rewarding than what I had quit as a paid job.
I've since established a new identity as a person who is calmer, happier, healthier. And I still feel like a good person who is contributing, even if just by establishing friendships and adding some positive energy to get-togethers and so on.

But---in re-reading this, I realize that it was easy to leave my work identity behind because it was an ill-fitting one that didn't provide much ego-gratification (or pay, but that's a different subject). As soon as I started to work as an occupational therapist, I realized I had made a mistake. Loved studying it, but didn't love practicing it. And since it was a dead-end type of job, there wasn't a true career. I was eager to leave it behind since Day 1. It probably is very different for people who earned more, weren't at the mercy of patients/clients/supervisors/co-workers, enjoyed more prestige, etc.
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Old 05-09-2011, 03:43 PM   #11
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...I never defined myself by what I did. I didn't really lose any of my identity when I walked away from my career because what I did was never who I was.
Same here, except it was never a "career" - it was just a job, which allowed me (like a physical bridge) to get me from where I was, to where I wanted to be.
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Old 05-09-2011, 03:46 PM   #12
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The author did a painstakingly careful analysis of 89 middle class retirees for his results.
I don't doubt that, but I also don't think this forum reflects a random sample of retirees. This is a group of people who have planned extensively for retirement. Who have set it up as a major life goal. Most of us have given a lot of thought to how we'd spend our time in retirement. I don't think that is typical.

His group of 89 retirees likely includes plenty of pensioners who just hit a date and pulled the ripcord, others who got downsized into retirement, others who had health issues. There are probably only a small fraction of people in his study that reflect the majority of people on this forum. And even here, some people find the transition challenging. But I suspect we're far better prepared than most.

My experience is exactly as I described - zero problem. None. I wouldn't claim my experience is typical for the population as a whole; but it's probably not unusual for this forum.
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Old 05-09-2011, 03:46 PM   #13
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I'm not even close to retirement, so someone else will have to confirm this for me.

I just view retirement as an extended vacation. I have no issues adjusting to being on a 2-4 week vacation where I just sit around and do what I want/need to do all day. I feel productive, I feel fulfilled.

Obviously retirement is much longer, but why should it be much different? I never want to go back to work after a vacation anyway.
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Old 05-09-2011, 03:59 PM   #14
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Keep in mind that the book's focus was on the average person, not those that retired early. The average person retires sometime in their mid to late 60s, and only does so because they are more often pushed out of work, rather than any sort of plan to stop working. They have a median income of $22k/person, mostly from SS and/or pensions.

It is hard to reconcile the differences between those who choose to stop working and those who are forced to stop working. Of course those who are forced to stop working are going to have trouble finding purpose, and making social adjustments. They never planned for it to any serious extent, it comes at them very quickly, and they honestly do not have that many healthy years left to make the adjustment.

Additionally, the longer someone works, the more their identity becomes wrapped up in that work, making the adjustment to a different way of life that much larger.

That said, I don't think there is any excuse for finding that it is harder to develop a social life outside work, there is actually many more options for social activities once a person is not tied down to a job. I think it is an impossible argument to make that being retired (and healthy) offers less social opportunities, it just requires time to make use of those opportunities, time which may be lacking if someone waits until they are already collecting SS.
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Old 05-09-2011, 04:01 PM   #15
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I wonder if the number of years into retirement plays a role. My BIL was initially very active after he retired. He played golf, volunteered for a number of organizations, and tackled a number of household improvement projects. He and his wife even did a bit of traveling. Lately I've noticed that afternoon TV and afternoon naps are playing a bigger role. There is certainly nothing necessarily wrong with TV and naps if that's what makes him happy but I might imagine that he has lost some of his motivation and/or identity.
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Old 05-09-2011, 04:02 PM   #16
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Having not read the book, I don't know if the author addresses this, but my first thought is there is a selection bias problem.

That is,
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The author did indeed state that on balance retirees were (in general) pleased with being retired.
Of COURSE the retirees were in general pleased.. If they weren't, they likely would go back to work.

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The author did a painstakingly careful analysis of 89 middle class retirees for his results.
So therein is the problem.. if the author chose 89 retirees, there's a problem in that all the ones he interviewed retired, then CHOSE to stay retired.

Now I'd imagine the majority of people like retirement anyways, but if the author didn't interview people who retired but went back (by choice, not out of necessity), it seems to me there's a selection problem there.
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Old 05-09-2011, 04:06 PM   #17
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I haven't retired yet, but I don't think it will bother me. I identify with much of what is said above. Work interferes with so much I really want to do, like be with grandchildren, travel, read books as long as I want, garden, walk my dogs more, and spend time with family. I don't like to be the center of attention at all, and unfortunately on my job, I'm thrust into running meetings, events, and being in the media. I hate that. I can't wait to retire.
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Old 05-09-2011, 04:11 PM   #18
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Obviously retirement is much longer, but why should it be much different?
Because, for many people, it is a lot more satisfying to answer the question "What do you do?" by saying 'I'm a doctor, lawyer, computer programer, etc.' than by saying 'nothing.'
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Old 05-09-2011, 04:19 PM   #19
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Of COURSE the retirees were in general pleased.. If they weren't, they likely would go back to work.

So therein is the problem.. if the author chose 89 retirees, there's a problem in that all the ones he interviewed retired, then CHOSE to stay retired.
Some did go back to working in the study. Many others worked at a lessor capacity, switched careers, or volunteered.

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His group of 89 retirees likely includes plenty of pensioners who just hit a date and pulled the ripcord, others who got downsized into retirement, others who had health issues.
surprisingly to me most of the people had reasons beyond reaching an age threshold to retire.

Conflicts/lack of appreciation from a new boss.
Friends had left the workplace.
make room for younger people to move up
weren't given responsibilities they had in the past.

and so on. In general though they may have stayed were it not for some undesired event(s).
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Old 05-09-2011, 04:23 PM   #20
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surprisingly to me most of the people had reasons beyond reaching an age threshold to retire.

Conflicts/lack of appreciation from a new boss.
Friends had left the workplace.
make room for younger people to move up
weren't given responsibilities they had in the past.

and so on. In general though they may have stayed were it not for some undesired event(s).
Interesting. If you asked the same question here you'd get answers more along the lines of: "Because I have better things to do than spend 60 hours per week working for the man." Probably explains a lot.
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