It’s time to retire the word “retirement”

By Gail Lethbridge

 

Let’s face it: The term retirement just isn’t working anymore. 

 

With new the new realities of the labour market shortage and with a cohort of high-achieving professionals who aren’t necessarily ready to stop working, retirement is beginning to sound a little out of date.


For people over the age of 50, life is beginning to open up with new opportunities. Childcare responsibilities are almost finished, family homes are sold and financial demands are lightening up. Lifestyle is now a choice.


Retirement novelty wears off

 

Under the traditional model of retirement, workers left their careers and entered a pensioned life of leisure. There was golfing, travel, long-neglected hobbies, volunteering and plenty of time.


The problem is that the novelty wears off for many high achievers. It leaves a gaping hole in the sense of purpose, and in some cases, income.


A high-performing professional who rose to the apex of their career isn’t necessarily ready to abandon a core identity formed around career investments and achievements.


The dreaded question: “And what do you do?”

 

The often-asked cocktail-party question makes people uncomfortable. What they “used to do” doesn’t really cut it when they still feel relevant and have more to offer.


The word retirement sounds too much like The End. Next stop: irrelevance. No way, say more and more in the 50-plus generation.


They want to work and share knowledge and skills. They are eager to grow. They take university courses. They start businesses. They return to the workforce to satisfy the need for purpose.

 

So what is the replacement term?

 

The search for the new word is now on. There are many suggestions, but arriving at the best brand for retirement isn’t as easy as it sounds.


Many suggestions sound forced and cringe-inducing. As yet, no clear winner has been declared. In the absence of a good new word, we will still default to “retirement.”


Here are a few suggestions that are being tossed around:

 

  • Retirement(S) – The plural term recognizes that retirement is not an end but a transition to new opportunities. Perhaps, but in casual conversation, “I’m in retirements” just sounds weird.
  • Arrivement – You’ve finally made it to your destination. Now, it’s new beginning. So Arrivement? Ah, no.  It sounds like word straight off the floor of a euphemism factory. 
  • Third Act – This also implies the next phase of life and work. This term is just OK, not as cringy as some terms but who’s really going to say “I’m in my Third Act” when asked “what do you do?”
  • Jubilacion – A Spanish adaption which conveys a time of happiness. It’s a new word for English speakers rather than a repurposed word. It sounds a little over-the-top and bit too much like a religious rebirth.
  • Adolescence 2.0 – This implies that 50 is the new seventeen. It has a groovy updated software sound to it but it doesn’t work because adolescents are not experienced and often not wise. Adolescence is too much of a pejorative.
  • Maturation – Now we are mature so this is the “maturation” phase of life. I’m in “maturation” now. What is the verb? I’m maturing? So what were you during your career before maturation? Immature? No, this doesn’t work.
  • ReWirement – You can train – or rewire – your brain to think differently and improve your life. Of all the suggestions, this one works the best because it looks like retirement but involves so much more. And it’s not cringy.

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