/ 22 May 2024

Embracing protirement: Transforming retirement into a productive, fulfilling phase of life

Retired Senior Woman Gardening. Pulling The Weeds And Edge Garden Beds.
A protirement life well-managed can encompass a new career, or hobby that draws on the many years of experience, expertise and wisdom acquired in the first phase of one’s life. And it doesn’t have to end there. (Getty Images)

Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, a popular series on Netflix, has put the spotlight on healthy ageing. It shows diverse regions in the world where ageing populations live productive lives well into their nineties and some even past 100 years. 

Many people grapple with the passing of time and the inevitable ageing process. Our elder years catch many of us unawares. Some sooner than others reach that anxiety provoking phase of our lives — retirement. 

This is when you reach the end of your professional journey and your work life is wrapped up in good wishes and plaudits. And, if you’re lucky, you might even receive a memorable gift. But it doesn’t matter how it’s dressed, the result is the same, you’ve reached the (perceived) end of a productive working life. A succession plan will probably already be in place for a replacement to take over your office and desk, and within a short time the only trace of your existence might be in corridor chats. 

Retiring from work is a fact of life and usually this happens at 65 years of age. But there is no legislation that compels people to retire at this age. Rather this is determined by employment contracts and company policy. There are many cases where people, particularly in private companies, work beyond the age of 65 years. There are also many cases where employees decide to take early retirement. So the guidelines are not legislatively prescribed. 

What is more important when the inevitable retirement does happen is how people respond to it. For many it’s a difficult pill to swallow, a feeling of being dispensed with and of redundancy. So much of our self-esteem, our standing in society and how we use our time, is built on our jobs. And once this is yanked away long before many are ready to retire, it’s not surprising that people lapse into deep depression. 

In a world that tends to reify youthful vitality and that shunts many older people into old age homes a new approach of how we tap and retain the value of our elders needs to emerge. Globally, the number of retirees is on the increase. According to the World Health Organisation, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double (2.1 billion) by 2050 and the number of persons aged 80 years or older is expected to triple between 2020 and 2050, to reach 426 million. This is the result of a number of factors — improvements in medical science and better quality of life because of advances in technology. 

Reaching one’s elder years can be both a blessing and a curse depending on individual readiness and societal perspectives. For some it’s a chance to enjoy the sweetness of having more leisure time and pursuing life goals that have been shelved for a long time, and for others it’s a period of aimlessness, deprivation and loneliness. But there’s a third alternative, an opportunity to begin “protirement”. This is the chance to transition into a new, productive and more meaningful phase of life. 

With the continuing advances in medical science we will see ongoing improvements in life longevity and even quality of health and therefore people will have the capacity to be productive and economically active for much longer. It is not surprising therefore that some older people transition into a second career when they reach protirement. Either way, to approach this phase of life with confidence and to reap its benefits requires proactive planning. Learning new skills, remaining up to date with the latest trends and, very importantly, having a prudent financial plan in place, are excellent stepping stones to a fulfilling new phase of life. 

So how can we embrace protirement more positively? It has to start with a paradigm shift. This can be as elementary as redefining the meaning associated with the word “retirement” and the use of the prefix, “re”. This is often associated with something negative. Think of “regressive”; “reactionary”; “redundant”. But when we replace it with “pro” it potentially takes on a new meaning. Think of “progress”; “proactive”; “proceed”. 

But this should be more than just a play on words, and must entail a cognitive and behavioural shift to embrace a new phase of life in a positive, productive way. 

A protirement life well-managed can encompass a new career, or hobby that draws on the many years of experience, expertise and wisdom acquired in the first phase of one’s life. And it doesn’t have to end there. 

For those who are financially independent and not reliant on paid work in this phase of life, there are many opportunities to build a legacy, particularly in South Africa where the needs are immense. Volunteering at the many NGOs, or providing tutoring and mentoring at the many institutions of learning will have a significant effect on nation-building. 

There’s no denying pending mortality and that ageing prepares us for that. But imagine if we age with purpose and give the maximum value from mind, body and soul to leave a better world for the next generation, what a powerful legacy that could be. 

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “What is my life if I am no longer useful to others?” 

Rudi Kimmie (PhD) is a human and development consultant. He writes in his personal capacity.