Is There Life After Work?


By Neil Offen

Even with COVID, the average American lifespan is still 77 years, which is an increase of almost two years from just a few decades ago and more than enough extra time to catch up on all the episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” that you might have missed when you were younger and working a 40-hour week.

It’s important to remember here that back as recently as the 1960s, when life expectancy was shorter and there was no “Big Bang Theory,” there was precious little time between when we stopped working and when we stopped living. There was also precious little to do during that time.

In those limited years available to retirees, nobody had invented Wordle. Plus, there was no streaming and everybody was pretty much stuck with Uncle Miltie.*

Far worse, all retirees had to wear polyester leisure suits, sometimes even in the shower.

They had to golf, despite not knowing a sand wedge from a sandwich. They had to interrupt their children’s conversations—those children, that is, who would now be us—about the Grateful Dead by asking if their obituary had made it into the afternoon newspaper.

That was then, when there was an afternoon newspaper. Now, because many of us have taken good care of our bodies by eating a lot kale even though it tastes like a manila folder, we are far more likely to live a pretty long time without having to, you know, work. Hey, and wasn’t that the original plan?

Of course, we understand not everyone can do this. Some of us will continue working past a certain standard age because we have to. Some of us will continue working because we want to. And some of us will continue working because it’s better than staying home, playing dominoes, acting cranky and shouting loudly at the TV that the commercials are too loud.

But for many of us, we may finally be at the point where we don’t have to work anymore—plus, as a bonus, we’re still alive!

In other words, we can be—what’s that word I’m looking for here?—retired.

In fact, according to the Leisure Suits Research Bureau, the number of retired workers receiving Social Security benefits increased from approximately 34.59 million in 2010 to 46.33 million in 2020. That accounts for, among much else, the growth of Silver Sneakers classes, erectile dysfunction drugs and Florida.

Many new retirees had been looking forward to retirement from the moment we started working, mainly when we were stuck in traffic. This would be, we thought, the time we could do anything we wanted, if only we could figure out what we wanted.

Yet according to the National Institutes of Institutes, only 19 people out of the entire 46.33 million had actually planned for retirement. This happened despite all the magazine articles and TV commercials shouting at us about how to plan for retirement and the seven common mistakes to avoid in retirement planning or the five key retirement planning tips you shouldn’t miss or the nine retirement blunders you shouldn’t make.

The point of all this shouting was simple: retirement today doesn’t just happen. If it did, you might wind up in a leisure suit in the shower. You can’t just order retirement from Amazon or pick it up at the pizza place. Well, maybe you can order it from Amazon. But only if you have Prime.

Retirement planning has to start way before actual retirement. It has to be prepared for, scheduled, organized, structured and formulated. Retirement is a lot of work, which is probably why we wait until we’re not working anymore to do it.

*Uncle Miltie was not really your uncle but Milton Berle, a comedian who was early television’s No. 1 star, although he was actually no funnier than your real Uncle Phil.

Carrboro resident Neil Offen has written humor pieces for a number of different publications, in a number of different countries. His column appears twice monthly in The Local Reporter.

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