When do you call time? And should you?
Actress Betty White turned 96 on Wednesday. And she shows few signs of ever giving up work or her advocacy for animals. The former “The Golden Girls” and “Mary Tyler Moore” actress and game show veteran had a starring role in “Hot in Cleveland” from 2010 to 2015 on TV Land, and had guest appearances on the TV shows “Fireside Chat with Esther,” “Bones” and “Young & Hungry” in 2017. “Retirement is not in my vocabulary,” she once said. “They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.”
Wow Betty White made 96 years old today…. I knew she was old but damn. I hope i look that good when im that age. Happy Birthday #BettyWhite #BettyWhiteBDay pic.twitter.com/pS5q8VnjyN
— Nene Marie (@NeneMarie95) January 17, 2018
White isn’t the only 90-something who didn’t like that “r” word. Comedian Jerry Lewis, who died last year at age 91, never stopped working. In this painfully awkward, and possibly final, interview with the “The Hollywood Reporter,” he showed little patience for Andy Lewis (no relation), a considerably younger journalist who asked if him if he had ever thought about retiring. “Why?” Lewis shot back. He was 90 years of age at the time. Was there never a moment he thought about retiring? “Why?” Lewis repeated.
Lewis was not alone in being acerbic or in refusing to humor the press. Britain’s Prince Philip, also 96, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, who can be impatient with the press, officially retired last August at the age of 95 and will no longer carry out any role duties, Buckingham Palace announced. He will continue to be the patron of 780 organizations, but will no longer attend active engagements. The only surprise was, perhaps, that such an announcement at the age of 95 was a surprise.
‘Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.’
One of the few other retirements that was comparable for someone passed the traditional age of retirement of 65 to 67 years of age was that of Pope Benedict XVI in February 2013. Pope Benedict was the first pope to retire in almost 600 years, which made his decision all the more momentous. He was relatively young, compared to Lewis and Prince Philip. Pope Benedict was a mere 85 at the time.
But since the pope believed his health issues were impacting his job, which may (or may not) have been one of the reasons Prince Philip’s retirement was announced so suddenly, the decision seems relatively clear-cut. Experts say it’s critical to put yourself first, before your colleagues, managers and clients or — in the latest case — your subjects.
Do you really love your work?
For the growing number of retirement-aged professionals who are still hale and hearty, as our life expectancy increases, the decision to retire gets more complicated, particularly if it’s a job you love or a vocation. The golden rule of thumb? Whether you’re a comedian, real-estate agent or writer, consultant or professor, retirement means more than just giving up a job, it means the end of a way of life.
‘I, personally, hate the word ‘retirement.’ It shouldn’t be an end.’
It should not be a decision taken lightly, if at all, especially just because society tells us to retire at a certain age. Most people who have had a high-powered job don’t want to be greeted at a party with the words, “Didn’t you used to be…?” “I, personally, hate the word ‘retirement,’” says Piera Palazzolo, workplace expert and digital marketer in New York. “It shouldn’t be an end.”
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Some questions worth asking: Is something unpleasant in your personal life affecting your work? A divorce or death of a spouse could lead to a rash decision — or it could fuel the realization that your work is the one thing that keeps you fulfilled in the years ahead. Alternatively, such outside factors could spark soul-searching questions along the lines of: What am I passionate about?
Some workplace consultants believe we should always have a vocation or a passion to contribute to society. “A sense of purpose is crucial to driving our work and retirement,” says Steve Langerud, workplace consultant and principal of Steve Langerud & Associates in Grinnell, Iowa. “Without purpose there is no reason to go on.”
Who will succeed you?
Another major consideration for some: succession and timing. Case in point: In 2010, Justice John Paul Stevens, a Supreme Court justice allied with the court’s liberal wing, announced his retirement. Stevens, who was about to turn 90 at the time, still had stamina: He’d been writing and taking part in public-policy debates since then.
But his timing allowed former President Barack Obama to nominate a justice of a similar ideological stripe — Elena Kagan. Retiring earlier, under the George W. Bush administration, would likely not have resulted in a liberal replacement, and waiting until the administration of President Donald Trump would have given the current administration two Supreme Court justices to replace after the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016.
Of course, not everyone can afford to retire and has the relatively luxurious life of a prince or a pope, or even a Hollywood actor or chief executive, or someone who has had a steady job and income (and 401(k)) for the last 40 years. Inequality has widened in the U.S. over the last five decades, studies show.
‘If you live without passion, you can go though life without leaving any footprints.’
As Peter Schiff, the chief executive of Euro Pacific Capital, and a market pundit who often espouses what critics describe as a bearish outlook for the equity market, told MarketWatch, “Today, people have lots of consumer debt, auto loans and student loans. Not only do people not have savings, they’re loaded up with debt.” And some, he said, have no real chance of retirement. “By the time people retired 50 years ago, they were out of debt. Not today.”
Others are fortunate or, if they have a talent like Betty White, create their own good fortune. What’s her secret? White says she stays positive and never lets go of her passions: work and animals. “Everybody needs a passion. That’s what keeps life interesting. If you live without passion, you can go though life without leaving any footprints.” But she still has items left on her bucket list. “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is Robert Redford.”