08/06/2013 03:48 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2013

Is Retirement Still Relevant?


Turns out retirement as a concept was something that just accidentally became the norm due to some 20th century government decrees. Retirement as we know it has really only been around for the past two generations. 100 years ago, people worked until... well... they just kept working. There are reams of articles written about how Boomers don't have enough money to retire, about how the recent recession has hurt Boomers's ability to retire, and about how they haven't saved enough money to retire. Bad Boomers! Very bad, naughty, thoughtless and highly selfish Boomers!

Back in the last century, when there were pensions and people died in their 60's and 70's, a go off to a golf course retirement worked both from a time on earth and from a financial perspective. You were probably going to die at 70, so you only needed a pension for a few years if you retired at 64. But times, they are a changing... strike that... they have changed. Today, people in their 40's and 50's may well live to 100 or 110, and the old pension system is just not there anymore. So what's a poor, naughty Boomer to do?

Hey Boomer, come closer... closer... how about keep working and remain connected and productive? How about that as a concept? If you keep working, what will all the financial writers have to write about? (Uh-oh... there you go again naughty boomers... you might cost financial writers their jobs! When will the havoc you wreak as a generation end?)

Retirement is a 20th century concept that is going the way of dowries and corsets. And, just like a corset, we have a 21st century version called Spanx. Spanx has the same function as a corset -- but it looks and feels completely different. (Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the Spanx... wouldn't go to a high school reunion without my body fully encased in Spanx. At my last reunion I did a poll, 97% of the women in attendance were wearing Spanx. The 3% who weren't were just naturally thin and we all talked about them behind their backs for the rest of the evening.) Spanx holds you firm, but in a completely different way from a corset. The retirement of the 20th century is essentially a 100-year-old corset and doesn't work for most people financially, emotionally, mentally or even socially. Today, very few people have pensions to live on. People are living a lot longer and will therefore need money for many more years. While there may be a few people out there who think the idea of doing "nothing" sounds great. By in large, human beings are programmed to be productive. Doing nothing for a few months actually doesn't sound terrible. But doing nothing for 40 years... Oy vey!

What this Boomer generation needs to do, like they've done in every other stage of their lives, is redefine how it's all going to work and make it work for them. There's a big movement in this country to look at the post 60 years as a new chapter for starting something new... not winding down into oblivion. Start that business, get that degree, move somewhere new, volunteer your time... do something fantastic! Grab the reigns, people, and jump in. You might figure out how to feed a child, cure a disease or simply bring some joy into someone's life and in the process, bring joy into your own life.