Boomer Unchained: Setting New Priorities After 65
It’s been more than two years since I officially retired from a full-time career that for decades had often extracted nearly 60 hours out of a single week and hardly allowed me to spend quality time with my family.
I was competitive, aimed for perfection in my work, loved what I did, and even, at one point, was criticized by a newspaper union president for making other reporters appear lazy.
I was a workaholic. Yet, I wasn’t alone. There were so many people like me in the boomer workforce that the entire generation became known as dependable and committed. Even in 2018, according to a July 2019 Pew Research Center article, 29% of older boomers, the ones aged 65 to 72, were still either working or looking for work1. The article did not clarify why these boomers are working, other than the obvious long-range financial concerns, but it did state nearly 40% of those hold college degrees, and that they are still benefiting the economy.
But our generation also is dwindling in size. Our numbers peaked in 1999 at 78.8 million. By 2016, that number was estimated to have dropped to 71 million, according to Pew (That’s nearly 9 million boomers who have died in 17 years). Without getting morbid, I suggest the time is well overdue for Type A boomers such as myself to prioritize the life we have left.
This thought does sound morbid as I contemplate my ‘to do’ list today and realize I quickly filled up my freed-up time with a lot of stuff: Three (demanding) board memberships, numerous committees, a couple of volunteer commitments, book clubs, fiction-writing workshops, and freelance opportunities. Somehow, my health, my personal life, and my family and close relationships are still vying for space. (At least I have carved out time for a daily spiritual practice and a meaningful relationship with a significant other). I know I am not alone. So, I consulted a few of my friends, and of course, Googled the subject, in an effort to gather advice.
In a survey, baby boomers, named seven life priorities, according to a research paper published in 2016 by the Pension Research Council of The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.2 Those priorities were: Health, home, family, work, giving (meaning charitable volunteering and/or philanthropy), finances, and leisure.
I repeat: Health is the most important priority. I imagine we all realize that, and that’s why we do everything we can to stay healthy. Even I work out several times a week, do some kind of exercise every day, and make an attempt to eat as many green veggies as I can. We seek out ways to prevent every disease we can think of, including cancer. Yesterday a friend told me that if we follow certain life practices, we can prevent Alzheimer’s. For me, the jury is still out on that one, but who knows. Anyway, I run to the acupuncturist if my back hurts. When I told my cousin, who is an anesthesiologist, of my belief in this ancient remedy, he rolled his eyes and didn’t comment. Meanwhile, I have avoided pain killers. Still, I encourage everyone to get every vaccination we are supposed to, including that painful, two-part shingles vaccine, and keep up with our regular, health examinations. My family practitioner, GYN, eye surgeon, and dermatologist are on speed dial (Remember that term?).
“You have to put yourself first. No one else will,” one of my closest friends said to me. She’s in her 70s, and although she seems to be constantly in motion, I realized her motion is well planned. Her priorities are her health, her husband’s health, and her family of children and grandchildren.
The priorities of home and family reminded me again that I don’t see my two grown sons often enough, though I do talk to them often. I telephoned my youngest son (41 years old) as soon as I read the survey results. It made me feel as if I needed to talk to him, to reconnect and let him know he was important, that I was proud of him. He answered the phone with a friendly, ‘hi’ and ‘how are you?’ - as if to make sure I hadn’t broken an ankle, which I did two years ago. But when he realized there was no emergency, and I was simply calling to talk, he said he’d call me back ‘later’ because he was watching a football came with his brother. Somehow, even that message comforted me to hear they were together enjoying themselves.
Volunteering and leisure activities came in at the end of the others, though they also give us opportunities to find meaning in our life. An article on the AARP website encourages us to find meaningful activities. I found that interesting because so much of my time falls into those categories.
Finances are in there, too, and every website you visit about priorities in retirement say you had better have enough money squirreled away to be able to live out your life comfortably. I’m not getting into that one here as it’s complicated and gives me an opportunity for another blog.
Meanwhile, I am now re-evaluating how I spend my time, and deciding what is really important as I slowly inch toward age 70. I guess we have to keep thinking about priorities so we don’t take our lives for granted because who knows what tomorrow brings (ugh. There I go being morbid again). Now, for a long walk in Cape Henlopen State Park. I have to get those 10,000 daily steps in.
Resources and References:
- Baby Boomers are staying in the labor force at rates not seen in generations for people their age
- Seven Life Priorities in Retirement (2016) https://pensionresearchcouncil.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/05-Kolluri-and-Hutchins.pdf