The dark side of retirement only the brave talk about

Man sitting at gravesite with a look of sadness

Image: CKellyPhoto/

As a teen in the mid-60s, I remember singing along with The Who’s ‘My Generation’ with its line, ‘I hope I die before I get old’. It’s probably too late for me to fulfil that rather naive wish.

There are days when I don’t feel as old as I am. And, to be honest, my brain mostly thinks I’m still 18. Any mirror tells me that’s a lie.

The reality is that while the life expectancy may be set (in Australia the current life expectancy is 80.4 years for males and 84.6 years for females, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics).

There are no guarantees, though.

Our time is limited. We’ll all get to the place where we’ll fall off the perch, kick the bucket, shuffle off the ‘mortal coil’ (Shakespeare), enter the ‘dreamless sleep’ (Byron), or ‘f-fade away’ (The Who, again).

Morbid? Perhaps, but it’s reality. This is the dark side of retirement. Retirement is the last stage of life and it all ends when we do.

Countering the dark side

When The Who sang ‘My Generation’ at the close of London’s 2012 Olympics they chose not to sing the line, ‘I hope I die before I get old’. Was that in recognition that they’re ageing rockers? Or an attempt to ignore it? You’ll have to ask them.

Retirement is the time when we have greater control—probably the greatest control—over our lives. We’re free to choose what we’ll do. Yes, there can be limits: finances may be one; health may be another; compromise will be necessary if you’re part of a couple; and so on.

But we can choose what we do in our retirement. And we can choose to counter the dark side by focusing on living in three ways.

1. Living life to the full

Retirement gives us the freedom to live. To really live. To experience new things; to strengthen and develop social and family contacts; to expand knowledge and skills; to develop hobbies.

You have freedom to add or change that list. You can choose what you’ll do in retirement.

What would be morbid is if we were to continually focus on our dying instead of our living. Retirement is a time to focus on living—and living life to the full.

2. Living healthy

One of the best ways of living life to the full is to stay healthy for as long as possible. When I interviewed Darren Morton, lifestyle researcher and author of Live More Active, he spoke about the longer life expectancy, but also what he called Disability Adjusted Life Years and asked, ‘How many of those years are dysfunctional?’ It could be, he suggested upward to 11 or 12 years.

If that’s the case, ‘Do we really live longer than those going back 100 years ago?’ he asked. ‘It might depend on how you define living.’

Frankly, there’s not much advantage in getting to 90 and more if you spend your last 15 years in a nursing home.

Health is important and developing a regimen before retirement that includes healthy eating, making sure you exercise enough, and keeping your brain active now will help you when you get to retirement.

Living with attitude

None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, it’s beyond our control. What we can control is our attitude. A positive attitude will help us cope. Whatever happens.

There is such a thing as ‘positive ageing’, which has been described as ‘the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age’.

That’s a whole-person approach, but the key element is attitude. And you can choose to maintain a positive attitude. Like Randy Pausch.

Pausch is best known for his ‘last lecture’ a few months before his death. There were 400 in his audience, more than 16 million have since watched it on YouTube.

In his book, The Last Lecture, he tells of his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and of having only three to six months to live. Early on, one of his doctors advised, ‘It’s important to behave as if you’re going to be around for a while.’

‘Doc, I just bought a new convertible and got a vasectomy. What more do you want from me?’

Retirement may be the last stage of life, but it’s there to be lived. To the full. As much as every other stage of life.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Ageing, Attitude

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