CHEERS |  Responsibility

The world’s population currently stands at eight billion. People are living longer and birth rates are falling. What does retirement look like in these changing times?

The golden years

There’s a disconnect between people contributing to social programmes and those utilising them because of the ageing population. It’s why we see headlines offering empty homes for sale in Italian villages for one Euro. Spain is considering emulating the programme. Japan has a similar scheme, trying to entice younger people into the countryside, to rural villages which are rapidly depopulating as young people head for  job opportunities in the cities.

It’s a sentiment often expressed by those who have reached retirement age: “I’m too young to retire – but I have to.” It’s broadly acknowledged that people in their 60s are still physically and mentally more than capable of making a contribution to the workforce.

One American, George Jerjian, spent 10 years in retirement and got bored with it all. “There has to be more to retirement life than this,” he thought to himself. But he was pretty unusual in that he’d retired – for medical reasons – at 52. He looked into retirement and what it means to people, what a successful retirement looks like.

His take on it all is that the focus is always on retirement planning, what to do with your money to ensure you’re financially taken care of – but there is very little about how to enjoy and live a purposeful final chapter of life.

So he established a second career, encouraging people to “un-retire” and find their purpose. Just as the current generation are doing away with the maxims of buying a house because it provides security, or staying employed with one company for a long period of time to build up benefits, so retirees are becoming more flexible – and more active. They too are starting side hustles!

The problem with more people living longer – and a younger generation opting to have fewer children or none at all is that there’s a divide or shortfall in social systems. It’s imperative to have younger people contributing to the fiscus in order for it to be able to pay healthcare and pensions to the older members of society ...

Countries around the world are slowly increasing the age of retirement. Belgium will hike their limit from 65 to 66 by 2025 and then to 67 by 2030, Germany’s retirement increases from 65 to 67 by 2029, Ireland 66 to 68 by 2028, Japan is 64 for men, 62 for women but will raise it to 65 by 2025. In the 1980s, the retirement age in Turkey/Turkiyë used to be 44 for men and 38 for women! It’s now 60 and 58 respectively but is set to be 65 for all by 2048.

“I’ve found that my purpose now is to help retirees “un-retire” and create a new life for themselves,” Jerjian said in an interview with CNBC. “Depending on when you plan to retire, you may have another 30, 40 or 50 more years of life — and that’s a hell of a long time to drift aimlessly.” He authored a book: Dare to Discover Your Purpose: Retire, Refire, Rewire and travels the United States providing coaching and motivational talks.

Retirement is a bit like a dog chasing a bicycle: once the dog’s caught it, it doesn’t really know what to do with it! Jerjian said Googling retirement planning was counterproductive. “There is nothing on actual retirement planning, which I believe is more about your life, and less about money. Having steady finances to last you throughout retirement plays a significant role in quality of life, but what’s more important is your life-planning. In other words, what is it that you are going to do once you leave the workforce? You can retire from your career, but you can’t retire from life.”

He surveyed 15 000 retirees over the age of 60 and a large proportion of them felt they still had a contribution to make to society. They missed working or doing something that they’d loved and many had difficulty filling their days with useful activities. They were missing a sense of purpose and also felt that society sidelined them and overlooked them and their skills.

“I’ve helped countless retirees find their purpose. They didn’t go back to work in the traditional 9-to-5 sense, but they set up new businesses, consulted, volunteered and took on hobbies that brought them joy and satisfaction.” He referenced the Japanese concept of ikigai – which is built on four components. There were four questions which should be answered in the affirmative: Are you doing an activity that you love? Are you good at it? Does the world need what you offer? And, can you get paid for doing it? At the confluence of all four overlapping circles of ability or proficiency, enjoyment, financial reward and relevance lies ikigai.

On a deeper level, ikigai refers to the emotional circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable as they move towards their goals, Jerjian said.

It’s also safe to say that as he nears his seventh decade, Jerjian has found his purpose in helping others find theirs in living more meaningful and healthier lives.