Charlie's Blog: Never Retire


Never Retire

To retire is to die.

A few years ago, I wrote about retirement. The gist of that article is that retirement is an economic impossibility for most people of a certain age because of bad stewardship and demographics. If your golden years rest on a ponzi scheme, you or someone else is going to be left holding a bag of nothing. For myself, I do not expect to ever be able to retire. This prospect does not disturb me because I don't believe in retirement. What does disturb me is my generation being saddled with the burden of paying for the expenses of those who do believe in retirement.

If it was up to me, I would turn out the geezers in the street. I know this makes me a cold hearted bastard, but I see it as a fitting and just end for a generation that indulged itself for its entire span. Unfortunately, I do not think the geriatric welfare class will get its comeuppance in this life. What they will get is derision and scorn as they wait to die.

This scorn and derision is already cranking up. Millennials are already expressing their anger over the dawning realization that their lives are much worse than the lives of their parents, and a generational theft is taking place as those kids are expected to pay for Social Security and Medicare with their jobs at Starbucks. This is the same generation that will not hesitate to vote in euthanasia like they have over in Europe. In socialism, killing becomes expedient especially when you consume more than you produce. I predict death panels for geriatrics, and these people will literally be stamped with expiration dates. I might be cold for wanting these people turned out into the streets, but I do want them to live even if it is a life of hardship. The rest of the world will simply reassure itself with the notion of dying in comfort.

I will move from the demographics and public policy issues to the personal. Regardless if you are rich, poor, or in between, you should never retire. Retirement is morally wrong. It is an evil thing and should never be tolerated except in cases of physical and mental incapacity. At that stage, death is close anyway. Modern medicine can extend this time a bit, but I think natural death is the way to go. My example of how to go out of this world is Saint Teresa of Calcutta who worked until her frailty and poor health finally stopped her, and she passed at age 87. She basically worked until the day she died.

I compare this saint to a man I know who is 75 and very vigorous and strong. And he should be vigorous and strong because he has been in retirement for 20 years. I like the fellow, but I see the extended vacation he is taking as a shameful thing. Unfortunately, his example is not rare but common. People can reasonably expect to live another 25-30 years past their retirement age. That is a long time. Many people don't even live to see 30. And what do these people do or accomplish during this extended lifespan of leisure? They do very little. They spend a lifetime working in order to become lazy worthless bums at the end of life. Then, they have the gall to lament the death of the work ethic in our society.

A person who is getting old needs to ask themselves one question. Is it better to burn out or rust out? Your answer to that question determines how you are going to spend your golden years. And your choice in this regard reflects what you think the purpose of life is and what you think awaits you beyond this life. For St. Teresa of Calcutta, she chose to burn out because she wanted Heaven. And she got there. But for so many others, there is nothing beyond the grave, so they choose to make a heaven out of this life as they rust out in retirement. The irony is that I see these rusty relics, and they don't seem so happy. So much for heaven on earth.

Now, the counterargument I hear is that your body and brain falls apart as you get older. Now, this is true for people with diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. I am not indifferent to this, and I think these people can be excused because their bodies really are failing. But this is a fact that is true at any age and not just old age. Yet, the woman with lupus at age 30 is expected to keep going while the fit man at 65 feels entitled to take it easy in life because he has "earned" it. I think this is a load of crap.

If your body works, you should use it regardless of your age. When your body fails, then you can hang it up. This is what it means to burn out. Your body fails before your work ethic and your virtue. But barring disease and/or severe injury, you should strive to keep working and doing until your body gives out. And there are old people who do just this.

Sister Madonna Buder is known as the "Iron Nun." She competes in ironman distance triathlons. She started running at age 48 on the advice of a priest. She is 87 years old. For those who don't know, an ironman triathlon is comprised of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle, and a 26.2 mile marathon. Completing such an event is impressive at any age but even more impressive when you are 80+ years old.

Now, why do I point to this extraordinary person? Merely to show what is possible at that age. I don't expect every grandmother to go out and become an Ironman triathlete. That would be unreasonable. But I don't think it is unreasonable to expect otherwise healthy but older people to continue working a job. The reality is that many old folks live in a state of premature death because they were told that this is what you do at that age. The result is that age becomes an excuse for inactivity and laziness.

Most of the things we attribute to aging are really the result of inactivity. When they say "use it or lose it," they aren't kidding. The problem isn't getting old but getting out of shape. I can tell you now that Sister Madonna would almost certainly beat me in the marathon because I can't even run a single mile at age 46. This is because she uses her body, and I don't.

I have met many older people who defy their age. There is the high school PE instructor who I met who is clearly north of 60 and has biceps like you wouldn't believe. That guy is fit. There is the 60+ cook who I know works at Olive Garden. She always has a smile, and she is the hardest worker in that place. At my own workplace, I know of a guy in his sixties who is a heart transplant recipient. He is one of our top employees putting twentysomethings to shame. I feel confident that these old folks could go another 10-15 years with no problem. But I suspect they will succumb to the siren song of retirement and let themselves go. This is a real shame.

We've all heard the story of the guy who worked hard, retired at 65, let himself go, and was dead a year later. I doubt this happens that often because there are plenty of old folks who do the same thing except they linger for another 30 years on the retirement dole while smoking cigarettes and chugging beer. But the truth in that story is that work keeps you fit while retirement makes your health and fitness go south. Consequently, I think working a 9 to 5 beyond 65 is not a curse but a blessing in disguise for these people.

I know I will never be able to afford to retire. I am good with money and live a frugal lifestyle. But I don't expect to have enough cash saved up or expect Social Security to be solvent enough to allow me 30+ years of leisure. I expect to work until I die. And I am OK with this. In fact, I think the idea is totally awesome. This is because I don't see work as a curse, and I think you will get plenty of sleep when you are dead. And there is Heaven.

At some point, even someone like Sister Madonna Buder will succumb to a body that is destined to fail. The same will happen to me and to you. We aren't immortal. But if you do it right, this time will be relatively short. The most beautiful stories I read are of people who finally "retired," left the job, and were buried two weeks later. They had enough time to get their affairs together and were no burden to their loved ones. I just don't think you can have a happy death when you choose to rust out. I've seen those deaths, too. And they were all bitter.

Don't ever retire. Choose the path of burning out instead of rusting out and let that flame burn as brightly and as long as it can. I think you will be blessed with a happy life and a happy death if you choose this path. And I think things will go better for you on the other side, too.