When you are fighting to fend off foreclosure in New York City, you can get great help - pro bono. Yesterday I read the story about Shirley Adelson Siegel who provides that support. But the greatest thing about her is not so much that she does that work, it is that she has been doing it for 70 years, even at the respectable age of 91 (!).
Ms. Siegel is still enjoying her work. At her age, she doesn’t have to work anymore, but she does because she likes it.

I understand. In fact, I’m not a fan of retirement at all. So often retirement from work means retirement from life. When you love your work - and you should love your work because you spend so much time doing it - why would you stop doing what you love when you reach 65?

The problem is that we have separated work from life. We have been brainwashed to believe that life becomes more fun after we retire. I seriously question that. I see a lot of bored older retired people and it always strikes me how vital and energetic older people look who are still working. People who are still participating in and contributing to society. When you continue to work you continue to be part of the world around you. Retirement, on the other hand, so often means disconnection. It may bring freedom, but it also brings loneliness and isolation.

Among the reports about the centennial anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in 2006, there was a story about Herbert Hamrol. He was one of the few people who survived the earthquake and who was still alive in 2006. Not only that, at 104, he still held a job rearranging the merchandise at a supermarket in the city. “I like what I do and they like me,” he said.

The modern notion of retirement as an escape, set apart from the rest of our lives, is barely a century old. Earlier societies saw things very differently. Before the Industrial Revolution-even as far back as Mesopotamia and Babylonia-there was no thought of separating out the elderly and sidetracking them away from society. When Alexander the Great conquered Asia just prior to 300 B.C. his most-feared legion was comprised of 3,000 older men-the “Silver Shield”-whose life experience made them formidable warriors.
Even in ancient Rome, senior citizens were expressly chosen to fill the most important positions in society. The word “senate” comes from the Latin word “senex,” which means “old man” and is the root of the word “senior.” In most native societies, status and prestige increase as the years pass. It’s difficult for us to imagine, but until the late 19th century, it was cool to look old. Men did their best to appear older by wearing wigs and powdering their faces white. Clothing accentuated an older build: narrower, rounded shoulders, wide hips and jackets with slits in the back suggesting a stoop. For our ancestors, grey hair wasn’t a problem. On the contrary, older people weren’t written off, but continued to play an active and valuable role, even when they were no longer economically productive.

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck set the retirement we still use back in 1889 when Germany began paying state pensions to people over age 65. In his time that made sense. After a life of unremitting labour, people were often frail and sick, unfit for the back-breaking jobs that dominated that era and nearly ready for the casket. Indeed, Bismarck’s creation of the first welfare state was mainly inspired by the fact that the greybeards of the time were slowing productivity in the factories. Since far fewer people lived beyond the age of 70, it was not a great financial burden for the German state.

If Bismarck were to make the same decision today, he would probably set the retirement age at 80 or so as most of us become much older today than in his age. But we are stuck with an unrealistic retirement age that promises freedom and fun but more often doesn’t deliver. Shirley Siegel and Herbert Hamrol, are my heroes. Yours?

What is your view on retirement? Would you like to continue working for what you believe in? If you are retired now, how are you spending your time?

Author's Bio: 

I am a full-time writer for the emergency loans website Simple Payday, where I write about all things finance, insurance, debt and money.