Work After Work: Our new age of life and the moral necessity for “returnment”

Returnment n. 1) The act of giving back, or returning in some small way, what the world has given you. 2) Especially as an alternative to retirement.

At the turn of the 20th century, the average life expectancy was only 47. Today, it is rapidly approaching 80. Our fastest growing age group is folks over the age of 85, with someone in this country turning 50 every eight seconds. More importantly, older adults are healthier than previous generations and this has created an unprecedented average lifespan. An average 60-year-old person today is closer to a 40 or 50 years old health-wise when compared to a 60-year-old 20 or 30 years ago.

Our old model of retirement suggested that people work until the ages of 60 to 65, and then a person felt fortunate if there were a few years of leisure before their physical health deteriorated and/or death ensued. Today, that is all changing. Many older adults have to work, or want to work, in their later years.

Our seniors have already expressing that they will not approach retirement in a traditional fashion. For example, many boomers are already having great difficulty relating to the terms senior, elderly, old and mature. Most of them will also resist the term “retirement.”

As one recent retired teacher said, “I have retired from teaching, but I am not retired. I tell you I am going to find another word that is different from the word retirement. Retirement lends itself for people to say, ‘Well, he is tired, that’s the end of it.’ There has to be another word other than retirement.”

I believe there is a great spiritual need and moral necessity for redefining “retirement” with “returnment.” I define “returnment” as “the act of giving back, or returning in some small way, what the world has given to you.” Other words could be used such as stewardship, trusteeship or even aloha. I like this new word because it captures not only our new age of life, but also the psychological and spiritual needs of this time of life as well.

The pursuit of the traditional retirement life of primarily leisure and consumption will lead to not only a tremendous loss of talent, experience and resources, but intensified inter-generational economic and resource conflicts, and ultimately for most individuals, regret and despair. It is not enough to honor our kūpuna, we need to engage them as a renewable resource.

To live the rest of our lives uninvolved and unengaged will be unrewarding and unacceptable. If you are not engaged in your later years, you are just dying longer not living longer.

President Obama has called for a new commitment to volunteerism by all age groups. We need to challenge the 80 million strong boomers to step up, get involved and set the example. This growing age group will have more time than any other age group and they have energy and experience that we need and can use.

The good news is that surveys indicate that up to 80% of all boomers expect to work or volunteer part time in their later years, and 70% said that they would work even if they had enough money to live comfortably, according to a survey by the Rutgers Community Center for Workforce Development. The care giving professions of teaching, childcare, nursing and human services are in great need of replenishment and expansion.

With “living with purpose” being one of the primary drivers of people over age 50, community service through non-profit organizations (NPOs) is a real win/win opportunity. We cannot afford for boomers in their aging lives to be perceived as socially useless and only living a life of consumerism. There is a great need, opportunity and moral necessity for tapping into their wisdom, experience, wealth, finances and time.

Just imagine if only a portion of the people here in Hawai‘i retiring each year now were to pursue a life of “returnment.” What problems could be addressed? How many children’s lives would be different? What new kind of energy would be created? What level of hope?

“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jay C. Bloom, President of Bloom Anew 808-753-4331 |


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.