Web-only Feature

Web-only Feature

Internet Editor’s Note: Dr. Barrett recently published an article in the Bulletin on “Retirement Myths.” You can find a free copy of the article: here.

In my last article I listed four retirement myths:

  1. It is easy to retire from an active professional life to a less active lifestyle;
  2. Retired people do not want to work;
  3. Retired people do not want to be paid;
  4. Retired people have unlimited free time

In that article I admitted to having retired three times. I am now 13 years past my first retirement, and I find myself moving into a different stage of retirement characterized by a significant reduction in professional activity. I am spending less than 20% of my free time professionally. This change has increased my free time and has led to increasing questions about how much time I want to devote to professional work.

Retirement Myth 5: If You Are Capable of Working, You Should Be Working

At times I have made the mistake of thinking that if I am able to work, I should be continuing to work. I am sure that the values instilled by my Catholic upbringing have contributed to this thinking. Realistically, working after retirement is contingent on at least three factors. It is not sufficient to be able to work, you must also be willing to work and there needs to be on opportunity to work. I know that are many professionals who have made the mistake of thinking that they should be working and feel guilty about not working.

Let’s talk about opportunity. Some people continue working at their same job in a reduced capacity. In my case, I retired from core faculty at the University of Denver, but I continue to teach two courses as professor emeritus. I am grateful for this opportunity. I know many other professionals who continue to work in their preretirement positions in a reduced capacity. For example, many psychologists in private practice reduce the number of clients but continue to practice. However, not everyone has this opportunity. Even in my situation, my two previous retirements (from the state of Colorado and from the World Health Organization) did not allow any paid continued employment.

For those not able to continue in preretirement jobs, there is, of course, the opportunity to work in other settings. However, there are often problems for retirees to find new work. Some employers are hesitant to hire retirees because they think a younger person “needs” the money more than a retiree. Also, there is outright discrimination in some settings. While there is ample evidence that most people prefer a multigenerational employment situation (Anderson, 2019), Mentorship and the Value of a Multigenerational Workforce, Jan, 2019), many organizations will choose a younger person when there is an opportunity.  While this action is discriminatory, it is difficult to prove. In one of my consulting positions, I was part of an application for a state grant. However, after the grant was awarded, there was pressure to reduce my involvement in the grant activities in favor of younger people. While my age was never mentioned, I am quite certain that it was a factor.

AARP research (Anderson, 2019) suggests that many employment settings value the mentorship of older workers. However, my experience in state and international work suggests that there is a bias against older people. When I went to work for the World Health Organization in 2004 at the age of 58, I was warned that most people in the main office of WHO are younger people. I was told that I might be uncomfortable in this situation. As it turned out, I worked a lot with younger people, and I believe they respected my experience. Also, I socialized with interns through sports and other activities. Again, they seemed to appreciate my perspective.

One of the decisions I have been forced to make as a retiree is how much time and energy I am willing to expend to obtain new consulting activities. I am no longer willing to spend a huge amount of time pursuing these activities. I am glad to accept opportunities based on my previous experience and previous contacts. However, as I get farther and farther from my active years, many of my contacts have already retired from active professional work.

Retirement Myth 6: If I Can Do the Work Better Than the Person Who Replaced Me, I Should Be Doing the Work Myself

I admit that I am susceptible to this myth. I am sure that there is often some bias in my perception of my ability. However, I am sure that I can do a better job in some instances, but that does not mean that I should necessarily be doing the work.  There should be opportunities for a person to grow into the position. Otherwise, there would be few opportunities for younger people. Also, there may be a need for someone to come in with a different perspective.

At least for me, retirement is a process that continues through my retirement years. I am constantly examining how much I can still contribute through work and how much I want and need to work. It is sometimes frustrating when I cannot achieve that perfect balance between what I want and what I can get, but that is part of the challenge of retirement. A challenge that I gladly accept.

Cite This Article

Barrett, T. (2019, July). Debunking retirement myths. [Web article]. Retrieved from https://societyforpsychotherapy.org/debunking-retirement-myths/


Anderson, G. O. (2019). Mentorship and the value of a multigenerational workforce, AARP Research. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00270.001


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