Retirement is a Bankrupt Industrial Age Idea

Day 9 of 21 days with Chuck’s new book, Why Employees Are ALWAYS a Bad Idea

Two-thirds of the people who have ever reached the age of 65 in the history of man are alive today. Living longer is a brand new thing, and we are profoundly unprepared to deal with it. The Industrialists found it extremely inconvenient, so they invented this dumb idea called “retirement.” It is an early stab at dealing with old age and will itself die away.

Retirement is a really bad, bankrupt, industrial age idea that was never a good concept in the first place. It is a core disease of the Industrial Age and will not be welcomed by future generations. Beside the fact that it was invented to get creepy old people off the assembly line during the Industrial Age, it makes a mockery of the 45+ years that come before it. And as proof, it’s already being rejected by a majority who grew up in the shadow of the Industrial Age.

Where Did Retirement Come From?
In 1889, Otto von Bismarck invented – that’s right, invented – retirement, because people in Germany who refused to quit working were causing great unemployment among younger people and gumming up the works in the Factory System.

William Osler, a founder of Johns Hokpins University didn’t help. In a 1905 valedictory address, he said, “It is a matter of fact that the years between 25 and 40 in a worker’s career are the 15 golden years of plenty.” He then quoted Anthony Trollope from 1882 who recommended that “the elderly be chloroformed by the age of 68.” Osler later died of the flu at the age of 70, having sucked up two extra years of oxygen someone under 40 could have used to be more productive.

Get Off The Bus, Gus
After decades of resistance, in the 1950s, at the peak of the Industrial Age, retirement finally began to catch on when people began to discover that they could replace work with play. The debates of the 1950s and ‘60s as to whether leisure could replace work as a source of meaning in people’s lives has been clarified by today’s experts. Surveys show that most people prefer continuing to put their hand to Making Meaning over holing up on a golf course. Leisure is very attractive as a change of pace here and there, but most of us reject it as a source of ongoing meaning. People want to “participate” and “share” even in their elder years.

As a result, the majority of retirees have gone back to work in some form, and less then 18% say it has anything to do with insufficient retirement income. People are deciding to CHOOSE (a very powerful thing) to stay in the work force, and doing it to Make Meaning, not just money.

Death By Golf
Retirees have replaced work with play, thinking that will make us live longer. But a thorough 90-year study of 1,528 Americans called The Longevity Project, shoots big holes in the retirement dream. Turns out goofing off for the last thirty years of our lives is a really bad idea if you want to keep living. The earlier you retire, the quicker you die. This study shows that if you retire at age 55, you are 89% more likely to die before the age of 65 than someone still working at age 65 has of dying at 75!

Also, those who have just retired are most likely to suffer from depression. They are no longer Making Meaning, and they know that golfing, all by itself, will not fill the void. The idea that work is leading you to an early grave is a myth. This massive study proved what we’ve been saying for years now; we should get up every day asking how we can Make Meaning in the world around us.

The New Normal
The new normal is to continue to work after 65, not because we have to, but because we all want to Make Meaning, not just money, and we want to do it every day, not just for the first two-thirds of our lives.

The farther we get from the Industrial Age, the more we realize retirement is just a dumb Industrial Age idea that was foisted on us, once again, to help the Industrialists make money, but certainly not for our own good. The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) posed this question to Americans: “If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?” 85% said they would not retire.

A goal realized is no longer motivating, and retirement is a goal realized. The retirees meaningful years are behind them, and now they’re just coasting. And by the way, the only way to coast is to go downhill.

Make Meaning. Seize the day, every day. Carpe freaking diem already.

This is a summary of a chapter from Chuck’s new book, “Why Employees Are ALWAYS a Bad Idea (And Other Business Diseases of the Industrial Age)”. Click here to pre-order this new ground breaking book at a discount on until July 28.