You know the type—the “expert” who feels compelled to pass judgment on the choices other people make, whether it’s what they wear, what they eat, or what car they buy.
Well, if you’re contemplating retirement or have already made the transition, gird your loins: there are self-anointed authorities lying in wait to expound on how you’re not doing this life transition “right” according to their rules.
We call them the retirement police.
Just as some folks cling to the passé admonishment against wearing white after Labor Day, the retirement police have an outdated notion of what retirement is or isn’t—and don’t hesitate to impose their rigid beliefs on you. Here are some recent run-ins with the so-called law that women we know have had:
“So, you’re not really retired”
D. retired at age 50 after a nomadic career with the U.S. diplomatic corps. She retired as soon as she was eligible based on age and years of service. She decided to settle in Portland, Maine, a city she fell in love with after one visit—without knowing anyone there.
In order to meet new friends and create a community for herself, D. threw herself into a whirlwind of activities based on her interests. She joined an outdoor adventures club and the board of trustees of a local theater group. She got involved with the Maine chapter of the American Heart Association (D. is a heart disease survivor). She even began teaching a how-to-retire course through Portland’s adult education organization, and writing bar (as in cocktails) reviews for the local newspaper online.
Her first encounter with the retirement police occurred at a social event when she was asked the inevitable, “What do you do?” She led with the fact that she was retired, then began recounting the activities keeping her busy. Her questioner’s response? A dismissive, “Oh, so you’re not really retired.”
“You don’t want to use that word”
B. capped a successful career in banking and financial services with a multi-year stint as executive director of a global organization focused on making capital more available to women-owned businesses. When her husband set a retirement date, B. decided to follow suit so they could pursue their passion for travel. In her mid-sixties, she felt excited about her next chapter.
As she began sharing her retirement plans with female friends and colleagues, however, she was taken aback by their reactions.
“I was surprised by the push-back I received from still-working women when I told them I was retiring,” she relates. “They urged me not to use that word, suggesting that instead I say I was consulting, or reinventing, or on pause while I figured out what I’d do next. But the fact was, I was done working and I was perfectly comfortable calling myself ‘retired.’
“They were having a harder time with it than I was!” she adds. And she continues to proudly refer to herself as retired.
“You can’t be retired if you work part time”
Leslie was at a cookout this past summer and described our book project to a new acquaintance. The woman (let’s call her V.) confided that she was having a real problem with how to describe her “status” since she’d recently retired from a decades-long teaching career.
“I thought I was retired, but I started working about 12 hours a week at a local gift shop, just for fun, and people tell me I can’t be retired if I work part time,” V. related. “So what do I call myself?”
Leslie went on to share our belief—and the underlying theme of our upcoming book—that retirement is a personal journey that each of us defines for ourselves. Sure, once upon a time, retirement was pretty narrowly defined as stepping away from work into a life of full-time leisure. But today, there are as many ways to be retired as there are retired women. And you can spend your time in this stage of life any way you choose—including working at a part-time job.
V. felt relieved—and validated. And ready to stand up to the next person who challenged her retiree status.
If you’ve been accosted by the retirement police, we hope this post helps you know you’re not alone. That you’re perfectly justified in calling yourself retired if that’s what you consider yourself to be. And you don’t have to feel defensive about how you spend your time in this chapter of your life.
Equally important, it’s time for the judgy retirement police to stand down and stop handing out unwarranted criticism about women’s choices. We get to make our own rules about how to get to and through this transition—and protect and serve our own interests.
Have you had an encounter with the retirement police? How’d you handle it? And how did it make you feel? Please share in the comments below!