Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

Fight the Retirement Virus

“Hey Dave! When are you going to retire?”

Lost track how may times I’ve been asked that.

I knew that the poser of the question was never being entirely sincere. The real, unstated question was:

“Hey Dave! When can we have unfettered access to all of your time, energy and attention? You’re just so darn useful to have around here. But you’re never here exactly when the need arises!”

And largely because I knew the real unstated question, I usually answer, When you see me go out of here in a box, I’ve just retired.

It’s the curse side of the Middle Age coin. You’re young enough to still be strong, healthy and energetic, and therefore useful to whoever happens to need more strength and energy. Gimpy knee notwithstanding.

But you’re old enough to have accumulated some wisdom, know how to talk to people without annoying them like you did in your twenties, and maybe even switch on the occasional light bulb in the occasional head. Male middle age crisis notwithstanding.

So how come the people for whom you volunteer can see your value, and are desperate to lock down every hour you give them? But those who pay you for your time, can’t and aren’t?

Great question.

Is it Take for Granted Syndrome? (Also known as Ingratitude.)

Human beings chronically undervalue the things (and people) they already have, and overvalue those that they do not.

The moment we acquire something new, we internalize it, and we forget about it

Someone leaves, or a new need arises. The corporate instinct is to hire from the outside. Did anybody think to look around to see if the necessary skills were available inside?

The Gratitude Habit cures this one, but not many develop it.

Is it a bad attitude towards service? (Also known as Selfishness.)

When I answered, When you see me go out of here in a box, I’ve retired, I wasn’t being dishonest. I don’t want to retire, at least not as we conventionally think of retirement in the western world. But I was nevertheless peeved that someone thought they were entitled to help themselves to my time whenever I did retire.

True, an attitude of entitlement doesn’t say very much about them. But my reaction doesn’t say much about me either. Somebody else sees a need, which they think I can meet, and my reaction is, In your dreams, pal. That’s selfishness on my part.

Two years ago, as I was finishing up a contract for a major UK defence firm, a colleague muttered something about retiring soon. I asked him how far away that was likely to be.

He’d been a lifer in that firm. He replied, “One year, one month, and eight days.”

Right. Sounds like he’s looking forward to it. “What are you going to do when you’re finished?”

“As little as possible”, came the reply.

I could understand it on one level. The work environment in that firm could be toxic at times. Whatever passion and energy he’d had when he started had long since been beaten out of him.

But he had let it be beaten out of him. If an employer or client goes psycho on you, you can leave. Believe it or not, boys and girls, employers and clients can be fired. There are bigger and better ones out there.

Most retirees, unless they are already actively and heavily involved in some form of service at retirement, don’t enjoy the sudden glut of free time. Human beings need to feel valuable, a purpose for their existence, and social emotional contact with other people. All of those needs come from service, given in exchange for economic benefit.

We crave freedom to do our own thing, but we NEED to serve. Just as much as others NEED the benefits of our service.

If you’re chomping at the bit to retire, or your employer is a pain to work for, consider the possibility that you’ve forgotten how to serve. Consider the possibility that you’ve gone selfish.

(Yes, it’s also possible that said employer has gone toxic on you, and you do need to get out of there for the sake of your (and your family’s) mental health.)

The word servant in the English-speaking world at least, carries very negative connotations. (“How DARE you talk to me like that, I’m not a servant!”) Even civil servants and customer service representatives don’t carry the respect they did in years past.

We long to retire because we think so badly of service. We want to quit serving as soon as we can.

Employers, for their part, often seem eager to rid themselves of their longest-serving employees, because they can’t possibly have any useful service left in them. And well, frankly, they’re old. They remind me of my parents, whom I’d rather forget.

And they remind me of something else I’d rather forget.

Which is that one day, I’m going to DIE.


If the Old Timers have forgotten how to serve, or haven’t kept their skills up, then yeah, they’ve done themselves no favours. And on their own heads be their miserable retirement.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent Ageism. You can legislate behaviour, but you can’t legislate attitudes.

You can, however, make yourself such an attractive and useful servant, that when your boss or client is stupid enough to dismiss you, there’s a line of people outside the door and around the corner.

They’re not waiting to replace you.

They’re employers. Waiting to snap you up.

One of the few Star trek scenes that has stuck in my memory is the line delivered by Captain Kirk to Captain Picard:

“Captain of the Enterprise, eh? Let me tell you something: Don’t let them retire you (italics mine). Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you. Don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship because while you’re there . . . . . you can make a difference.



Curiosity. Questions. Simplicity. Principles. Meaning. The Vital Few, not the Trivial Many. Be your own Chief Questions Officer.

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David Kimbell

Curiosity. Questions. Simplicity. Principles. Meaning. The Vital Few, not the Trivial Many. Be your own Chief Questions Officer.