Making the Golden Years Golden
Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas
A friend the other day said “Jim, how many years do you have left until you can retire?” The question was a good natured one that I am asked occasionally. I’m never quite sure how to answer. At seven and one-half years into the Lab, I feel like there is still a lot of work yet to do; meaningful, fulfilling work. Every day you feel like you’re helping others and learning new things all the time makes it difficult to want to stop. I’m not yet quite ready for the pasture.
In our culture of the last 100 years or so, we’ve been encouraged to work hard, many times for a company, for a long career, and then retire. We’ve even coined the phrase “Golden Years” to describe the time you are no longer needed on an every-day basis at your place of work. There used to be this thing called a pension that would provide money to live on while no longer working. For the most part, pensions are gone so having the means to continue living becomes an issue. Many of those that have no purpose in life after retirement end up losing their reason for living. For many, the Golden Years aren’t so golden.
A recent news story reported a study showing that sometimes early retirement may lead to premature death. There have been similar studies over the years. While some may have retired early due to preexisting health conditions, and die soon after, there may be something else going on here. People are not made to sit around and do nothing. People are made to have a purpose in life and the purpose needs to be to help others. If retirement makes that purpose go away, things can go downhill fast.
After working in several professions, my father-in-law ended up settling in a career with the Boeing Company. A child of the Great Depression, his purpose in helping others was to provide for his family. The Boeing job paid well with good benefits. He did some electrical wiring in the Apollo program and later moved all over the country with the Minute Man missile program. As he progressed through his career, he noticed that many Boeing people died soon after retirement. It happened often enough that he set up a paper spread sheet (this was before Excel when spread sheet meant an actual paper tool) so he could figure out when he had enough money to retire early. He and his wife (mother-in-law) scrimped and saved until the day he could retire at 55. His purpose in life didn’t end, however. By then, his family was just the two of them and a series of dogs over the years, but he still had to provide for his family. He set about to do and learn things in retirement for which he didn’t have the time while working. He built and flew an experimental aircraft (the Vari-Eze), bought a sailboat and became a self-taught sailor. He also became quite the vintner and his wines, all gone now, are still among my favorites.
When we see young people in the Lab, we encourage them that the key to a happy and fulfilling life is to help others by solving their problems and let the money take care of itself rather than just working for the paycheck. That way, whether working for someone else or starting a business there will be the satisfaction of solving problems and helping others.
Our Fab Lab volunteer program provides opportunity for retirees to help us help others and help themselves. "I'm retired and I see this as a place where I can try out some of the ideas I've had in my head for 20 years." says Dean Silvey, Fab Lab ICC Volunteer from Chanute.
The “Golden Years” should be a transition from one method of helping others solve problems, whether in a job-work environment or an entrepreneurial venture, to some other form of helping others. Those maintaining a purpose for their lives in the transition to retirement have a much better chance of their “Golden Years” really being golden.
Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org.