Retirement, for baby boomers, is not a dirty word

Claude Nougat, author of the new book Forever Young, has written many pieces from her home in Italy for BoomerCafé, and what they’ve shown is a woman with an active, lively life. But what does it all mean? Is this the definition of retirement? That’s what Claude writes about now for baby boomers at BoomerCafé: Retirement, she insists, is not a dirty word.

When I was a young woman working for the United Nations, I sometimes came across older colleagues at the cafeteria whose heated discussions seemed to indicate that their only concern in life was retirement.

I was appalled.

Claude Nougat

Claude Nougat

I heard them counting the years and even the days to retirement, the pros and cons of the best pension packages on offer, and I couldn’t believe it. They sounded like Martians. To me, work came first, I was proud to be able to serve in the fight against poverty and hunger in the Third World (I worked for the Food and Agriculture Organization, involved in development and emergency aid); retirement couldn’t have been further from my mind and in some way, worrying about it seemed debasing. And pointless.

That was not what life was about. Life was about doing positive things, coming in aid to people in need, loving your family and children, enjoying and supporting your friends, discovering the world -– and in my case, writing novels in my spare time (of which I had very little).

Life was not about retirement. A dirty word, in my mind, it evoked a vision of decrepit old people, sitting around all day long, doing nothing.

[Forever Young by Claude Nougat is available now at]

Oh, but now that I am myself retired, how that vision has changed! I now realize that retirement is not a dirty word,though it is a difficult thing to handle.

First, in spite of what anyone tells you, retirement is not an eternal holiday. It is not about traveling the world and discovering new people. It can be that too (and it is fun, no doubt about it) but that is not the main point of it.

Retirement is contemplating new opportunities.

Retirement is contemplating new opportunities.

Retirement is a golden opportunity for a second career, a second life.

Yes, in retirement, life starts again, the way it did in our twenties when we started on our first job. And that is the catch. It is exactly as hard and challenging to enter the post-work phase of our life as it was to enter into our working life as a young adult.

We face the same harrowing questions. What should I do? What am I good for? What is my life all about? You thought you had shelved those questions forty or fifty years ago? Well, you discover that you are wrong. Those very same questions have come back to haunt you. Everything you thought you had solved when you’d embarked on your career rises up to the surface again. Unsolved.

Claude Nougat at a gallery.

Claude Nougat at a gallery.

And that makes retirement a difficult phase of life to handle. You need to address those issues. In one simple sentence: what are you going to do with the rest of your life? You are still in good health, and you might have some income difficulties (not everyone is lucky enough to retire with a huge nest-egg), but overall, the money problems you are facing are probably not as dire as theywere when you were in your twenties starting out.

That’s when you begin that difficult inner trip, inside yourself, into who you are and what your life means, delving deeper than you have ever done before. Because now is your last chance on the face of this Earth and you know it. You don’t want to mess up your last chance, do you?

And above all, you don’t want to retire from life, from living your life. You have a right to live it down to the last breath, live it to the hilt. And your job now is to figure what that means,“Living life to the hilt.” It means very different things to different people: if you wanted to be an artist or a writer or a musician and never had the time for it because of work demands, this is your chance; if you wanted to delveinto charity work, into teaching, into child care or elderly care because you feel for others, this is your chance; if you wanted to study paleontology or the history of World War II, this is finally the time for it.

Retirement is not about retiring from active life, it’s about adopting a different active life, a new one -– and just as active as the previous one! In fact, since I’ve been “retired,” I have never worked so hard in my life. Up at dawn, I’m often at my computer late in the night, writing until two in the morning … Hey, I wrote this piece for BoomerCafé before breakfast!

So, let me say it loud and clear: retirement is not a dirty word. Retirement is not about retiring!

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    1. Thanks, Eric, I’m glad you enjoyed the piece! Adopting a different active life can be quite a challenge but it’s all so much worth it…What I didn’t say in that piece is how interesting this stage in life is for us Baby Boomers – so different from the way it was for our parents – in large part because of the Internet that brings us in contact with each other, in special and pleasant places like here, the Boomer Café. I live in Italy but it almost seems like it doesn’t matter, I could live anywhere in the planet and still have the opportunity to meet all my many new (virtual) friends…like you, Eric!

    1. Darlene, thanks for the comment and I’ve always been intrigued by your journey from M to M, but two different “Ems”: from Mali to Mexico! Are you in Mexico now? And how does this “Em and Yves” work out, who are they in your life? You do sound super busy in a unique way!

  1. Once again Claude you hit the nail on the head. Retirement is a part of our lives WE get to define and as you point out, it means different things to different people. To me it’s like a boat ride on the St. Lawrence River where you cross from the U.S. into Canada. Technically there’s a border there, but you can’t see it, can’t feel it. Nothing really changes. You’re still just floating along. Thank you for this wonderful article.

  2. You got me thinking Claude about retirement and I totally believe that this third phase of my life is booming wonderful – I’m proud to be a Baby Boomer and enjoy the opportunities each day brings. Thanks for shaking up the grey cells!

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