Wellness Check

Want to Keep your House? Stay Alive? Never Stop Working

May 2024 | By David Cravit

We still tend to tap-dance around the word “retirement.” We have “reinventing” retirement. We have “the end of retirement as we know it.” We have “semi-retirement,” “hybrid retirement,” and even “unretirement.” But in this brilliant essay in Canada’s Walrus magazine, journalist Cathrin Bradbury unsparingly confronts the realities, pro and con, based on her own career and recent experience. It’s a must-read!

Her bottom line is conveyed immediately, in the article’s title and in the subhead:


She opens with her own rosy view of retirement, as she celebrated her retirement party: “The grind of work is finally over, my retirement dream cued up. April in Paris! Reading by the sea! Spanish lessons in Antigua so I can better speak to my grandson. I’ll be playing with him, too, in the open-ended days my children rarely knew with me. I’m not saying I deserve a life of ease. But I worked hard to earn my retirement, dropping giant chunks of my salary into company and government pension plans throughout those forty years. It’s time for the famous social contract to hold up its end of the bargain and take care of me, the way it did my father before me, to deliver on the idea that retirement is my right after a life of work and the promise that I will have the time and means to enjoy it.”

The very next sentence delivers the reality: “Except none of that happened.”

Instead, this: “The year since my retirement party has not been a dreamy passage to a welcoming future but a nerve-shattering trip into the unknown. My debt is swelling like a broken ankle; my hard-won savings may or may not be sucked into the vortex of an international market collapse. Can I keep my house? Who knows? The macroeconomy is messing with my microeconomy. The future keeps shape-shifting. And none of the careful planning I put into my retirement is going to change that.

“When I left my last job, I felt sad for friends determined to keep working to seventy and beyond. How eccentric they seemed. Now I repeat the same two words whenever I see them: “Don’t retire.”

Between the dream and the reality, she takes us through a detailed journey, combining her own experience with analysis from experts, retirement statistics, and other sources of information. It’s a long read, but worth it: here is a view of retirement that is honest, and at the same time, inspiring.

Her first shock came from her financial planner, who put her life expectancy at ninety-four (maybe much longer). Retire at sixty-four, she learned, “and you could have fifty more years to save for.”

Hello. SuperAging, anyone?

She takes us through the financial imperatives, the under-funding of traditional “retirement,” and various solutions (including, per a Japanese professor of economics, financial incentives to the elderly to literally commit suicide for the good of society).

One alternative — and again, this speaks right to the topics in SuperAging — is to fight ageism in order to normalize the increased presence of “older” people in the workforce. There’s some very powerful material here about corporate prejudice — that older workers have their best years behind them.

And then there’s this other problem with retirement: “It could kill you. People who stop working too soon may not have much time to live before they die.” She brings the evidence of numerous studies correlating longevity to having a sense of purpose, and mentions the Blue Zone findings, also covered in our book.

She works her way methodically through other issue, like long-term care and the importance of independence (or Autonomy, one of the 7 A’s we identify as components of SuperAging). All of which leads her to the big question:

“If we could create a different kind of retirement in Canada, a more inclusive, more creative, and flexible concept of work—and one that erased the grim picture of poor houses for the old—where would we start?”

She nets out at “three ideas, or ideals”:

  • More measures against ageism in the workplace
  • Phased retirement
  • A new way to describe both retirement and retirees

On this last point, she notes: “Except that’s not right, either. If our goal is to have Canadians work as long as they’re excited and willing and able and empowered to do so, how about if we just call them workers? Because the essential zeitgeist of the retiree in 2023 to keep working, however that looks.”