By Susan Hickman
The dictionary will tell you that “retirement” is the withdrawal from one’s active working life. And until recently, most 60-somethings did just that.
But retirement has been elusive for 68-year-old Karin Holdegaard of Victoria. Disabled at the age of 60 when she developed cancer, Holdegaard says, “I need to work so I can continue to live.”
And so in her senior years, Holdegaard fired up an old jewellery business and became involved with a variety of creative endeavours. Now she shows her art in galleries in Costa Rica and sells her work to collectors in Europe, Canada, the United States and Central America.
Nova Scotian Jon Peirce is another senior who says he can’t make ends meet without working well into his seventies. When he left his job as a union rep, Peirce turned to his first love of writing and now at 73 writes plays, fiction, and articles for magazines and anthologies.
“I couldn’t afford to retire completely without living a lifestyle more Spartan than I could possibly contemplate,” says Peirce, who also teaches through the Nova Scotia Seniors’ College and offers workshops for the Nova Scotia Writers’ Federation.
A Manulife Bank survey found that six out of ten Canadians worry about not having enough money to retire. And Statistics Canada reports that the number of Canadians who are defying the tradition of retirement has grown rapidly. The average retirement age has risen to 63 over the past decade, and the number of senior citizens still working has skyrocketed by two-thirds. This means one in eight people over 65 still work.
Some people choose to continue working because they love what they do.
“I couldn’t really imagine a life without work in it,” says 67-year-old Mary Hickman, who works nearly full-time hours as a conveyancer in Victoria, British Columbia.
Peirce admits his seventy-something life is “very exciting,” and he has explored new avenues, such as community theatre, which give him great satisfaction.
Former Ottawa reporter Shannon Lee Mannion, now 66, also explored new territory in mid-life. While she once specialized in writing about antique and classic vehicles for national monthly magazines and large daily newspapers, she changed careers in her fifties and became, in her words, a “geriatric groupie” at the age of 60.
“I tried my hand at art. It was exhilarating to create something out of nothing. I used discarded computer keyboards as my canvas and then switched to customizing guitar cases into objects of beauty.”
Still writing, Mannion is also working on a book about infant mammal ontology.
These people may defy the rhetoric about ageing being a “burden.” But some countries are recognizing the value of the skills and experience acquired by older workers, who can mentor younger ones, job share or fill positions where specific knowledge is lacking.
The Japanese government, for example, has invested in Silver Human Resource Centers to help older people gain employment in sectors facing skills shortages. Hong Kong’s Elderly Academies facilitate training and intergenerational learning, and employers and unions in Europe are collaborating to develop new approaches to managing age by redesigning work.
Yes, indeed, ageing can be perceived as a burden or a dividend. Many older people will tell you they have come to appreciate their own value and have come to recognize what they have learned about life.