One of my neighbors, Rey, is part of our little group of guys that stands outside drinking beer while watching our kids. I was outside last week, watching Juanito ride his scooter with the other kids, and I see Rey walk up.
“Hey, Rey!”, I say. “How’s everything going? You look tired.”
“John, not so good.”
“What’s the matter?”
“John, I’m BORED. I think I shouldn’t have taken early retirement. I don’t know what to do.”
I offer him a cold pilsen, saying “Have a beer… It’s good for what ails you.”
Rey was a banker here in Manila for thirty years. In that time, he was in a position of respect. Banking, especially a white-collar manager, is held in high regard in Filipino culture. Rey’s kids had graduated university, started their careers, and moved away, mostly overseas. He was offered early retirement from the bank, and he took it, thinking he would buy a small farm in the province and live a quiet life.
That’s not what happened, though. Yes, he bought the farm, but relatives ended up running it on a daily basis. So, there he is, kids moved away, wife is busy with the same domestic chores she always did, and he really has nothing to do that is meaningful.
Meaningful is the key. You work your whole life in a position of importance and with some authority, and then that position is suddenly gone. Many people may think, “Hey! Relax! You’ve earned a rest!” And, to a certain extent, they may be right. However, I remember something from my undergraduate psychology and business classes that still sticks in my mind. Work, and one’s profession, is one of the things that defines our personality, and who we are. With some people, without those defined traits, they become “lost”.
I see many people looking to retire to the Philippines. Indeed, on this site, there are dozens of articles related precisely to that topic. I also think many people look forward to retirement, but are truly unprepared for the real possibility that they may lose the purpose in their life. There is a very real possibility that the vision of palm trees, beaches, and nothing to do but drink beer all day long can seduce you into complacency. However, after the going away parties, the packing and moving, the excitement of being in a new place with a new life wears off, you could end up finding yourself sitting in a room, in front of a TV, with no reason to get up and live another day. It can be depressing.
People need to have some purpose in their existence. Many people are perfectly happy living that retirement dream. No cares. No worries. They saved their money. They are comfortable. They can travel when they want. Do what they want.
How many achieve this dream? I honestly don’t know. I’ve met many people here who are retired and enjoying themselves immensely. I’ve also met many like Rey, who end up sort of lost, not knowing what to do with themselves.
Perhaps it is largely due to one’s mindset? I had an uncle who was a commercial airline pilot for thirty years. He knew his time was coming for mandatory retirement, but about two years before, he had a stroke and they clipped his wings (justifiably so). However, he was never quite the same after that. He was, quite simply, sad. His reason to exist, in his mind, was gone. Every time a plane passed overhead, he always looked up and you could tell that he wanted to be in the air, more than anything else. He died very soon after that. To this day, I think the early forced retirement hastened his demise. I honestly think that if he went the extra two years, it would not have made much difference in the outcome.
My grandfather was another case. He retired, and, for the first two years, did virtually nothing. By nothing, I mean precisely that. Playing computer games and watching TV. It was a chore to get him to leave the house, even for something like getting a hiarcut or going out to eat. Well, I believe, to this day, that his health suffered from extreme inactivity. His mind was no longer sharp (He guided rockets for NASA for a living). His health deteriorated even more rapidly. He became extremely frail. Did it shorten his life? No, I don’t think so. However, I do believe that the quality of life in his last years was deteriorated to a far greater degree than it otherwise would have been.
I also saw similar situations growing up in Florida, surrounded by retirees. I saw people who complained about everything, simply because they had nothing else to do. The little subvdivision where my grandfather lived was a perfect example. The homeowners association there was almost psychotic in nature. Why? 95% of the homes were owned by retirees who had absolutely nothing to do, kids and family living far away, except mind other people’s business. Working in the restaurants while in high school, I saw the exact same thing from the retirement crowd when they came to eat. Complaints, non-complaints… Even people who would complain just in order to have someone else to talk with. The last case really used to bother me. I could always tell when that was the case, and I always tried to listen, at least for a couple of minutes. It was sad. Missing companionship so badly that you will complain in order to just hear a human voice. It’s not living. It is existence, but not living.
Now, move that situation to the Philippines. Yes, people respect age and wisdom to a far greater extent here. Yes, it is a cultural divide that is in striking contrast to the West. When you move, however, you are leaving all that is familiar behind. In most cases, your family is not going to be here (Though most people end up with new family here).
Personally, I cannot imagine myself retired, doing nothing. I am not one of those people who can sit still. I need to always be doing something. I’ve still got about 20 years before that scenario is reality.
A hobby. Volunteering. An online business. Some may be perfectly capable of following their dreams. Some may not have realistic expectations. It is all up to the individual to do what makes them happy. However, you need to think of the possibility of what life without work truly means. You all of a sudden no longer have something that defined you for 1/3 of your life, after all.
I really felt sorry for Rey. I told him that our local church, St. Peter’s Parish, offers microlending and small business consultation to the poor in the area. They were looking for volunteers to help teach the poorest of the poor how to use the lending seed-money to start small, grass-roots businesses. I told Rey, “That would be perfect for you… You were a banker. You know finance. You speak the language. You have the time. You can make a difference in someone’s life.”
He thought for a few moments, and, as we are finishing our beers, said, “You know, you are right. I think I’ll go down there next week and see if I can help them out.” I hope he does so.
John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.