Chapter 14. Retire on Purpose

How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnished, to not shine in use, as if to breathe were life.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Now I must tell some of the saddest retirement stories I have heard—but I guarantee that if you stay with me to for the next few pages, you will find a happy ending.

One of the saddest retirement stories I have ever heard was told by a financial planner whose physician client had committed suicide only 45 days into retirement. He had left a note that read, "45 days ago I was Dr. Smith; today I am nobody." Another story that grieved me was an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune called "The Elephant's Graveyard"—a story about a downtown office address where retired executives would rent space and try to simulate a working life. Sadly, many were aimless at this stage of life.

An epochal movie that captures the existential crises evident upon retirement (especially for males) was About Schmidt, the film starring Jack Nicholson. Nicholson plays a retired insurance executive whose plans for retirement include going to the office now and then to guide those who have taken the baton from him, visiting his daughter, and driving his RV to various sites. One by one his plans prove to be flimsy, vacuous, and unwelcome. In short, he's really not needed anymore. In the end we find Schmidt hanging by one small existential thread—a drawing from a little African-American boy whom he supports through a charity. The portrait is at once ...

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