Understanding Retirement

What does it mean to grow old successfully? Some liken it to a ripening process, a natural progression towards a contented state of mind. This might arise from a sense of satisfaction with the stages of life that you have worked through in order to get this far. This is consistent with Shakespeare's seven ages of man in As You Like It, which implies a stage on which we play our part, indicating an unfolding of events that are beyond our control. Shakespeare's account is rich in the grudging acceptance of the different parts: “the whining school-boy …the [lover's] woeful ballad …last scene of all …this strange eventful history …mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”1

Recent expert opinion and research on human development has suggested an alternative perspective on successful aging. This is based on the idea that, far from some passive process of maturation, our development is driven by our active, persistent, and adaptive efforts to deal with the various stressors in life: “It is not stress that kills us. It is the effective adaptation to stress that allows us to live.”2 To be fair to The Bard, he also recognized stress as a stimulus for development: “sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”3

Erikson, a psychoanalyst trained in Vienna, is well-known for suggesting that we need to work our way through nine stages of development to reach a successful, ...

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