Did you know that 1 in 4 people are now living until age 90? With 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching the standard retirement age of 65 every day that means many of us are looking at 20+ years of retired living. This reality has created a retirement conundrum. The language we use to describe this stage of life has become outdated. It is important to recognize that language does not reflect reality, but rather it creates it. The challenge becomes, how do we reframe the “rocking chair” description of retirement to ensure everyone can enjoy a healthy, meaningful “retired” life?
The retirement age of 65 was established in 1935 when the life expectancy of Americans was 61! “Retire” literally means to “give up work” and, more harshly, to be “put out to pasture.” Yet research suggests that many professionals plan to continue working in some capacity during their “retirement” years. The language we continue to use related to retirement makes it difficult to do that. It is harsh and perpetuates negative stereotypes about the value of older workers. Many concepts around aging are not keeping up with the times. Advances in health and well-being has allowed 60 to become the new 40. Yet the prejudice in the job market to consider older candidates remains prevalent, and the massive changes in technology that have gone on in the life cycle of Boomers create unique challenges for older professionals looking to remain relevant in the workforce long after they have “retired” from their chosen profession.
This is especially true of large law firm partners, who often face mandatory retirement requirements in their early 60s. Many feel that their fulfilling and successful careers in the law are cut short by the business of big law. For those that want to continue professional involvement, there is a real struggle to find the proper language to tell their “retired” story. Case in point: I was recently assisting a retiring partner to create his LinkedIn profile. He was retiring from a prestigious law firm at the mandatory age of 62, and wanted to continue working and staying active in his professional involvements, as well as look for new opportunities to use his legal skills. When it came to crafting his LinkedIn “heading”, we struggled with the terminology. Sure, we could describe his work: “Corporate Attorney |Mergers & Acquisitions | Cross Border Transactions”. But we struggled with defining his employment status: “Retired Partner” sounded like he was not interested in working. “Former Partner” sounded suspicious. “(Retired) Partner” was closer to what we wanted to convey, but still had the connotation of an ending to work and being “put out to pasture.” We eventually decided on “Retired from Partnership” because it sounded the least final, and clarified that he was only retiring from one part of his professional life
Retirement is simply a transition from one role to the next. Maybe to adjust to the changing ways that Boomer law firm partners are thinking about retirement, law firms might consider adding another status to the ranks: Partner Emeritus. Doesn’t that have a nicer ring to it? It acknowledges achieving the pinnacle of one’s career and creates a new and improved vision of retirement. It allows us to look forward to this stage of our careers and design a personalized plan to make the most of our Golden years!