'Unretirees,' coming to your 'hood' - Tucson Local Media: Voices

'Unretirees,' coming to your 'hood'

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Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 11:00 pm

Baby Boomers are leaving the workplace in record numbers, but that doesn't mean they’re comfortable with their new title — retiree. In fact, many of them abhor it to the point of creating and sending non-retirement cards and newsletters to their friends, family members and former co-workers. This generation, more than any other coming before it, insists on completing a career and immediately "unretiring."

To Boomers, the term "retiree" conjures up a mental image of a carload of cotton-tops or Q-tips blazing down the road in the left lane at 20 miles per hour under the speed limit in route to an early bird dinner at 4 o'clock. They don’t want any part of it and are becoming increasingly creative in developing proactive approaches for fitting into their new phase of life. They’re virtually allergic to the term retiree to the point of getting hives every time someone tries applying it to them.

Ironically, studies over the years have confirmed that working people over the age of 50, upwards of 70 percent of them, frequently daydream about retiring as early as possible. So what's the rub once they get there?

For starters, flipping through retirement magazines, reading newspaper ads about retirement communities and watching TV advertisements showing retirees gathered in backyards laughing it up as if each of them just hit the lottery isn't the same as actually visiting one of these age-restricted, rules-driven enclaves.

I recall the first time my wife and I made the trek to Florida to spend a few days checking out several potential retirement developments (we were in our early 40s and still working). Our assigned hosts were as congenial as close relatives and, at breakfast on our second day presented us with an hour-by-hour schedule of activities covering the remaining 48 hours of our stay. It was if someone had thrown a bucket of ice water in our faces. We froze in speechless awe. Surely this was done to help give us a total feel for the myriad of activities available to us should we choose to partake of any of them. Wrong. These were things we would do for the remainder of our natural lives if we chose to move there after retiring.

Our limited understanding of retirement at that stage of the game was that it was intended to be an unrestricted, freewheeling endless array of choices that also included doing nothing if the mood struck. But according to our hosts, that wasn't the case, and my mention of being uncomfortable with the word retiree sent a chill up their spines as evidenced by the look on their faces. How could we consider living there while concurrently rebuking the title sported by every resident?

The term retiree implies a withdrawal from the "real world" and unification with a select group of rigidly structured, rules-directed folks who all march to the same drummer. Boomers have been and always will be career-oriented souls and are most comfortable considering workplace departure as merely a career change, not retirement. We don't mind following a few rules that are born of common sense and logic, and aren't bashful about speaking up about those that make little or no sense to the other than a handful of control freaks.

For this generation, the "R" word has lost its relevance and appeal, and this faction isn't about retreating from society in general, surrendering their rights and values at the entrance, and simply isn't buying into the old notion of retirement. Further confirmation of this fact can be observed in the obvious jettisoning of the term in the AARP name —there's no mention of the word retirement in the monthly magazine's title.

Baby Boomers are causing the marketing departments of most businesses to create a new vocabulary for effectively communicating with them. And the key to connecting with this generation is in crafting terms that convey a relatively unstructured, financially unencumbered, interesting and open set of lifestyle options. Boomers want to be engaged on their terms and in terminology that’s easily relatable to their expectations.

As anticipated, this mindset grates on some who've comfortably settled into their retirement niches, but the reality is the Boomers are going to be accommodated in one locale or another. There are too many of them to ignore, and existing retirement communities are coming to the realization their financial futures depend on attracting them into their ranks. Like it or not, the "unretirees" are coming to your neighborhood.

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