Stress has always been considered a bad element in our lives. In fact, the whole basis for financial planning is all about achieving a stress-free status. We have called them the “Golden Years”, and , for many, the goal is to be as idle as possible. No kids to raise, no more mortgage to pay, no need to go into work on Monday. But the economy has changed the whole dynamic of retirement. With home equity slashed, with retirement funds severely shrunken, and with the collapse interest paid on savings, most people nearing their sixties are afraid they might never retire. But is an active retirement such a bad thing?
Mercifully, idleness is not at all the goal we imagined. We can take heart in some excellent examples of people who do not retire.
Christopher Plummer, the famous movie actor, could certainly spend his days languishing on a porch somewhere, and never having to work again. Or he could certainly show up for a few well paying cameo appearances in the movies, and still have most of the week off. Instead, he works in Stratford Ontario, at one of the most stressful jobs in his industry: live Shakesperian theater.
The rehearsals are very stressful for both brain and body. The brain needs to quickly assimilate all of the lines of the actor, plus know the other players movements and cues. The body also has challenges; Plummer notes that his back aches from hours of standing on the cement rehearsal floor.
Then the real stress begins, with opening night, and every performance thereafter. The live audience sits just a few paces away, close enough to see any blemish, or even the explosive drops of spittle that might be projected along with the lines. No luxury of the movies here: no director shouting “CUT”, no editor hiding any mistake of movement or memory, and no camera-man to film “Do-Overs”. The most stressful scrutiny in the business, and, for Christopher Plummer, just about the least pay per week that he could earn.
So why does he do it? Its the Stress: if he was just reading Shakespeare to himself on the porch, he would probably never memorize the lines properly!
1. For the body to stay young, avoid sloth. Our muscle tissue needs exercise to stay toned. The metaphorical rocking chair is good for recess, but not for your only exercise. I remind my patients that there are hundreds of sports, and many other ways to exercise from Yoga to Dance. Just pick something(s) that you are suited to, and that you will actually do.
2. For the brain to stay young, avoid mental sloth: never seek an idle retirement. If you can keep working at your current job, consider doing so, even if it is for a few less hours than before. If you cannot, or would like a career change, consider learning new skills as part of your “retirement” preparation. No reason why we all can’t be able to type, download, and process new skills. If you are lucky enough to have preserved your financial status, you still need to work at something, but make sure there is some stress to it. Hitting a plastic golf ball in your garage is not any good, you need to have the stress of keeping score on a real course. If you are going to study a course, take one with an exam, preferrably even one where you have had to pay some tuition. If you are going to learn a new language, make sure you try speaking it to real people, not just mumbling it to yourself in your room.
Remember Hanson’s Stress Rule of “F”s: Fear Forges Focus!
Then the stress of aging can keep you young at heart.