Saturday, October 9, 2010

Retirement Style—Serious vs. Light-Hearted

Retirement planning guides devote more pages to calculating how much you’ll need to lead the life you desire than to how to decide what that life is. I’ve stumbled upon a criterion to help in that decision. What style of retirement do you want—serious or light-hearted? For example: joining an investment club—serious; playing in a band—light-hearted.

We all hope for a certain amount of balance in our retirement, but the dominant style could influence where you live, how you find new friends and what activities fill your dance card. Actually, I think those last two items may be redundant…

This came to me as I was doing email triage—read, skim, toss (or more correctly, delete). Thank you, Time magazine, for creating these categories in your Briefing section. Various criteria get my email tossed, including sender unknown, a multi-megabyte attachment, or a subject line that elicits one of those yawns so gaping it cracks your jaw hinge. It occurred to me that what separates skim from read is frequently whether it’s serious or light-hearted. Simply put, I’d rather read the funny stuff than the ponderous.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll ruminate as much as most folks on the important issues of our time. However, when it comes to a list of new emails that goes below the fold, I’ll opt for short and funny almost every time. This was driven home to me earlier this week.

One of my college friends has lived in Canada since graduation. We keep in touch via email. She forwards all sorts of messages, from humorous lists to lengthy diatribes against the U.S. government. I can’t quite figure out her political orientation (or perhaps more accurately, her husband’s, as I think he’s behind many of the missives.) They seem to be an amalgam of Michael Moore and right wing militia.

In any event, on the same day recently, she sent an email titled “Worth the Read” and another “Five Ways the Democrats Can Avoid a Catastrophe and Pull Off the Mother of All Upsets... a letter from Michael Moore.” I immediately tossed the catastrophe piece, but I opened “Worth the Read.” It was a list of twenty or so funny thoughts, the fourth of which was “There is great need for a sarcasm font.”

In my opinion, the need is beyond great. I could be essential to preserving society as we know it. As I read Item #4, I knew why I continue to open most of this friend’s email, even though much of it fails to get past skim. It’s because this friend, who early-retired quite a few years ago, still has a sense of humor. By the way, she plays in the community band, something she took up after she retired.

This led to an Oprah-like “aha!” moment. Very few of my friends seem to share my sense of humor. It wasn’t always so. Am I getting crazier in my old age? Or are they getting stodgier?

Another college friend emailed a group of us about career networking with young alumni. I followed the embedded link to learn about the program and landed on a page with a bar chart showing how many alumni in each decade participate. Our graduation decade, the sixties, wasn’t there. I replied-to-all that they must not be interested in old farts like us.

My expectation was to evoke similarly sarcastic comments. Perhaps: “Oh we’re there, but our numbers are so small, we’re just a flat line, not a bar.” I received two replies. One explained how important seniors are to the program, since we have valuable experience and we’re reaching a stage where we also have time to devote. The other was similarly serious. Looking back, I wish I’d had that sarcasm font for my comment.

I wonder what implications this has for my retirement. If I relocate where people are very serious, will I feel out of place? Will I have trouble making new friends? Or can I find folks with a sense of humor if I choose the right activities? Let me think a minute. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know about my high school days as a band geek. My sister, who lives in Vermont where we’ll be moving, belongs to an investment club.

Perhaps her club would invest in a used saxophone so I can join the community band. (Insert sarcasm font here.)

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