Next Avenue: Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m retired


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The other day, my longtime friend and former colleague Ken claimed I had retired. This news came as a surprise to me.

We were having an otherwise enjoyable conversation via Zoom
talking business and families. Then he asked, “So how’s your life going now that you’ve retired?”

“I’m still working,” I said. “Full time.”

“No,” Ken said, shaking his head emphatically from side to side. “You retired.”

“What makes you think so?”

“You posted something on Facebook or LinkedIn.”

I denied it, but he insisted. It was weird. I fully expected him to understand that I of all people would probably know best whether I’m retired.

I suspect that Ken, who recently turned 50, arrived at several assumptions about me. First, he knew I had recently hit age 70. The current average retirement age in the U.S. is 61, according to a new Gallup poll. So he probably took for granted that I was ready to do as others my age have already long since done and put myself out to pasture.

Second, he knew I had moved permanently from New York City to Southern Italy just over a year ago. So now that I’m an American expatriate living la dolce vita, what could possibly motivate me to keep plugging away at my humble trade?

Third, he knew I left a global professional services agency after 12 years in senior management to go into business for myself as a consultant almost three years ago. Possibly he, like others, is prone to interpret the term “consultant,” as applied to a person of my vintage, to be a misnomer or euphemism for “underemployed” or “terminally burned out.”

Fourth, he knew I recently started collecting Social Security. The average man starts collecting Social Security around age 63, according to the Social Security Administration. So why would I keep toiling away if I’m automatically receiving an income without having to lift a finger?

All four assumptions are incorrect and, what’s more, may reflect common workplace misapprehensions about people 70 plus, American expatriates, independent consultants and Social Security beneficiaries.

Read: So long, senior centers and nursing homes. Older adults don’t want to spend their time in places where they are seen as victims in decline.

I am old, but still not retired

By the way, this was hardly the first time anyone mistook me for a retiree. Some years back, I became friendly with a 50-ish woman who managed our local McDonald’s

“You’re retired, yes?” she casually asked me one day.

No, I told her.

“Really?” she said. “But you’re old.”

Fair enough.

My neighbors here in Italy likewise figure I’ve quit the workforce, if perhaps only because I now live here, and they are likewise surprised to hear I’m still reporting for duty. The legal retirement age for men and women in Italy is 67, up from 59 in 2009.

For the record, I have no plans to retire. And if I ever do retire — a big “if” — I’ll do so because either I want to or realize I absolutely have to.

Don’t miss: This couple retired 2 years ago on about $27,000 a year. Here’s how that’s going

Most people who reach my age have retired — and well they should. Maybe they racked up 20 years as cops, firefighters or ambulance drivers. Or logged 30 years as public school teachers, postal employees, social workers or nurses. Or put in 40 years as engineers, physicians, accountants and insurance executives. Or a 10-year run as a Fortune 500 CEO.

And by now maybe they’ve had quite enough, thank you very much. They’re just going through the motions and repeating themselves. The knees are shot, the brain is fried, and it’s time to stop.

But I like doing what I do. I make my own hours and decide which clients to take on. Besides, I’m more ambitious than ever. I’ve invested so much in my career over 47 years that I’m keen to see more return yielded over the next however many. At the very least my quest to soldier on will keep me feeling stimulated, involved and fully alive.

Check out: Men over 50: clean up your act with these style and grooming tips

Whether my friend believes I’m still going at it remains open to question to this day. Maybe to prove it I’ll just have to land him as a client.

Bob Brody, a consultant and essayist, is author of the memoir “Playing Catch With Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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