If ageing is such a privilege then why is it a dirty word?

By Megan Giles: Retirement Transition Consultant

Old age should be something that each and every one of us aspire to. As Helen Mirren so aptly put it “you only have two options in life: die young, or get old. There is nothing else.” If this is the case then ageing is a privilege. So why is it such a dirty word?

Why do people, and women in particular, do everything possible to slow the ageing process? We are told that we need to purchase ‘ANTI-ageing’ face creams, make those wrinkles disappear, and dye our hair.

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Life expectancy is increasing, as is what our bodies are capable of as we age. But attitudes and cultural norms are slow to catch on.

The power of words

One of the most powerful tools for challenging these stereotypes is language. We need to re-consider the words that we use to describe the ageing process, and celebrate the benefits of ageing. This topic was recently explored in a compelling article published by Adelaide Now which you can read here.

Some of the words that I believe we need to banish are elderly, geriatrics, senior cit(izen), old codger and the blue rinse brigade (just to name a few), along with qualifying statements such as ‘she looks good….for her age’.

And the attributes we should be celebrating are wisdom, experience, self-confidence, and the ability to see the bigger picture (and not sweat the small stuff – they’ve been through it all before).

What does this mean for retirement?

The word which I am most curious to explore is RETIREMENT.

There is a huge wave of people surging towards retirement. They are approaching the traditional age of retirement, but is retirement, in fact, a given? For some, they are absolutely going to retire in the true sense of the word, but for others that is not the case.

These are active, healthy, switched on men and women who still want to make a difference and have an impact on the people and community around them. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 13% of workers aged over 45 never intend to retire! Of those who are moving on from their career, they are accepting board positions, volunteering (and not just serving meals, they are offering marketing, HR, management expertise), building schools overseas, and even starting their own businesses.

This is anything but the ‘great slow down’.

Therefore, is retirement really the most appropriate word to describe this next life stage? It certainly doesn’t gel with everyone as common remarks I hear are ‘I don’t want to be retired like some old race horse and sent to the glue factory’, ‘don’t you dare call me a senior citizen’, and ‘with the kids having left home, this is finally living(!)’.

The question then becomes what word do we use instead?

This is an exciting time in life and we’re talking about smart, energised and enthusiastic people. I haven’t yet found the answer to this. There are great suggestions such as third age, new direction, and encore, but I’m not sure they really hit the mark.

  • “Third age” sounds like a period of time to be studied as my thoughts go immediately to the dark ages, the middles ages or even the ice age…
  • “New direction” suggests there will be only one new path you take in retirement. But with the life expectancy in Australia now at 84.4 years for women and 80.3 years for men, many people have 20-30 years ahead of them in retirement. Can you truly imagine that you will still be doing what you’re doing now in 30 years? No doubt we will all alter our path to some degree as we navigate life after work. As they say, the only certainty these days is change.
  • “Encore” suggests that this life stage will only be a follow-up, rather than the main act. Why should life after work not take centre stage and be a time of fulfilment, purpose and a good dose of excitement?

So right now – I would love your insight and ideas. How do you talk about this stage in life - what invokes a sense of joy and energy? Please share your comments below and together we can create inspired change!

If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read Is happiness really what we’re all after in retirement? and Is fear stopping you actioning your retirement dreams?

In planning for a holiday we always think “we need to go there” and “we should see that” but when Day One of our holiday arrives, we draw a blank…What were all of those things we were going to enjoy? In the busyness of life they’ve slipped our mind.


Don’t let this happen to your retirement. Download the My Retirement Planner and start capturing those ideas and inspiration so that you’re ready to step into retirement with gusto!