Opinion: To retire, not retire, that is the question

By Glenn Zucman

When is it time to retire? Why do so many old people refuse to do it?

People say, “When you know, you know.”

That phrase most often refers to romance, but it’s also used for every other aspect of life.

It’s a Justin Bieber song. A Kesha song. A TikTok meme. It’s everywhere and everything. But, does it apply to retiring?

Do we know when it’s time to retire?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a classic American story, feminist icon. She was an extraordinary crusader for women’s rights. She was all that before becoming a Supreme Court justice.

Yet, her refusal to retire led to President Trump appointing Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. She had a life of great work, and left a legacy of helping close the curtain on reproductive freedom in America.

As befits the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, Tom Brady married the most beautiful woman on earth.

They had two children. But 14 years later, she left him because he didn’t know when to retire. She couldn’t bear to see him collect one more concussion.

As one of California’s two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein represented, in theory, 40 million Californians.

Yet, she clung to office far beyond her physical and cognitive limits. She refused to resign. She then capitulated and said she wouldn’t run for another term.

The ravages of time move us to tears. We have friends and family in Feinstein’s position.

We have compassion for them as human beings. But, at that stage of life, they shouldn’t be a city council member. Let alone represent 40 million people.

Divided Americans agree: they don’t want to suffer through another Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump presidential campaign.

While Trump is ahead in the polls, it’s close. Why? Because the disdain for these two crotchety old guys is so great.

A Jan. 14 CBS News and YouGov poll had Nikki Haley defeating Biden 53% to 45%.

Why didn’t Queen Elizabeth II step down at any point in her 70-year reign and allow her son to be king? Can you be the world’s greatest mom if you never let your son run the company?

When she passed at 96, her son became the oldest person to accede to the British throne.

Crowned at 73, King Charles III reigned for 16 months before having to scale back his duties due to a cancer diagnosis.

And then there’s me. I’m a current ELAC student and I teach art at Long Beach State.

I’m 68. When do I retire? I feel vibrant and relevant. I believe that I help my students.

If that’s true , how much longer will it be? Do I teach until I’m 70 and then retire?

Or continue on until 75 and retire then? Or keep going? Until when?

I love what I do and feel valuable to my students. I also know that I never want to be Feinstein or Biden.

Like everyone, I hope I don’t experience more than minimal cognitive decline. But, what if I do? How do I know when time is up?

And, even if I don’t, is there some point at which I’m too and out-of-date to best serve students? At what point would someone closer to their age be more relatable?

My mom worked as a Spanish-English interpreter until she was 90. Within six months of retiring, she fell and broke her hip.

She had 90 pretty good years, followed by three rough years. She died at 93.

In their book “Art & Fear”, David Bayles and Ted Orlander note that, “at age ninety Frank Lloyd Wright was still designing, Imogen Cunningham still photographing, Stravinsky still composing, Picasso still painting.”

I don’t want to be Feinstein or Biden. Yet human culture would never give back even one of Wright’s architectural masterpieces. Prolific as he was, we’d never choose to part with even a single work by Picasso.

Ginsburg, Feinstein and Biden should have retired years earlier. Yet we want Wright, Cunningham, Stravinsky and Picasso to keep working forever.

Feinstein and Biden stayed in office too long

Yet for my mom, and Elizabeth, continuing in their job may be what kept them alive.

How do you know, when you don’t know?

At what age would you retire? And what’d you do after that?

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