Do we ever really retire? Why some of us never do…


I remember as a boy in school in the 1960s that everyone’s expectation of a trajectory of living a good life is as follows: you go to school, study hard, sit for examinations hopefully to pass them all so that you can advance to university; pick a selected profession, graduate, get a good job either with the government or a big corporation (it wasn’t till many years later that personal entrepreneurship came into play), start making some money so you can pay off your study loan and buy a car and then a house.

If you’re lucky somewhere along the way you’d have met your future spouse and you get married after a decent period of courtship and then you start a family. Then you work for the rest of your life till you hopefully can retire at 55 if you’re in government service, and 60 if you’re in a private company or running your own business. Hopefully by then you should have built up a nice egg-nest of savings along the way, and can reap the harvest of your EPF contributions, or your retirement funds. Better still you might have made some investments that have paid off.

When you were a 10-year-old lad in 1960, your mindset was that anyone over 40 was getting on, over 50 should have retired; because during those days, most of the people you knew were gone by their mid-60s; indeed very few lived beyond 70! This was before the days when the Big C (Cancer) or AIDS or kidney and liver diseases were common and it seemed that the majority of people died of old age.

Today, the Malaysian average median mortality rate is 78 for women and 76 for men! It simply means that for those who had retired at the expected age of 55, they would now live an extra bonus 20+ years! For many who are not receiving any pension or EPF savings they have to depend on their own lifelong savings and investments. Most have to cut down on their daily expenses and live frugally. Many more will depend on the kindness and filial bonds of their children or extended family. Some will be relocated to nursing homes or homes for the aged.

More and more of those beyond 55 years of age have chosen to stay in the job market; either actively working full or part time; or taking on projects and consultancies. Some do it to keep themselves occupied mentally and physically. Some others do it to fend off loneliness from the empty nest syndrome if their child or children have left them to live and work overseas.

A lot of retiring age professionals would continue to work simply for the joy of working – of maintaining a network of friends in the profession and to be able to live independently, not relying on family members to help sustain them; or if they are financially well off, just to keep active and to pursue their interests.

A very small segment of those who should have retired have not done so, especially if they have their own businesses – they employ good and capable people to run it for them, and instead just keep an eye and oversee by remote control. They could now enjoy life, by constantly travelling to places in their bucket-lists; they would usually lead the life of a bon vivant, enjoying their hard earned wealth with good food, great company of friends and nurture their interest in the arts, culture and entertainment world.

Yet others dwelt into matters more spiritual; they find God or having found God earlier on in their lives they now have more time to spend it with Him. They take a renewed interest in their Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim walk with their Faith; they can now spend more time at their place of worship or offer themselves to be more active in their area of interest – be it mission work or ministry.

A few friends started to pursue very individualistic interests which during their working years they didn’t have time for. A few started to write, either newspaper columns or even a book, or started research on subjects dear to their hearts. Another couple got themselves involved in the historical heritage of the town and the restoration of old buildings and landmarks; they joined the local Heritage Society and became committee members! Yet a few more started to take up piano lessons or sape lessons; more than a few tried their hand at learning how to cook French food and Peranakan Nyonya fare.

For those who have remained active in outdoor activities, sports and games; they have reveled in their golf, fishing, trekking and even more extreme sports like scuba diving and motor sports, 4WD adventures or biking!

The ones who managed to intensify their previous interests in collecting wine and spirits go about happily pursuing this life-long interest full time and with a hearty and robust spirit – no surprises here that they had easily found many more like minded imbibers and collectors to join their flock of pub crawlers!

As for the ladies, I’ve noticed that for many, they have become very active in their social gatherings and activities. Just from the circle of my wife’s friends and my own; there are so many different groups doing their ‘Exercise cum Wellness’ thing on a very regular basis – usually line-dance, zumba, etc. They also do their coffee mornings, fixed day luncheons, and high-teas as well as organize theme dances and social gatherings. A few did comment to me that their days are more fully occupied now that they’re retired!

Many of the ladies do charity work, either for local organizations, or for church societies or Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Bahai (the list goes on) – good works benefitting society and the deprived, handicapped or aged.  Many of these ladies are very active in their respective faiths based out of church, mosque or temple.

As a society it is most heartening and uplifting to see that this segment of our citizens, those who have retired or indeed semi-retired as they might prefer to be called, are so very independent – in mind, spirit and in activity. It is the ultimate goal of every civilized modern day society to reach such a state of well being and for that we should be truly grateful that we live in a place and in a country which enjoys peace, prosperity and a wide selection of good amenities and decent infrastructure for all this to be possible.