The Power of Words

Often we really don’t think about the words we use.  We just make assumptions about their meanings based on our life experiences with them.   The science of neurolinguistics tells us that the words we use to describe and understand a situation are closely related to our experience with that word or situation, and our understanding of these words influences our actions.

For those thinking about retiring, the first step should be to understand three words, “Retirement,” “Work,” and “Purpose .”

“Retirement” is a noun, a condition. Its definition is somewhat negative*, meaning “withdrawn”, “seclusion” or “retreat”.  “Retired” or “retiree”, describes a person who is no longer working. It is an endpoint and often a sudden event.  One day a person is working and the next not.  It doesn’t say what they are doing, rather that they are not doing something.

Baby boomers can be better prepared for this last third of our lives by using different words, maybe only slightly different such as “retiring”, a verb implying action or a process.  Also, words such as “freedom”, “opportunity”, “explore”, “discover”, “grow”, “joy” and “revitalize” are words associated with a new vision for retirement and for our future without the negative baggage of the past.

“Work” has come to imply something to avoid or leave.  It is popularly seen as “tedious”.  Since the establishment of the social security system we have also grown accustomed to the idea that we work and then we stop working to enjoy a life of leisure and pleasure.   We have come to feel that the goal of a career is to save enough money so as not to work.  It used to be that in an agricultural society people worked according to their abilities.  When a farmer could no longer lift a bale of hay the younger people would do it, and the older farmer would come to be respected for wisdom and experience.  Now, people stop working even though they are fully capable of working and being productive.

However, when we understand work in the positive sense we find that it can bring meaning, purpose, and joy to life; so much so that some people continue to work and do not want to stop, or want to work at something different.

“Purpose” can bring a new opportunity for baby boomers in the last third of their lives.  In the not-too-distant past people died around the age of 65 when social security would start paying benefits.  Now is a time when we have perhaps 30+ extra years to become all that we can be and use these years to for a higher purpose**.  Boomers can explore and continue to grow in their later years.

The transition from constraining careers to a life of freedom to find and pursue true passion and joy requires thought, reflection, and planning.  Our potential is staggering when we let go of our past paradigms and associations with the words surrounding retirement and work and embrace what can be in our futures.

We’re interested in hearing your thoughts.


* Roadburg, Life after Dentistry

** Dychtwald, A New Purpose, p.5


Neil S. Hiltunen, D.M.D., F.A.G.D.

Association of Retiring Dentists

June 10, 2019

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