The Dilemma of Reluctant Retirees

November 18th, 2013

(A shorter version appeared in The New Indian Express, November 16, 2013)

Arguably the greatest hoopster of all times, Michael Jordan retired twice, each time after taking his team to triple NBA championships. On his second rebound, he was a pale shadow of his gravity-defying old self. Soon after celebrating his seventh Formula 1 title, Michael Schumacher quit in style but on his comeback career he was mostly an ‘also ran’.

Two all-time greats, whose parting images deserved to be freeze frames as awe-inspiring champions on the podium. But then, it is not easy to give up one’s life time passion.

A perfect script penned by BCCI to round off a career of a quarter century, with a double century not likely to be equaled, ever, has eased the retirement dilemmas for Sachin Tendulkar but not the fanatic fans’ despair.
When Rahul Dravid announced his retirement in March last year, people said (and, at 40, he proved it in IPL 6) that he still had some cricket left in him. That is how it ought to be. Otherwise, icons would become passengers in their last matches: not benched because of their life time averages and fame, neither of which guarantees performance, though.

VVS called it a day after he failed to get his captain on the phone.

Reluctant retirees cite altruistic reasons to hang around, speciously offering to continue, to mentor the youngsters. Even some iconic sportsmen are guilty of defying expiry dates – betraying a loss of timing. Critics may carp – and people may snigger, but mostly at the back. Ignore it. Barter dignity to overstay. At the end of it, more money can do more wonderful things – including buying respect, right?

Many of these retirement dilemmas play out in other walks of life, too. Not just in power-wielding, money- yielding, high-visibility positions in politics to sports administration, but even in plain vanilla white collar jobs. Organisations and designations give a universally understood identity to a person. The job becomes the most familiar, comfortable, secure environment and offers a defined mission and purpose to life. Who would like to walk away from a life-long habit? Especially, if one was disinclined – or too immersed in work – to cultivate other interests in life.

Then there is the lure of money. India’s transition from socialistic to globalised economy has washed money of all shades of sin, even as global jobs and global salaries arrived. Salary increases that once crawled alongside GDP, now resemble a church bell with an exaggeratedly wide mouth. What the final years add to one’s bank balance far exceed the entire earnings from the long years of struggle. With no unexpected incomes, only unexpected bills to be expected, amidst galloping inflation and healthcare costs, a prospective retiree would like to defer the inevitable when he agonises over the question: how much is enough? Resolution could come by asking the counter question: “How much more is enough? “ . And in rediscovering the old–world virtues of contentment and frugality.

There is also the longing to exit in a blaze of professional glory, after one more product launch, one more campaign, one more project, to look back with pride. One final hurrah is a heady thought. But then, real life is no reel life, to produce perfect scores. Legendary Don Bradman, with 6,996 test runs, was bowled for a duck in his final test. Ironically, an innings victory for his team meant that he did not get a second innings chance to make the 4 runs that would have given him a well-deserved career average of 100!

Forget the imperfect world. Forget South Africa and Haroon Largat. Forget the Eden Gardens anti climax. Enjoy Sachin’s last five days in India cap. Without the guilt of bunking office – if you are retired, that is.

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