Before Art Lerner retired, he could not imagine how he would fill the days. He had few hobbies — come to think of it, only one: fishing. But at his firm’s urging, Mr. Lerner, a money manager, had already stayed on the job for three more years than he intended, and “I’d had enough,” he said.
Now, 14 years into retirement, Mr. Lerner, 75, looks back in amusement at his fretting.
He plays golf four mornings a week and goes fishing once or twice a month. In between, he watches television and putters around his house in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., his full-time residence since he sold his Manhattan apartment and his weekend home in New Jersey.
“I’ve got a good puttering sense,” the twice-divorced Mr. Lerner said. “I’ve learned how to kill an afternoon without feeling bad that I’ve not done anything constructive.”
For many baby boomers, retirement is neither a chance nor an excuse to take it easy. Rather, it’s an opportunity to take a class (or six). Then there’s mastering a language or an instrument, writing a novel, climbing a mountain, maybe starting a business.
But some are choosing to retire more in the manner of their parents than in the style of their striving peers. They have earned the right to do what they please, they say, and what pleases them is playing golf, playing cards, playing with the grandchildren and playing with the remote control.
Heni Weisfogel, a mother of four who went to law school at age 40 and then became a high school teacher and administrator, reluctantly retired last year and moved from Highland Park, N.J., to Boca Raton, Fla.
“I wasn’t ready, but I had an hour commute to work each way, and I hated the winters,” Ms. Weisfogel, 72, said.
Once she did retire, snow started looking pretty good. That was before she discovered canasta.
“I’ve become an avid card player,” Ms. Weisfogel said. “I’ve even taken up mah-jongg, which I thought was for old people. I swim and I walk and spend time with my family. My days are filled.”
Most of her friends, she said, achieved all they wanted in the business world and do not feel a need to achieve more now that they have left it. “They like the idea of playing golf every day and not having a timeline,” Ms. Weisfogel said.
Attitudes about retirement have changed markedly since the introduction of Social Security in 1935, said Ken Dychtwald, the founder and chief executive of Age Wave, a consultancy focused on issues related to the aging population.
“In retirement 1.0, you reached a place where you weren’t perceived to be quite as valuable as you used to be, and it was time to make way for younger people,” he said. “It wasn’t assumed you’d live much longer after you retired.
“Around 1970, you had retirement 2.0,” he continued. “A lot of people were retiring. Many of them had time on their hands, they had money, and they were discovered as a market. Cruise lines and golf communities went after them.”
Suddenly, leisure retirement was glamorous, even aspirational. “The earlier you did it,” Mr. Dychtwald said, “the more successful you were perceived to be.”
Not much was expected of retirees for a generation, and, perhaps more to the point, retirees did not expect much of themselves. Now, in what could be called retirement 3.0, “a highly educated, active group is looking at what might well be 25 years of leisure, and a lot of people are saying, ‘Sounds boring to me,’” Mr. Dychtwald said. “The upside is that many of them are finding fulfillment in trying new things. They’re looking to achieve more of their potential. Maybe they’re hoping they will be late bloomers.
“The downside,” he added, “is that it creates a lot of pressure on everybody. People are going start to fear that if they’re not making the most of themselves or being sufficiently productive in their later days, they’re going to be looked down on.”
David Demko, a semiretired clinical gerontologist in Orange Park, Fla., agreed. “People will judge each other for their choices,” he said. “It’s similar to the feminist movement, when stay-at-home mothers felt they were being looked down on by working mothers, and working mothers felt their priorities were being questioned by stay-at-home mothers.
“The first thing anyone down here asks me is, ‘How’s your golf game?’” Dr. Demko added. “I think golf’s a waste of time, but I’m sure a lot of people think I’m crazy for not wanting to play.”
A waste of time? Golf? Those are fighting words in some precincts.
Some may choose to give a wide berth to personal enrichment and self-improvement in retirement because they had their share of both at work. David Daubert, a former marketing manager at Procter & Gamble, went to several Dale Carnegie seminars during his career and took part in many skill-development and leadership seminars offered by P. &G.
When he retired 17 years ago, he wanted to play golf, travel with his wife, garden and play more golf. That’s exactly what he is doing.
“We have professors who lead book clubs,” said Mr. Daubert, 70, who lives at Solivita by AV Homes, a retirement community in Kissimmee, Fla. “Book clubs are not for me. I do water aerobics.”
Terry Walzman thought maybe he should learn Spanish when he retired six years ago and he and his wife began splitting their time between Edison, N.J., and Boynton Beach, Fla. So far, he has done nothing about it. That’s fine with him.
“I’m not interested in going back to school,” said Mr. Walzman, 74, who has four degrees and had several careers, including a business installing telephone systems. “In my youth, I was very ambitious,” he added. “I had to get 100 on every test. I had to do this, and I had to do that.”
Now, he plays golf, plays poker, swims twice a day and spends some time monitoring his investments. “To be totally honest, I’m at peace,” he said. “I’m happy. What can I tell you?”
Mr. Lerner, the former money manager, speculated that if he had a wife, she might tell him to get out of the house and “take old-age classes,” he said, referring to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Florida Atlantic University. “My friends who take courses told me to look in the catalog, but there wasn’t one subject that interested me.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s my personality, but I don’t have to justify my behavior,” Mr. Lerner said. “I’m enjoying my retirement just as it is. And if it’s O.K. with me, I’m not going to change even if someone else says I’m wasting my time.”