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New Lease on Work Life : Some Retirees Find Leisure Time So Boring They Can't Wait to Return to Daily Grind

July 18, 1993|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You've worked for years--decades even--and no word ever sounded sweeter: retirement, that long-anticipated time of life when you no longer have to punch a time clock either literally or figuratively.

Ah, the good life: Do what you want, when you want, or don't do anything at all--you're retired! You've earned it. You deserve it. You should enjoy it.

"I'm going out of my mind," says Bob Kost, who retired from his job as an advertising sales manager for a newspaper in St. Paul, Minn., and moved to Irvine last fall. "I had five months of playing golf, lying out in the sun, going to the beach and I can't take it anymore. I just don't like retirement."

Welcome to the flip side of retirement, the golden years tarnished by boredom, a lack of purpose and a nagging sense of, "Is that all there is?"

The majority of retirees, gerontologists say, are content to succumb to a life of leisure, travel and other long-delayed pursuits. Then there are those, like Kost, who have tried retirement, don't like it and can't wait to get back to work.

"I'm not wealthy by a long shot, but I don't really need the money," said Kost, who is in his mid-60s. "I just have to find something to do. I've always had the theory that a man has to have a reason to get up in the morning. You just can't sit around."

Harold Kaufman of Laguna Hills finds himself in a similar predicament.

"I tried retiring, but after a couple of weeks or so I was going crazy," said Kaufman, who found a job as a toolmaker at an engineering and manufacturing company a year after moving into Leisure World a decade ago. Then he was laid off after business dropped and at, 78, he's looking for work again.

"Just sitting around watching TV, that's for the birds," he said. "I remember my father was the same way when he retired. It drove him nuts."

Jean Pond, founder and president of Irvine-based Adult Careers, sees men like Kost and Kaufman all the time. In fact, both men have registered with the nonprofit agency, which helps place people 55 and older in jobs.

Most of the men and women seeking work through Adult Careers do so for economic reasons--because they need to continue working full time or they need to supplement Social Security income that doesn't stretch far enough. But, Pond acknowledged, a sizable number are looking for jobs for psychological reasons.

"They're people who must work because they were raised with a work ethic and have to continue to be productive because that's necessary for their (well-being in their) retirement years," she said.

"What's happening is that every generation lives longer than the generation before and medical science has increased the quality of their lives. (At 55), they still have a third of their lives to live. They have to find a place to be productive if they're going to enjoy that part of their life."

Adds Pond, 74, a former English teacher and onetime office manager who came out of her retirement to start Adult Careers a decade ago: "They'll have far fewer problems if they keep working and being productive than if they become couch potatoes."

Santa Ana family therapist Andrea Kaye agrees. In fact, she says, depression is "very high" in the retirement age group, as is the suicide rate.

"If you don't feel you have purpose, that's a very scary predicament," said Kaye. "You could be dealing with severe depression."

At 42, Kaye said she personally can't wait to retire. "I have a lot of leisure activities I think I can do. But for some people, having a job gives them that sense of identity and they're lost not wearing that worker hat."

Phoebe Liebig, assistant professor of gerontology and public administration at the University of Southern California, said most retirees are happy to hang up the workday grind "particularly if they're the one who made the choice. If it's forced on you, I think (boredom) is understandable."

Indeed, the downsizing phenomenon of recent years, in which workers are given the option of taking an early retirement package, has caused many people to retire before they had planned, said Liebig, who is president of the California Council on Gerontology and Geriatrics.

Others, she said, may move out of the work force early if they have jobs that are no longer interesting, rewarding or challenging--"or, on the contrary, because of changes in technology, they exit the labor force because they feel they can't keep up."

Studies show that those with a high degree of contentment during their retirement years have planned for it--either through formal retirement counseling programs or having really thought through how they want to spend their time: They've developed interests outside their jobs.

"Those are the people who go into volunteer work--the retired carpenter who goes to schools and helps out or goes and works with some kind of youth program," said Liebig.

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