The Internet bubble may have burst, and reports that Americans are working later in life have been all over the popular media, but the fact remains that, by the time most people reach their 60's, the end of the working life is likely drawing near. At the very least, the kids, if there are any, are most likely to be adults themselves, or at least relatively settled into their post-collegiate working lives. And most people eventually find themselves asking the same question: "What now?"
The answer is simple: Go back to school. There are, of course, infinite options. Perhaps moving to a golf course and wiling away the days on the links is the way to go. Or maybe selling the house and moving into a condo in the big city is more your speed. Perhaps the prospect of an endless string of mornings during which you can read the entire newspaper and enjoy coffee from a mug instead of a travel-safe container has been your dream for the past 30 years.
Whatever you want to do in your retirement, an education can fit into your schedule beautifully. The advantages, in fact, so far outweigh the drawbacks as to render them almost nonexistent.
It's A Big, Big, Big, Big, Big World
They say (whoever "they" are) that we all start off veritable Renaissance Men and Women, with the ability to grasp concepts in any variety of subject areas, and that, as we get older and our true talents and intellectual tendencies manifest themselves, we necessarily grow more specialized and begin focusing our efforts on one or two particular areas. As a result, then, some argue that most of us fail to use much of our intellectual capacity during our schooling and working years. But that doesn't mean that we stop being interested in subjects outside our area of supposed expertise.
This is exactly why going back to school in your retirement is such a fantastic idea. No longer will you be hemmed in by planning for an eventual career. No longer will you have to rethink taking classes in an area that interests you but in which you may not be terribly adept for fear of sullying your so-called "permanent record." No longer will your educational and intellectual pursuits have to be relegated to those areas with some sort of supposed utility. Going back to school in your 60's can be about nothing more or less than pure intellectual curiosity.
They say (and there "they" are again!) that you can't really hope to find a job as, say, a philosopher. As a result, many young people are discouraged from pursuing collegiate majors in such esoteric fields for fear that they will not be prepared for life in the "real world." And whether or not that advice is correct, the fact remains that many people work their entire lives in a field that is rather removed from their true intellectual passions.
But as a retiree, you can study any subject that strikes your fancy. Tear through Tolstoy. Parse Sartre. Search for hidden symbolic meaning in Manet and Picasso. Untangle String Theory. The name of the educational game is pure intellectual exploration, and you're guaranteed to be the winner.
Speak, And The World Will Listen
Many people spend their retired years seeing the world and experiencing all that their annual two-week vacation from work would not allow. Some people decide to rent an apartment in Paris and pass the hours on the terrace of the Cafe de Flore. Others may book a safari at a Kenyan game preserve. Maybe a month or two working on a vineyard in Tuscany is more your speed. Whatever your fancy, if it's outside the United States, you may have difficulty communicating.
Unless, that is, you decide to learn another language. Most colleges and universities offer courses in any language you can imagine. French. Swahili. Italian. Romanian. Arabic. It's all out there. All you have to do is make the decision to educate yourself in it. And once you do, the world will truly be your oyster. You'll be able to travel to all those places you always dreamed of visiting and get through that gauzy screen of incomprehension and into the actual belly of the culture itself.
If words are the building blocks of the world, then continuing language education is the blueprint.
No matter what you decide to do in retirement, whether it's traveling the world, moving to a golf course, or finally dedicating all the time you always wanted to to your garden, you will likely feel the need for some sort of intellectual stimulation along the lines of what you once experienced in the days before you began working full-time. Many retirees, however, don't want to commit to a full-time degree program for fear of cutting into their other activities; they simply don't want to be tied down to a specific geographical area and a class schedule that dictates all their other activities.
Which is exactly why an online degree or individual classes offered by an accredited institution is such a fantastic option. You can take the classes at your own leisure, work through the material as quickly or as slowly as you choose, and engage in coursework in as wide a variety of subject areas as you desire. All from the comfort of your own home, and at the leisure of your own pace.
It doesn't get much more convenient than that.
And It's Good For Your Health, Too!
Studies have shown that, much like a muscle, your brain functions better the more you use it. Conversely, if you let it atrophy, then it will cease working as well as it once did. Pursuing an education later in life, then, is about more than just satisfying long-held intellectual curiosities. It is about your health.
If doing a daily crossword puzzle can help keep you mentally sharp (as studies have shown), then imagine all the benefits of engaging in rigorous academic work. By pushing yourself in these ways, you are likely to remain sharper and more in touch with the world for a longer period of time than you otherwise would.
Another huge advantage is that you will put yourself in a position to be in contact with people who are not necessarily anything like you. So whether your classmates are older or much younger, and whatever field they work in or are working towards, the fact remains that you will be exposed to the ideas and company of people that you otherwise may not have been. And as a result, your horizons will be expanded even before the professor starts speaking.
Ugh! Money Again?
Sadly, it's almost impossible to get away from it. Returning to school, traveling, buying books, playing golf: They all require money. And sometimes a whole lot of it. Which is not to say that you should be discouraged from pursuing any of these things. But you must have a solid financial plan at this point in your life. For once you're retired, you must have some sense of financial independence. No one, after all, wants to rely solely on social security or the generosity of their children. So whether it's investments, a retirement plan, or the interest from that million-dollar lottery winning from all those years ago, make sure you can afford the luxury of going back to school.
If you can, however, it will be one of the best ways you can possibly spend all that hard-earned money from all those years of work. There may be no better gift you can give yourself.
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