THE LAST LAUGH: Enjoy the Privileges of Age and Retirement

Getting the last laugh through a joyful retirement is best shared with those who have been key players in my life. Now’s the time to enjoy them-a real privilege!


When Wellesley Professor Peggy McIntosh introduced the concept of “white privilege” in her paper “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” in 1988, she also linked it to “male privilege.” She called for action to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.

In the same paper, Dr. McIntosh also suggested, “We need similarly to examine the daily experience of having age advantage.” Although age stereotypes commonly privilege the young and beautiful, that’s not always true. I’ve found that age and retirement can bring privilege.
Three months into my retirement, I decided to answer her call and benchmark my experiential observations so far.

Unfortunately an outside factor has tainted the research. Immediately after retiring, I sometimes used a cane in Maui, due to a torn meniscus in my right knee. I mostly used it for longer walks on flat terrain.

I did notice several privileges to using a cane:

  • Early seating. Plane rides are much less stressful for the first passengers entering the cabin, allowing time to stow carry-ons and get comfortable for the flight before seatmates arrive. Especially on looooong flights from the mainland.
 I found this also to be true in boarding boats. When we assembled on Kaanapali beach for a sunset sailboat cruise and whale watch, the crew made sure I was the first to board, and helped me to run through the surf to climb aboard stairs to the deck. I was able to secure five seats on the only bench in the boat’s aft deck.
  • Crossing streets. In some congested places like Lahaina’s Front Street or accessing the malls, cars actually slowed down to allow me to cross the street. Running over tourists is bad for the islands’ major industry.
  • Finding things in stores. Shopping carts can be an alternative to canes, providing support and balance, but the danger is in abandoning your cane in them. Store clerks seeing a cane in use seem to be more helpful.

Early privileges of retirement

After 22 years of leading WIHE as editor and publisher and only three months of being in the “retired” category, I have already discovered many privileges: 

  • You are in charge of your time—and your life. Every day it’s your choice whether you sleep in, get up early for a breakfast date, or wash the windows. (I’m told this changes when you are involved in volunteer activities.)
  • You have the luxury of flexibility in scheduling appointments for household services like carpet cleaning and appliance repair, as well as personal services like haircuts and massages.
  • You can arrange to do only one major thing each day. By limiting your outside obligations to one a day, you save the rest of the day for yourself.
  • You need only one calendar. Not one for electronic PDAs, I had one calendar at work and another at home—and even photocopies didn’t help. Now there’s just one.
  •  You’re not tempted to speed. For the most part, you have plenty of time to get to your thing because it’s the only one for the day. This makes for lower blood pressure, fewer accidents and lower insurance rates.
  • You can prioritize projects. Over the last 11 years my condo required minimal maintenance. Now I can choose which of many projects to hire out, do myself or continue to ignore. I’m currently celebrating spring by updating the lanai, having replaced the bench seating with swivel rockers and prepared for a new coat of paint.
  • You can organize your workspace. When I moved from a house near campus to a lakeside condo 11 years ago, I lost my workspace and tool room. The result was having nowhere to do projects and spreading tools in caches over three floors.

This week I added industrial wheels to convert my father’s banged-up mission oak table (formerly holding WIHE’s fax machine) into a portable worktable. I can roll it wherever needed to work on projects, in the garage or out on the driveway. It even has a drawer for small tools.

  • You can simplify your space. Admitting that I’ll never again wear size 10 clothes, need dozens of champagne glasses or collect antique furniture and bottles, I will feel good about finding them a new home.
  • You can choose your companions. No longer must your precious time on earth be wasted among those whose presence does not contribute to your happiness.
  • You can take vacations whenever you want, for as long as you want. No longer limited to weekends, I felt free to visit the Wisconsin Dells condo during the week, enjoying the luxury of keeping a fire going all day long.

More anticipated privileges

My immediate plans include getting my knee fixed so that I can play more and better tennis this summer. Although my surgeon is more practiced at repairing the young bodies of varsity University of Wisconsin athletes, I expect his 45-minute surgery to improve my mobility.

Another immediate goal is to decrease my BMI. Having lost two inches in height and gained 20 pounds in the last 10 years, I plan to do laps daily this summer at my tennis club—and resume “Pilates by the Pool” classes.

Getting my legal and financial affairs in order is not a wildly exciting proposition, but it’s one of those things that grown-ups are expected to do. So it’s on The List.

Most importantly, I plan to reconnect with the people in my life who mean a lot to me, friends and relatives and others whom I’ve met along the journey.

Getting the last laugh through a joyful retirement is best shared with those who have been key players in my life. Now’s the time to enjoy them—a real privilege!

Wenniger, Mary Dee. (2014, May). THE LAST LAUGH: Enjoy the Privileges of Age and Retirement. Women in Higher Education, 23(5), 24. 

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