I don’t imagine the phrase “semi-retirement” is a term of art having a specialized industry connotation. It is however a step up from jargon and shop talk. No doubt the expression was spawned by the business culture generally, so for example it isn’t what you’d expect to hear from a housewife in her late fifties. Apart from that limitation the scope of the observation is fairly broad, dignifying everything from the former cop who works three days a week in the local hardware store to the 90 year old former CEO of a gasoline distribution company who insists on regularly checking the washrooms of its various outlets for cleanliness. Some might argue that even those who continue on full salary and who make an appearance five days a week are already semi-retired, a more flattering description than being called redundant.

It might offend certain industrial leaders and business entrepreneurs to think about semi-retirement either because they are currently too busy even to contemplate the subject or because they consider it an affront to their capacity for productive output. The truth is that there really are people whose sole source of meaning in life is making money, which at first appears to speak to the hardness of their very soul but which in fact is probably little more than an indication of their general shallowness. Hobbies (as these often serious cerebral diversions are euphemistically called) are not developed overnight. It is much safer for the unimaginative to refrain from such adventure and to prolong the monotony of what they already know, having practiced it tirelessly since the age of fourteen when they made their first two dollars selling lemonade on weekends at the hockey rink.

For others anything approaching the description of retirement is something to be ardently desired. This after all is the foundation of the “Freedom 55” mantra which until recently plagued the work force to the point of intimidation and embarrassment, making early retirement the object of idolatry, couched in images of smiling grey-haired couples on white sailing yachts in turquoise waters off remote Caribbean islands. This is an image which hardly coincides with the reality of a deteriorating house requiring long overdue maintenance, accompanied by a crumbling and rusting motor vehicle, while the proprietors are clothed in nothing more fashionable than sweat pants and polyester. The determination to race to early retirement suffered a global shift when the sub-prime asset-backed securities began to fail in the United States. All that cheap money came at an extraordinary cost to the ambitious investors who, like the NASA officials counting the seconds after lift-off of its latest shuttle, were oblivious to the fact that it had already blown up in mid-air. It is no surprise we haven’t heard from London Life recently and that its annoying refrain is no longer universally touted on overhead signs and the internet.

Somewhere between these two extremes lies the true meaning of semi-retirement. If one removes the whimsical image of Freedom 55 from the landscape the reality is that many of Canada’s work force, whether employees, sole proprietors, directors, managers or others, are quite prepared to work until what was once considered the respectable age of 65 years or even longer. In the context of sole proprietorships, closely-held partnerships and private corporations, it is not uncommon to see the owners working into their early eighties, as seldom as one hears of it. The attrition of workers in those environments is the natural product of physical decline and the very real need to structure a transfer of both wealth and management from one generation to another before it is too late to do anything about it. Given some realistic planning the process can become a thoroughly pleasant venture, vitalized by new, foreseeable and achievable objectives. Semi-retirement becomes merely a new way of doing business, not necessarily withdrawal from it. It is less about giving up than giving in. Let’s face it, after a certain point in one’s career it is no longer fun to do anything hard. Fortunately for us when we were young, we were incapable of distinguishing what was hard from what was new, so both challenges were treated with equal magnanimity. But the generosity of one’s spirit understandably wanes with time, and there is even prudence adopting a more restrictive scope to one’s undertakings if it translates into greater efficiency. The only reason we’re inclined to trivialize our own talents in later years is because we’ve performed them so often and learned so much by doing so. Likewise casting off the complicated undertakings to others more experienced is nothing more than admission of practiced skill, not one’s own inability.

To the dedicated industrialists and money-makers semi-retirement offers a sophisticated approach to what might otherwise be viewed as mere defeat. Keeping a paddle in the water is far from putting oneself in dry dock. Most of us lack the ability to see ourselves as anything other than the robust individual we’ve always known ourselves to be; however, assuming the years have not been entirely kind, a small concession to limitation is likely not a bad idea. The enthusiasm of middle-age must eventually give way to the modification of time and maturity. Besides, how much more elegant it is to leave the room on one’s own two feet rather than upon a stretcher!

The decision to entertain semi-retirement commands as much thought and planning as it did to open one’s business in the first place which paradoxically can mean either a great deal or nothing at all. In either case it may amount to a leap of faith, which is to say there are undoubtedly adjustments to be made along the way. The former business models will no longer sustain an alteration. Whether the conviction and confidence required is any more or less than in one’s early years of business is unclear, though my personal belief is that reliance upon one’s instincts is a safer bet now than then. It must of course be admitted that current fortunes tend to buoy our more arrogant views of the future and what it has in store for us, although such prospects are really quite extraneous to the altered and pressing demands of aging. In the end semi-retirement may be only a new way of looking at an old thing. It does however have such a nice ring to it!