Retirees Become Jubilados

It’s time for baby boomers and retirees to embrace their age.
By Eric Utne
March/April 2012
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Anyone can grow older, but few can claim the honorific of Jubilado, a jubilant elder.

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... When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
—Mary Oliver 

Most of the people I know who are 50 or older—that age when you start hearing from AARP—do not warm to the notion of retiring. To them, retiring means being culled from the herd and put out to pasture, being declared unproductive and therefore irrelevant.

In his seminal work on midlife values, The Sibling Society, the poet Robert Bly challenges this preconception. “Why are there so many boys and so few men?” he asks. “The primary responsibility for the initiation of youth in traditional cultures was carried by the older men and women—the ritual elders.”

Unfortunately, many older people in the United States have abdicated their role as ritual elders.

The mythologist and storyteller Michael J. Meade, a leader in the men’s movement, writes that “a culture that forgets the necessity of converting ‘olders’ into genuine elders will have leaders who can’t learn from the past and, therefore, can’t imagine a meaningful future.”

Marc Freedman, author of Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life, asserts that more men and women are “refusing to phase out or fade away.” Instead, he writes, “they are searching for a calling in the second half of life, crafting a new phase of work that offers not only continued income but the chance to do work that means something beyond themselves.”

Freedman has created the annual Purpose Prize to celebrate such individuals. Each year five people over 60 are awarded $100,000 each for improving their communities and the world.

Jeri Reilly—a Minneapolis-based writer, editor, and friend—suggests a new term for such individuals, borrowed from the Spanish word for retirees: Jubilados, which means “the jubilant ones” or “the ones feeling or expressing great joy.” The word comes from the Latin verb jubilo, or iubilo, meaning “to sing or shout joyfully.”

Anyone can grow older, but few can claim the honorific of Jubilado, a jubilant elder. According to Reilly, Jubilados are as different from retirees as citizens are from consumers. “Jubilados are people who are freed from the ‘briars of the working-day world’ (thank you, Shakespeare),” she says. “Freed from the arbitrary pressures of the clock. Released from the need to prove ourselves and please others, to get ahead, to chase Mammon. We Jubilados have the blessing of time now to watch the sunrise, to live in a day, and to be truly ourselves, which is the best gift we can give to others.”

Jubilados reach back to the young, offering support, encouragement, mentor­ship, an appreciating eye, and an open ear. Being a Jubilada or a Jubilado is not about traveling, going to the theater, and playing golf, although all these are fine and enjoyable activities. Jubilados do more. They give back and serve, not out of guilt or duty, but for the joy of it.

According to psychologist Martin Seligman, author of the book Authentic Happiness, serving others is much more satisfying over the long haul than doing things to please one’s self. “Focusing on feeling good only creates a hunger for more pleasure,” he says, “whereas doing good can lead to lasting happiness.”

It’s time for the baby boomers to step up and claim their role as Jubilados. Instead of trying desperately to prolong our youth, we should be savoring the freedom we have to experience and express joy. To live jubilantly. If we get this aging thing right, growing older may one day become what it used to be—an accomplishment worthy of honor and respect. If some day the young look up to the old again, and seek our advice, it will be a sign that we finally wised up. Viva los Jubilados! 

Eric Utne and Jeri Reilly are working on The Jubilados’ Manifesto: A Guide to Living a Jubilant Life. Please send them observations, anecdotes, and opinions about what it means to be an elder. 

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Wilkins-O'Riley zinn
3/12/2012 12:08:33 AM
I appreciate this perspective, but I hope that being a Jubilado and being a non-retiree are not mutually exclusive. There are many of us who cannot afford to retire, who must work because we won't be able to provide for ourselves--and often others--without doing so. We are second, third, fourth, fifth career folks. The ones who raised children while working minimum wage jobs, who didn't go to college until we were in our forties, went back to school for a master's degree several years later, and then again for a doctorate in our fifties. We did these things because we were tired of a lifetime of minimum-wage-no benefit-no- retirement-plan work, living always paycheck to paycheck, and we knew that we had to do something. We are not being selfish or refusing to move out of the way, we are simply trying to make a living and to benefit others at the same time. We often choose work where the wisdom gained from experience matters. We are sometimes tired, especially when we observe so many of our peers who are "freed from the briars," but we try also to be joyful, to be authentic, to be enthusiastic, to model ways of being and caring and doing that provide hope to younger people who desperately need these messages. We mentor from within. We find purpose and meaning in work and in the integration of our passions into our lives and our work. We try to live what Mary Catherine Bateson has called "an integrated life," and in so doing demonstrate that there are possibilities in life besides waiting for retirement to become who we were meant to be. However any of us come to this meaningful existence, I hope that it will never divide the we into us and them, regardless of our age.

Jonathan Shailor
3/9/2012 3:17:39 AM
Life is short. This day may be our last. Why wait to become a Jubilado?

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