Seneca part 19: Retirement

Stoics are known to be wordly people, committed to making the world a better place to live. They accept that they have a social duty. On the other hand, Stoicism advocates peace of mind and teaches us not to interfere in things we cannot control. This is one of the paradoxes of Stoicism. So what should a Stoic do if he reaches the age for retirement? Seneca argues he should start to withdraw himself:

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If possible, withdraw yourself from all the business of which you speak; and if you cannot do this, tear yourself away. We have dissipated enough of our time already – let us in old age begin to pack up our baggage. (…) We have spent our lives on the high seas; let us die in harbour.

When you grow older, perhaps it is time for a different style of life. As you age, you change; and you might want to adapt your lifestyle as a result. And nobody can blame you for enjoying a peaceful old age after a life of hard work. If you don’t retire, tasks will heap up. You will never get rest:

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you will next acquire more important duties and after them still more. And what will be the result? Why wait until there is nothing left for you to crave? That time will never come. We hold that there is a succession of causes, from which fate is woven; similarly, you may be sure, there is a succession in our desires; for one begins where its predecessor ends.

You might lose influence and status, but from a Stoic perspective, that shouldn’t matter. You might lose your ability to change the world for the better. But you have attempted it for years and perhaps the time has come to accept things as they are.

I would say, however, that there is no a predefined age at which you should retire. Some might reach the age of retirement quickly, while still young. Others may live long before they take a step back or even die before that moment arrives. You should act on what is best – for you and for others. But if you decide to take a step back, then be clear about it. Don’t except ceremony and praise, but make sure people know you do no longer accept your pile of tasks to grow bigger:

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that your retirement be not conspicuous, though it should be obvious.

 

So, in your life, try to make the world a better place. Act on your social duty towards your fellow people. But know when it is time to step down. Know when to retire. Because old age in different than the energy of the young. A good and active life deserves a peaceful ending.

This article is part of the weekly Seneca series. New articles will be published every Thursday. Be sure you don’t miss any of them by subscribing here. Thanks!

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