80,000 empty hours? Lessons in retirement

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80,000 empty hours? Lessons in retirement


A friend who had not been in touch for a while began to e-mail me photos of wildflowers he had taken. It was then that I thought he must be retired. Mountain climbing is a relatively inexpensive hobby, and he always loved photography. Former diplomat Cho Sun-haeng, 67, said he could not handle all his free time in retirement. At first, he caught up with old friends. But after a few months, he ran out of friends to hang out with. Like many other retirees, he thought it was time to take a hike. He climbed a nearby mountain with his wife and ran into a neighbor, who left home every morning with his golf clubs. He wasn’t going to play 18 holes anymore. He was having kimbap (or seaweed rice rolls) by himself on the mountain.

“Outside the Field of Diplomacy” published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was a fun read over the weekend. Eighteen retired diplomats talk about their “second lives,” and its message is relevant to all of us. At first, Cho wanted to open up a noodle shop, something he had always dreamed of doing. But he gave up because of opposition from his family and friends. So he went to barber school to volunteer at nursing homes. On his sixth try in three years, he finally got a license. His service at nursing homes inspired him to expand to women’s hairstyling, so he registered at a school and learned women’s cutting and perm techniques.

Kim Seung-ho, 75, had served as ambassador to Mauritania, the Central African Republic and Cote d’Ivoire. Now he travels to Africa as a volunteer to install mosquito nets. He has been designated an honorary tribal chief in three Ivoirian villages. Seo Hyeon-seob, a 68-year-old former ambassador to the Vatican, decided to try a more physically demanding challenge. He recalled that he came to Seoul alone after graduating from middle school in Gurye, South Jeolla. On Dec. 18, 2004, he departed from the clock tower at Seoul Station and walked back to his hometown. When the sun set, he checked into a nearby inn where an innkeeper once had given him 2,000 won ($1.80). He walked 400 kilometers (249 miles) in 12 days and arrived at the “starting point” of his youth. There, he decided to pursue a professorship in Japan, eventually fulfilling that dream.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare is hosting an exhibition of the winning works from the “Designing 80,000 Hours After Retirement” contest in Insa-dong, Seoul. The essay winners reflect the uncertainties and passions of a generation that has retired or is about to. The 80,000 hours represent the number of hours for a 60-year-old retiree to spend freely for 20 years, excluding time for sleeping and meals. My takeaway was the need to proactively prepare for retirement. Nowadays, we should be ready to live to 100. That means if we retire at age 60, we have 40 years ahead of us, or 160,000 hours of free time. It is a crisis and an opportunity at the same time.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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