Cullen T. Hayashida
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Several years ago, a good friend of mine told me that he was now 65 years old, on Social Security and retired. He said he expected to live at least another 20 years or so, but did not know what to do with his life. It felt as though he would be riding his boat out to sea without a heading or a rudder. My friend was without an ikigai. Roughly translated as that which makes your life worth living, ikigai does not have the familiar ring of other Japanese words like gaman (patience), gambari (perseverance) or giri (obligation), which were so often stressed by our forebears. The Sansei generation, however, might find that this word will have greater significance as they begin retiring as baby boomers over the next 20 years.

Photo of Cullen T. Hayashida
“Finding our ikigai can help clarify why we are here, what gives us pleasure, what makes us happy, what matters most and who we are as contributors to the greater good.” – Cullen T. Hayashida

In the past, reaching our sixth decade of life — our kanreki — was a true milestone. When life expectancy was shorter with not much time left, it certainly was understandable to spend those remaining years with rest and recreation. Our life’s purpose was accomplished after decades of work and shepherding of our children’s lives. However, that retirement roadmap may no longer help boomers in the 21st century. Unlike our parents and grandparents of years past, those approaching the age of Social Security today can anticipate a longevity dividend nearly equivalent to their working years.

A seemingly paradoxical question that new retirees may wish to ask themselves is, “Who do I wish to become?” The children are gone or will soon be leaving. The grandkids may have arrived, but they will not be here forever. They, too, will soon find their independence. So, who am I now without my job title? What will I do with all of my spare time? Will I be a burden to my kids? Will I be functional? What have I done so far? Where am I going? Will I have enough money for 30 more years? How do I want to be remembered? Should I volunteer for a cause in which I believe? How can I maintain good health? In the meantime, do I dye my hair? Botox my skin? What is my passion, my purpose?

These are questions that boomers are pondering as they begin to transition into their retirement years. The word “retired” suggests being set out to pasture with no responsibility in a roleless role. Whereas we once identified ourselves with the title of our occupation — nurse, teacher, skilled craftsman — as new retirees, we now struggle with self-introductions. Am I just a “has-been?”

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Cullen T. Hayashida has been a gerontologist for the past 37 years, working in Hawai‘i, the continental U.S. and East Asia. In 2014, he prepared “Hawai‘i’s 2020 Vision: The State of Active Aging — A White Paper for Aging for the 21st Century” for the state Office on Aging. He continues his work on active aging initiatives at St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii.


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