Steve Lopez on retirement and how to make it work (for you)

by | Jan 19, 2023

Steve Lopez, award-winning columnist and best-selling author, is nearly 69 years old and, in his latest release: Independence Day: What I Learned About Retirement, from Some Who’ve Done It And Some Who Never Will he tackles the hard-hitting questions and concerns about retirement as he faces the reality that the end of his work life is drawing near. 

In Independence Day, he uses his report skills to not only look inward, but to interview those who have chosen to extend their working life – people like Mel Brooks or government worker, Mary Lee. 

Gathering as much insight into retirement as possible, and from every possible perspective, he shares a wealth of understanding into what retirement can mean for many. And the reality that retirement is a completely unique choice and experience for everyone – a thought which didn’t exactly help his decision-making process. 

So, we thought there would be nothing more beneficial to our readers than sitting down with him to discuss, one-on-one, his unique and robustly formed opinions on retirement. 

“Mattering …  is a basic human need”

Both Lopez and psychologist Schlossberg acknowledge that the heart of a happy retirement is feeling you "matter"

Throughout Independence Day, Steve Lopez learns that a happy retirement, or life, more accurately, is all about mattering. Having a sense of identity. Feeling that you’re contributing to the world in a way that serves a real purpose. 

Throughout almost every story he internalizes, it centers around one key point: to survive, you need purpose. 

In Lopez’s case, he recognizes that he loves his job and the jolt of energy he gets from writing a column that serves as a catalyst for conversation. It gives him that sense of purpose. But what would it be like to live without ever-present deadlines? Would removing that purpose put him to a detriment? Could he ever walk away from what keeps him going?

Steve speaks with Psychologist Nancy Schlossbery in Independence Day about the reality of retirement.

“Schlossberg frequently uses a word to describe what many retirees are looking for, whether they know it or not. They want to matter, she says. Even for those who are content to sit in a chair with a remote control, there’s got to be a connection to something. Mattering, Schlossbery said, is a basic human need. Do you matter to loved ones? To a pet? To friends? To former colleagues who look up to you for sound advice? For all her past achievements, Schlossberg found in Florida that she needed to find new ways to matter.

– Independence Day, page 58-59

And in our interview with him, Lopez had much to say on this topic. 

Steve Lopez on retirement: “You better have some notion of how you’re going to matter”

“When you walk away, then you've got to face that question of now, who am I?"

Lopez notes that the people he encountered who were not happy in retirement did not think it through, or weren’t financially ready. Maybe they didn’t like their job and they just wanted to get the hell out as soon as they could. But, because of financial considerations, they’re struggling. 

Of course, he can recognise this happens because no one can ever know what’s around the corner – one of the biggest fears associated with retirement. And that the current state of the United States today definitely doesn’t make things easier. 

But he also reflects on this spiritual side. 

“On the spiritual side – which is what I focused on in this book – what I found is that people need to really think through, once they leave work, especially if it’s work that they enjoy, who is the new person going to be? And if in your work, whether you’re a plumber, a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, whether you work for the power company, your identity really becomes wrapped up in that. People expect you to show up at work, they appreciate your contributions, you’re making the world turn.

When you walk away, then you’ve got to face that question of now, who am I? And for me as a writer, for 50 years I’ve been writing things and it’s the kind of writing as a columnist where it’s a running conversation with people and I’m part of this civic engagement. I really wrestled with, if I walk away from the column, I leave the stage, I leave my platform, then what? … When you no longer have to do that, then what is the creative energy? Is that like oxygen? And if you walk away from it, do you suffocate? I worried and thought about all of those things. 

“The people who gave me the best advice I think is: you better have some notion of how you’re going to matter.”

He goes on to note that it could be that your son and daughter need help with your grandchildren and you’re going to pitch in. It could be that you’re going to become a volunteer. It could even be going back to school to find some new path. 

“Whatever it is though, the people who are happily retired or happily into chapter two are doing something that matters to them and something that gives them a sense of purpose and passion … What replenishes you? That’s, I think, a key thing to consider in making these decisions.”

And we couldn’t agree more. 

We weren’t surprised to find that most of what Lopez came to understand is associated with finding this purpose, how you’re going to matter, and what exactly replenishes you. It seems to be at the core of every story he hears and everything we’ve written on our site to this date. 

It’s a big part of why we offer the service that we do – because we understand that retirement shouldn’t mean the end of life and we encourage you to find the thing that brings you purpose. 

And once you do that… the world looks a whole lot different. 

Of course, there were so many incredible takeaways from our discussion with Steve Lopez. We encourage you to not only get a copy of Independence Day: What I Learned About Retirement, from Some Who’ve Done It And Some Who Never Will but to watch his wisdom unfold for yourself.

Shop “Independence Day: What I Learned About Retirement from Some Who’ve Done It and Some Who Never Will“, on Amazon.

Steve Lopez’s insights into retirement are relatable, enjoyable, and combine the wealth of advice he’s uncovered from people in all walks of life. Though he’s made a notable mark in the community through his written work over many years, the mark he leaves on retirement is an unforgettable one. 

“Steve Lopez is a national treasure. He tackles the question of retirement with the humility, wit and lacerating insight that long ago made him America’s best newspaper columnist. This is a smorgasbord of characters, incidents, and ideas, charming, funny and often quite moving. It will make you think. It is an essential guide for all of us in life’s gun lap, deciding whether to speed up, slow down, or wander happily off the track to trace patterns in the clouds.”

– Mark Bowden, Blackhawk Down

Steve Lopez and his incredible insight into retirement offer those of all ages a fresh perspective of what to look forward to in their later years

If you’re looking for ways to make the most of your life in retirement, explore our full collection of blog posts, guides, and how-to’s here.