How dare you retire?

The argument has been heard many times before. On one hand, people are complaining of the lack of opportunity for young people coming into the job market. There is also a trend whereby children, of adult age, continue to live at home without having to take on the responsibilities of independent living. As such, their day-to-day expenses are kept to a minimum, and they can manage very well with minimal paying jobs that have no effective future.

I should be clear and say that these young people are educated. There are many of them who have degrees, including advanced degrees, yet have not found gainful employment after a period of months to years of searching. There may be multiple reasons for this, but in the end, they are still at home, in the basement, to the pleasure of many older parents who enjoy their company. All is well until the day comes when the parents pass away and the child-adult needs to face a very real and painful reality.

On the second hand, as bad as the situation is, we are entering a stage at which many older adults are entering retirement age. The wave of children who were born during the post World War II baby boom are now reaching the age of retirement. Independent of financial factors, which may literally transform a productive individual or couple from a middle to upper middle class status down to a lower middle income, if not poor status, many such seniors literally have nothing to do with their day. They never developed any particular hobbies and even worse, the success of their marriage may have been based on the fact that they spent very little time together, as they were occupied with their work and possibly other social responsibilities.

The point of this introduction is to make it clear that there is a tremendous amount of human potential that is not being taken advantage of. There are those who claim that modern day universities fail to prepare the young for the practical needs of the world, as they are now. There are also those with a more apocalyptic viewpoint that argue that any job that one trains for will ultimately be replaced by robots. And even though, in most cases, this is unlikely to happen for at least a couple of decades, if not more, people have become very despondent over their replacement by silicon.

For the retiree, some feel that they are finally free of an 8 to 6 job that they did not enjoy and did deny them any quality time with their families. While their income and even retirement plan were generous, they find themselves bored and desperate for some type of serious mental and even physical stimulation. The “problem” is that people don’t really die anymore. A person who retires at the age of 65 or even 70, could very well have another 25 to 30 years [if not more] to live and be active and stay occupied.

In some ways, we have reached the dream of the Garden of Eden. We have the free time that we have always complained was lacking, to do whatever we decide to do, including traveling around the world and building Lego versions of Star Wars attack crafts. But our minds and personalities don’t fit in a Garden of Eden. I once heard a beautiful description of the reason why Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden after eating from the fruit of knowledge. Quite simply, once a person becomes inquisitive, living in Eden, where everything is provided for them, is no more than a gilded cage.

We are all aware of great physicists during the past and this century who from their chair [or wheelchair] have reached out across time and space to uncover the secrets of our entire universe. Imagine such a mind spending its time simply walking back and forth in a garden where all of its physical needs are provided for, and there is no need to strive to achieve more. Such a person would go mad.

I am 54-years-old. I have 2 degrees in very different topics that have served me very well over the course of my career. But I am 54-years-old, and when potential employers look at me, they see someone who might have a maximum productive time period of 10 to 15 years. If I am competing against a newly graduated young and dynamic individual, who scored highly on his or her exams from the Technion, I don’t stand a chance.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that there is really only one option. I need to retrain myself. It was nice to think that I had written my final exam many years ago and that simply reading medical journals and PC Magazine would be enough to stay on top of things. But there is a whole new language of data analysis that is coming down the tracks. The ability to analyze big data and to extract previously unknown patterns has become critical in the business and medical world. More so, this whole concept of deep learning, where computers mimic the human minds’ approach to learning, has been astonishingly successful.

It became obvious to me that I had two choices. I could stand by the side and watch all of this happen and hope somehow to grab onto the coattails of someone who was successful in this field. The other option was to truly go back and relearn my basic statistics, differential calculus, probability theory and then finally take an online Masters class in machine learning. The amazing thing is that all of this is free. It is astonishing that someone can acquire the knowledge associated with an advanced degree, in a needed field, for literally zero dollars.

There is the option of something called nano degrees where one pays a relatively small price, but gains a certificate from an established university, related to the specific area of study. Whether these nano degrees will actually count for anything, I cannot say. But one thing is for sure: if you have any mathematical skills, and in any case, you are spending hours a day tending to your garden or playing Xbox, you should devote one hour a day to the study of the topics I listed above. In a year, you will have completed a body of knowledge that will transform you into a sought-after commodity. If I learned anything from doing the Daf Yomi cycle, it’s that it is possible to cover a tremendous amount of material, one page at a time. Admittedly, the Daf Yomi took 7 1/2 years. But I am now after that time and I have that knowledge base somewhere in the depths of my mind.

So that is my new routine. I’m devoting approximately an hour a day to study from one of the online free resources It is my hope that by the end of the year, I will have mastered a reasonable amount of knowledge in the field of machine learning and big data analytics. Once I can add these to my CV, I am truly hoping that I can find a job that is both challenging, financially worthwhile, and of great value to my employer.

Put down the Xbox controller. Put down the shovel. Go online. Find a course in something that interests you and that has practical applications and learn it. It will have been more than worth the investment in your time.

Thanks for listening.

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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