Does the "R" stand for Rockin’?

August 31, 2010

Recently, I received a piece of mail with an urgent message on the front of the envelope: “Janice, why haven’t we heard from you?” As I read the return address, I was perplexed, and then angry. “Well”, I thought, “Perhaps because I am not yet a doddering, retired, senior citizen”…and promptly tossed the envelope in the recycle bin.

The envelope was from AARP. Most people know that it stands for the American Association of Retired People. The organization started using its acronym about a decade ago. I guess I never got the memo or (more likely) I have only recently inched my way into their demographic.

Baby boomers, true to their trail-blazing ways, are redefining retirement, mostly by not retiring — at least in the traditional sense of the word. Most of my peers laugh when the subject comes up. Our standard response is: we'll retire when we're dead. We all still have years of high school expenses and college tuition ahead, and some of us are shouldering the burden of aging parents as well. No, sorry, my sandwich generation does not understand the meaning of “retire”.

The Y recently evolved its identity to a single bold Y. The organization’s identity evolution over the years, from the “Young Men’s Christian Association” to “YMCA” to “Y” makes complete sense. It feels fresh, inclusive, and in line with its more expansive social responsibility positioning: it’s not just your neighborhood pool anymore.

I’m thinking AARP wants no part of that evolutionary process. Straight to acronym, passing “Retired”, no looking back. Its current mission is less about whiling away the golden years in a porch rocker, and more about continuing to live a full, active, engaged life. For most of us, that means working at jobs we (hopefully) love for longer than we expected.

So — I get it. AARP as an acronym backburners “Retired” much as “YMCA” backburners “Christian” and KFC “Fried”, allowing each brand to expand into new areas and audiences (and with KFC, denial). Still, for me, it may take awhile before the brand loses its retired = old = rocker on the porch stigma. Hey, I’m new to this club…and still resisting membership.

But then again… Springsteen and Dennis Quaid were recently on the covers of AARP The Magazine. Maybe that IS a club I can belong to...

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