There are certain preordained milestones in our lives that mark the end of one era and the beginning of another. That nerve-wracking first day at school. The liberating moment when you can legally become intoxicated (and most likely bring it all up at the end of the night). Getting married. Having your first kid. Going through that stereotypical “mid life crisis.” And retirement.
Ah, retirement. To the working man, just hearing the word produces a wistful gleam in the eye followed by a frown of despair as reality comes crashing down around his ears: it’s so far away! Depending on how successful you are at what you do, retirement might take anywhere from 30 to 50 years to attain, in some cases even longer. And considering an average U.S. life expectancy of around 79 years (just FYI — it’s a lot higher in many other countries), that doesn’t leave a lot of time for not working.
So, we spend the vast majority of our lives working towards an ill-defined goal, with the in-between seen as a “hard slog” to the finish line. We’re not expected to enjoy that time, just put our heads down and save as much dosh as we possibly can.
Then, suddenly, retirement looms around the corner. That moment that you waited for is almost upon you, and you simply can’t wait to enter into those “golden years” of relaxation and quiet enjoyment. But when it happens, things aren’t as golden as you’d thought they’d be. Suddenly, you lack purpose, and no amount of hobbies or good books can fill the void left by your hated but ever-present job.
You’re bored, but now that you’ve got all this time on your hands you’re also old and getting around isn’t as easy as it used to be. You also need to count your pennies to make them last, meaning you can’t exactly go traveling every weekend or pursue a high-profile social life.
Alright, I’m only 30 — what do I know about retirement? Surely those who have been working for more years than me know a thing or two more about retirement than I do? Yes, they might know about which retirement savings plans are best or how to ensure their earnings are as tax-minimized as possible, but have they really thought about what retirement actually means?
I’ve spent some time observing the senior VPs and soon-to-be-retirees at my former office jobs and noticed the exact same thing: fear. These people are actually afraid of retirement, as they’ve spent their whole lives working and are scared of what will happen when they finally stop working. They’ve forgotten why we work in the first place: to live! Sadly, this is true for many people today; they live to work, rather than work to live. There’s a huge difference.
The problem with our concept of retirement
When we examine the word “retirement,” there’s actually a lot of negative connotations associated with it. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word “retire” traces its origins back to the French word retirer, implying a withdrawal to a place of safety or seclusion.
Now, that might seem pretty darn swell at first glance, but it suggests that prior to reaching retirement, we’re in a state of danger and unease. This notion is reinforced by the military use of the word, with retirement signaling a retreat from an enemy or attacking position.
At this point, it’s worthwhile revisiting the fact that we spend most of our lives out of retirement, and the time we spend in retirement is generally quite short and riddled with health problems and declining mobility. With this in mind, the premise of retirement forces us into a state of danger (whether literal or metaphorical) and unease for the majority of our lives. It’s not until we retire that we can escape the atrocities of working life and reap the rewards as best we can.
Surely that’s not the way you want to spend your life — in constant suffering, yearning for the day when you can hand in your notice and finally enter into your golden years? Society teaches us that this is how it’s meant to be, that we’re essentially slaves to our employers until we have enough money stashed away to throw in the towel and call it quits.
I don’t know about you, but that seems to me a terrifying outlook on life!
The solution: follow your dreams!
You might roll your eyes at this and think “yeah right,” but it’s a cold hard fact that the most successful people in life are those who pursue careers they’re passionate about. And I don’t just mean passionate in the sense of “I’m good at what I do,” I mean passionate in the sense of “I love what I do!” If you’re good at what you do, you’ll probably be able to save enough money for retirement. If you love what you do, you’ll not only be able to save enough for retirement, but the concept of retirement will fly completely out the door!
The problem is that, as a nation, we’re no longer pursuing our dreams. Today’s business coaches are now advocating a dramatic shift in the way we approach money-making, with all agreeing that the best way to truly make one’s fortune is simply to decide what really motivates you, and find out how to monetize that passion.
Take my case, for example. I was slaving away as an underpaid and undervalued interior designer, but what I was really passionate about was health and personal development. In my mid-twenties, I signed on to a two-year online course, working my hated job by day and doing coursework by night. At the end of those 24 months, I was a certified health coach, and I soon had a thriving Paleo and ancestral wellness blog up and running. It wasn’t long before I was landing well-paid jobs as a freelance health writer, and I was soon able to quit my job and craft my new job (which I loved) around my life. I could go where I wanted, do what I wanted, and I’d never been happier.
When you find your niche and discover ways to monetize it, the concept of retirement becomes obsolete. Why would you need to retire if you actually enjoy what you do? Why shouldn’t you continue to make money well into your later years? Wouldn’t it be better to not have to count your pennies and live off a government pension?
I think you know the answer to these questions. If you want to enjoy life now — not in 30, 40, 50 years time — follow your dreams!
— Liivi Hess