Youth is wasted on the young.
Retirement is wasted on the old.
Retirement. It’s the goal to which we all aspire. To gain enough financial security such that we no longer have to work for the rest of our lives.
When I started working at IBM at the height of the dot-com boom I had visions of retiring by the age of 30. Six months later the bubble burst and I was fortunate to have a stable job. What was I going to do when I hit 30 and was able to retire? I don’t know, but I knew that “retirement” was the goal.
For many people in the US, the magic age for retirement is 65 when Social Security kicks in to supplement your income. For others it may be a decade earlier.
But stop and think about it: why are we waiting to live until we’re old? Why do we think that when we reach retirement that we will be content not working? As someone in their 30s who has taken six months off work test-driving retirement, I’m here to tell you that we’re doing it all wrong.
Living in the now
I love to travel and have always assumed that I would do much more of it when I retired. And perhaps I will, but after doing quite a bit of traveling over the past 6 months I realize just how taxing it can be. Fast-forward to 30 years from now and how much more taxing will it be when I’m 68? Will I still want to be gone from home for weeks at a time? Will I still be able to hike up mountains? Will skiing in the winter still sound like fun? Will the mountains still have snow 30 years from now?
I want to take every opportunity to travel and live in the now while my body still works. While my knees don’t hurt. While I can still see and hear. While I can still remember things.
Every year I use up every single hour of my vacation and sick time. Some years I come skidding into the last few months with virtually nothing left and throw myself on the mercy of my manager to work from home for a few days around the holidays.1
It’s not enough.
A few weeks of vacation a year is not enough living, it’s still pinning hopes on retirement, biding time until that fateful day. I have to learn to live outside of vacation time, get more of it, or both.
Doing nothing is boring
One of the realizations that I had during my sabbatical was that I love to work. Perhaps not the 9-to-5 job in front of a computer for someone else, but I love programming. Creating something useful. Working with a team. Who’s to say that I won’t want to continue doing something like this after I reach retirement age?
What if retirement wasn’t “not working for the rest of our lives” but “working differently or working less” instead? My good friend John Martin retired over a year ago and has been doing some contract work for his prior employer. Not because he must, but because he enjoys it.2
Why can’t we have a better balance between work and living and stretch out both for longer?
My uncle died last month from pancreatic cancer. He was 69. He went from diagnosis to dead in 5 weeks. His father, my grandfather, died from pancreatic cancer at 83. My grandmother tells me that my grandfather’s father also died from pancreatic cancer. As you can guess, it can be hereditary.
From the American Cancer Society:
Almost all patients [who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer] are older than 45. About two-thirds are at least 65 years old. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 71.
I may not make it to retirement to begin living; I have to live now.
1 Thankfully, every manager I’ve had has been most forgiving with vacation hours. Also, I love working around Christmas and New Years because no one else is around which gives me tons of uninterrupted Maker time.
2 He recently came out of retirement for some great reasons.