In the bookstore the other day my eye caught the headline on a cover of a major business magazine: “How to Retire Early,” with a picture of a smiling couple sitting on a beach somewhere. That’s everybody’s dream, right? Get out of the rat race, play golf, go sailing, travel the world.
Truth be told, the dream is hogwash on a couple of levels.
First, most of us will simply not have the money to quit working before Social Security and other income flows (e.g. pensions) kick in. Before the recession, some 80 percent of American families averaged only about $15,000 in savings. The home equity wipeout has probably made that number even lower.
Second, and most important, is the false foundation upon which the retirement concept is built. Just what is it that we retire from and what do we retire to? Hard work and easy living are the accepted respective answers. But with average life expectancy now reaching almost 80, the conventional wisdom needs reassessment. Living a life of leisure for 15 years (add another 10 if you retire early) beyond 65 can be like slow torture.
Retiree surveys agree; for most people — even the wealthy — retirement is boring. Something’s missing. What? Ironically, it is “work” or more to the point, the sense of accomplishment and usefulness accompanying work bringing with it mental and physical well being, even happiness. Retirement from work has been likened to a prolonged suicide. So, what to do? Simple: don’t retire.
These words are blasphemy to the retirement industry planners whose calculators and income is predicated on them advising you and managing your money. If you don’t retire you don’t need them. My mother, the poster person for independence, worked for 30 years as a bookkeeper ($40,000 a year) for an entrepreneur until she fell ill and within two weeks passed on (she was 80). She never spoke to a “planner.”
You need two things to keep working: something you like to do and your health. Enjoyable work is the key. It’s a necessity for good health. Hating your job and waiting for retirement is purgatory. Whatever it takes, find work you enjoy. Then just keep on going and going and going….
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