Skip Retirement and Live With Purpose

“Retirement is the ugliest word in the language” – Ernest Hemingway. I’m going to have to go ahead and agree with Mr. Hemingway. Don’t retire! Or at the very least, redefine its meaning! Whenever I hear the word retirement I’m reminded of a particular scene from The Shawshank Redemption. In the scene, an inmate is interviewed by a parole board and asked whether he feels rehabilitated (read “retired”). The inmate begins his response by saying:

To me [rehabilitated]’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job.

Today, the meaning of retirement has become melded with government laws and bank accounts (e.g. RRSP, IRA). We have statutory laws defining the age of retirement, ranging anywhere from 55 to 67, depending on the country you live in, and even your sex. It truly is a politician’s word. We all know this. But why would anyone skip retirement and continue working?

The Oxford Dictionary defines retirement as the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work. When you cease to work, it means you are no longer actively seeking to produce something of value.

Armed with this definition, let’s look at a few examples. If you turned 65 and already quit your corporate day job, but you own rental properties that you’re still managing “on the side”, you’re not technically retired. If you spend your waking hours blogging about your passion in the blogosphere and collecting advertisement money from your website, you’re not retired. If you have so much free time that you decide to spend a good chunk of it volunteering at the local humane societies, you’re not retired. All of these activities may be a labour of love to the “retiree”, and although they may not feel like work, they do produce value. You’re still working. And if you’re working, then you’re not retired according the Oxford dictionary.

In what circumstances are you retired then? If you’re spending your days traveling, sightseeing, and generally just spending your savings, then you’re retired. It’s a consuming lifestyle that does not produce anything of value for the world.

If the English speaking world would allow, I’d first propose that we drop the word retirement entirely from our vocabularies and erase all notions of ceasing work. But if we do need a definition of someone who ceases to work, of someone who does not produce anything of value for the world, then I would propose a more blunt and less alluring substitute for retirement: stagnation. The average official age for stagnation is 65. At this stagnating age, you may withdraw from your government stagnation savings. This is the money you may need to supplement a new, non-productive, ever-consuming, and generally stagnating lifestyle.

In most countries, retirement is of recent origin, being introduced in the late 19th and early 20th century. Before then, it was common to work until death. Even as little as 100 years ago, nearly two thirds of all people over the age of 65 were working. Not because they didn’t receive a pension, but also because life expectancies were low. But since life expectancies have shot up, it’s no surprise that global retirement ages are also on the rise! But what’s even more surprising is that more Americans are choosing to postpone their retirement, and not because they want to, but because they just simply don’t have enough money saved. It seems that the conditions in todays economies are making it difficult to retire anyways. But if we never had the option to retire, we shouldn’t have anything to fear. Allow me to elaborate…

It’s generally understood and reasonable to expect that anyone who lacks the physical or mental ability to work should be exempt from having to do so. However, it’s shocking to learn that people who are perfectly healthy and fully capable to produce value in this world choose to stop working at 65. A few people are extremely aggressive and adamant about their goals of not working that they retire by 35! (Strictly speaking, I do not believe these young “retirees” truly retire)

If you’re physically capable and financially able to be free from the slave chains of your current job, then by all means, quit, even if you’re 35. But don’t stop there. Skip retirement and instead follow your passions. But pick passions that align with the world’s needs as it will lead you to live a fulfilling life. However, if instead you align your passions with your own selfish needs, then you start stagnating and producing waste in this world.

A fantastic by-product of skipping retirement is that it’s the easiest way to becoming wealthy. After all, if you don’t retire, you don’t need nearly as much money saved to survive. Sure, you still want to save money because of unpredictable and unfortunate events that may happen in your life, and the amount one decides to save is dependent on his or her circumstances. But don’t let future unknowns stop you from living a long passionate life. Did you know there are health benefits to working longer? The results of a study by the Institute of Economic Affairs show that:

  • Retirement decreases the likelihood of being in ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ self-assessed health by about 40 per cent
  • Retirement increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by about 40 per cent
  • Retirement increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60 per cent
  • Retirement increases the probability of taking a drug for such a condition by about 60 per cent

If you could do what you love, would you not work until you were 80 years old? For instance, look at Warren Buffet. With more money than anyone can dream of, he continued working well past his retirement age.

Retirement is just a politician’s word. It’s only an idea. No one says you have to focus and align your goals to it. All you need to focus on is following your God intended purposes and doing what you’re best at. It’s part of the natural order of things. Do squirrels ever stop foraging for the winter? Do beavers ever stop building dams? If animals saved and saved until one day, they had so much that they could afford to stop working, what purpose would they have for this world?

If you are financially stable enough to never have to work again, consider yourself lucky and be thankful. Don’t tell the people around you that you’ve retired. Instead, tell them that you’re continuing to follow your passions, and that you hope to make a real, positive impact in this world. Life can be rich, even in a graceful old age.

Johnny Q

Trying to succeed without studying is like trying to build a house without a hammer.

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