WE tend not to think about retirement when we’re young. That’s understandable. Retirement, which is both a major life goal and a vital phase of an ideal human life cycle, seems a long way off when you’re in your teens, 20s or even early 30s. But as you grow older, you will increasingly think about retirement.
However, it’s probably not the first time you would have thought about it because, like most of us, you probably harboured childish dreams of retiring as a millionaire at 30 or 35.
Then, as “the days bled into years” (a phrase I’ve shamelessly stolen from Disney’s most recent live action movie Beauty And The Beast), most of us wake up to three truths about our work and other important aspects of our lives:
1. Doing work we love is one of life’s great pleasures;
2. Retiring well can be enormously expensive; and
3. Transitioning gradually into retirement, if possible, is preferable to diving straight into it cold turkey!
Machines rust and turn into scrap if they aren’t used often and maintained well. People are similar; we all want to do meaningful work, be paid fairly for it, and make life better for others as well as for our families. Unfortunately, many individuals are trapped in jobs they either merely tolerate or genuinely despise.
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE
Near the start of her outstanding book, White Working Class (2017; Harvard Business Review Press), author and hyper-successful law professor Joan C. Williams writes about her father-in-law and his terribly difficult background:
“His alcoholic father regularly drank up the family wage, and the family was often short on food money. They were evicted from apartment after apartment. He dropped out of school in eighth grade to help support the family. Eventually he got a good, steady job he truly hated, as an inspector in a factory that made those machines that measure humidity levels in museums... he kept that job for 38 years.”
I find that passage, which concisely summarises a good man’s life, utterly depressing. I believe each of us should try hard to land a job or nurture a business we’re passionate about and can be proud of. But doing so takes time, tenacity, and a stubborn unwillingness to settle for second best.
In my case, I love being a financial planner. However, my journey to being one 16 years ago (in 2001) was long, meandering and circuitous. In the preceding 17 years — 1984 to 2001 — I was a university librarian, stockroom porter, accounts clerk, trainee chartered accountant, technical writer, cadet broadcast journalist, business journalist, TV newscaster, investment analyst, investment magazine editor, freelance writer, book author and professional speaker.
As you can tell, it isn’t easy detecting your life’s calling but it’s worth investing the time and trouble needed to figure out what you love.
When you do, hopefully what you work at pays well. This is vital because longevity risk is the main challenge retirees will face.
If we end up living a long time in retirement, it will take lots of money to fund lots of non-working years.
DANCING IN YOUR GOLDEN YEARS
The way to build up your retirement fund is to work for longer than living in retirement. For example, I began working at 20 while in my first year at university. I am now 53. I plan to keep working until I am 75 and, God willing, I hope to make it past 100.
What about you?
The two main reasons you may wish to retire later rather than earlier are, first, the right kind of work can be stimulating and, second, funding your retirement in the decades ahead will cost you lots of money.
Note: Conventional employees have less flexibility in working deep into old age. In contrast, business owners have more flexibility and, I think, usually more fun; they also have the option to gradually ease into retirement instead of stopping at once! They could, for instance, cut back by one day of work per week every few years until they transition to two days a week, and then to one, and finally to zero days per week at their self-determined target retirement age.
Our lives are ours to live out as we choose; at least that’s how I see it. Therefore, I personally plan to gear down in this manner. I currently work six days a week. My plan is to cut back to five days a week at 57 (God willing), and then to four days at 61, three at 65, two at 69, and one at 72. I hope to finally stop entirely at 75. But that’s merely my plan for me! What about for others?
What I plan for my clients hinges on their own goals, dreams and priorities. Similarly, you should figure out what your retirement-related goals, dreams and priorities are so that they can help you metaphorically dance in your golden years to a satisfying self-tailored retirement rhythm.
© 2017 Rajen Devadason