Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What is Retirement Anyway?

The Oxford Dictionary provides a definition of retirement as “the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.”

I suppose it would be fair to look at the definition, decide that the first part (leaving one’s job) is at least somewhat redundant, since ceasing to work would infer that one has decided to stop working. 

For almost all people, the concept of ceasing to work would in itself be redundant, because it is very likely that if one were to leave one’s job in order to cease working, one may still have work-related activities like cooking, cleaning, etc. that would be ongoing?  A counter may be “I like cooking”, and that may be true, but that doesn’t eliminate the work effort required, as related to preparing a meal, and perhaps cleaning up afterwards.  And… even if you like cooking, does that also mean you like doing laundry, ironing, gardening, etc.?  It is highly improbable that anyone would simply cease working, entirely!

So, what is then implied by retirement?  After all, all working people are encouraged to save and plan for their retirement, as if this term has the same implied meaning to all people.  Some people will offer that they would like to retire in order to be able to travel, paint, write, read, relax, etc.  Generally speaking, if someone says something like that and you ask “and then what?” you should expect a blank stare in return.  What I mean is, if someone says they’d like to travel the world when they retire, ask him or her what they will do once they return.  Most people don’t let reality get in the way of their retirement dreams and vision!

Philosophically, retirement means:
1.     Self-sufficiency; not having to rely on others (god forbid you’re hoping that the government will take care of you in your old age!),
2.     The ability to sustain myself financially for an indefinite period of time, because I cannot know how long I will live,
3.     Leaving my loved ones financially secure, safe and without concern for their wellbeing and sustainability, that I had previously accepted responsibility for, and
4.     Freedom from having to answer to others in a formal work environment, for your daily actions, presence, efforts, performance, etc.

I cannot control # 1 above, because I may need care and assistance in the future that I cannot predict today.  The other 3 points are absolutely within my control!

More rationally, retirement may mean:
1.     That I have reached a level of financial sustainability that will allow me to support myself for an indefinite, hopefully long-term period of time,
2.     That I have reached a stage in my life where I would revert to self-sufficiency in terms of employment, or my day-to-day occupation.  This simply means that instead of being stuck behind a cubicle in a dull, neutrally painted office, I expect to build something, write, work part-time at Starbucks, volunteer my time and effort in support of my favorite charity, etc.

Many people have discovered new skills, talents, enjoyment and great pleasure in ‘retirement’.  Oftentimes, these people are busier in retirement than what they had been while working!  More importantly, their communities, society at large, and people generally surrounding them have been enriched by their ongoing contributions. 

Whatever you plan to do… please don’t cease working… you have too much to offer, disqualifying you from doing nothing with all that experience and knowledge you’ve managed to gather over your first 75-80 years!