I have noticed a recent increase in news articles proclaiming that a growing number of people will not be able to retire. There is an alarmist fashion that most media outlets find necessary to attract readers, and you may have seen similar stories, such as the Forbes article, Work Until You Die? More Middle Class Americans Say They Can Never Retire.
While the articles often cite statistics that may be informative and truthful, they also perpetuate the unhealthy and untruthful social convention that freedom can only be procured through financial means. And if this financial freedom is not obtained, it means a life of imprisonment because you "work until you die."
This is because, in America, retirement generally refers to the latter years of life where the retiree has escaped the hellish workforce and has survived decades of sacrifice to graze in the proverbial pastures of relaxation, travel and whatever bucket list items have yet to be crossed off the list. But retirement is simply a social norm or convention; it is a financial concept disguised as a personal quest and achievement.
But a good philosopher defines things before making their case; otherwise they may make the fatal error of building an argument upon a false premise. Therefore the wise person will not blindly plan their life around the conventional definition of retirement and expect a positive result. You must define retirement for yourself.
"Restoration to life is in your power; look at things in another way than you have looked at them until now, for in this consists the restoration to life." ~ Soren Kierkegaard
With the prospects of a financially secured retirement extending beyond the grasp of more and more people, it may be time for a more realistic and healthier definition of retirement. Rather than delivering or receiving the work-until-you-die news as a prison sentence, a healthier message is one of a change in perspective: Working until you die can be a gift of a lifetime if your work is meaningful.
If your definition of retirement is simply to do what you love, and accomplishing this goal by financial means is not likely for you, there is only one solution to this challenge (and fortunately it may be the best choice of all): Start looking for ways to make money with work that is meaningful. So when you hear the news that you must work until you die, you become relieved and overjoyed that you are free from the slavery of saving money to procure an illusory freedom.
Finding meaningful work that pays well can be a challenge. But isn't this goal more achievable than saving $2 million by the age of 65, assuming you even live that long, while you work in a job that you do not like? Or perhaps you have done your best to put aside money for later in life but you are likely to fall short of your financial goal. All that you need now is another source of income to supplement your savings.
No matter your level of retirement savings, your retirement plan can and must include obtaining the skills necessary to land that dream job, not the high paying one, the meaningful one. As with the financial planning aspect of retirement savings, your retirement career planning may take several years. This is why you must start now.
Even those who have saved and successfully reached the conventional retirement often find that the so-called "longest vacation of your life" that they were sold is void of meaning and purpose; they had chased after an illusion. In reality, it is interpersonal relationships and meaningful work that provides one with purpose -- a reason to get out of bed each day.
"Have you ever looked back and thought, 'If I had done this or that five years ago I'd be better off now?' But the opportunity was there; why didn't you see it? Are you sure that you are not closing your eyes at this moment to one which you will see later in retrospect?" ~ Dorothea Brande
Now return to my last post, The Most Common Regret of the Dying, and recall that it is often on one's death bed that they can clearly see how they had the opportunity to fulfill a dream but did not recognize it before their health declined.
Now reconcile this regret with the illusion that the majority of life must be sacrificed to reach a goal that may never be obtained unless the economy improves or someone hands you a job that pays you more money and you hate this job less than the current one.
You still have time to do what you love, to discover the joy of working until you die. But to do this you must free yourself from the bounds of social conventions. Saving money for decades may not be your best path to freedom.
I believe you already knew what to do for yourself before reading this blog post. Now it is simply up to you to do it.