When you work for a company — or are building your own business — you need to make compromises for the long-term. You might have to travel a lot, obey commands from a stupid boss, or perform in ways that create ethical compromises. And you’ll probably be working harder, and more hours, than you’d like, as you invest in your career.
Many people’s idea of retirement is an end to this kind of work — putting it aside and sitting on the rocker on the porch. To me, that sounds more painful than working. I refuse to be put out to pasture — and much more than that, I refuse to put myself out to pasture.
So what is the definition of retirement? It’s doing more of what you want, and less of what you have to. Here are some of the things that, for me, make retirement better.
- Live where you want, not where you have to.
- Take time off at any time to spend time with friends or family.
- Try things that are fun, even if they won’t necessarily lead to anything “worthwhile.”
- Spend more time with your spouse. (This works best if you really like the person, and they like you.)
- Travel only when you want to.
- Work with people who you enjoy or who energize you, and avoid people who make you unhappy.
- Contribute your time and money to causes that matter to you.
- Focus on your health — do the things that improve it, and stop doing the things that make it worse.
- Acquire possessions only if they make you happy — and don’t require an unreasonable amount of maintenance. Sell, give away, or discard possessions that aren’t worth the trouble any more.
- Spend more time creating, and less time dealing with crap.
- Prioritize enjoyment over making money.
For me, this existence is not about play or having fun all the time, it’s about more fulfillment and less stress.
To get to this state, it helps to have had a career that makes you relatively secure, reasonable health, a positive relationship, and grown children who are relatively self-sufficient. I’ve been blessed to have all of those, and I don’t take them for granted for a moment.
But at least as important as all that, you need to pay attention. Is something making you happy? Do more of that. Is something making you unhappy? Do less of that. None of that is possible unless you develop some awareness and reflection on the things that make you happy or unhappy. If you’re on autopilot, or following some dream your past self made that isn’t relevant any more, then you will not have a happy retirement.
My idea of retirement does not include stopping work. It also does not include lying around doing nothing. And it continues to include goals that are important to me, just as I had big goals when I was younger. It’s just that those goals are the goals that are most enjoyable to attain, not the ones that require the most deprivation.
The best part about this type of retirement is that it can continue to shift and grow, and that I can do it until I am physically or mentally unable to continue.
What’s your endgame?
Sailing around the world? Retiring to a warm climate and playing golf?
Are you sure those are the things that you want?
If you want to be happy later, focus now on what it will take to get there. That’s not just financial. That means helping your children to grow and be mature and self-sufficient with good judgment, investing in your life partner, valuing friends, and most of all, being aware of what might make you happy in the long term.
Do some of that every day, every week, every month, and you might get to have the truly happy retirement you’d like.