Think about THIS now

This week we saw the amazing Prince Philip retire at the age of 95.  It made me think again about this concept of 'retirement' and what it's all about.  First thing is that I don't like the word.  Retirement.  It's full of so many connotations - if you are young it is something that seems completely irrelevant and if you are nearing it, although it should be full of excitement, I think it often fills people with a sense of trepidation and even dread. I prefer to think of freedom, because the problem with retiring in the traditional sense, that is walking away from work and moving into 100% leisure, is that you can lose your sense of purpose and relevance.  What we are really seeking is the point in our lives where we are free to do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want, with whoever we want.  For many of us it's not about doing nothing.  Nothing may have been rewarding when retirements were five years long.  Now the average retirement in the US is three decades long!  Who wants to do nothing for thirty years?

What I have found in my conversations with my 'not yet retired' clients is that in general, people haven't thought about what they actually want to do with their lives once they are able to (if they want to) walk away from their day job.  I asked a wealthy client this week the question 'if tomorrow was the first day of your freedom, what would you do?'.  He told me he had no idea because he had never thought about it.


I wrote a newsletter for my clients last year about how contentment in retirement is really about finding the right balance between vocation and vacation.  In your working years, you treasure your vacation time because it is exactly that.  It's time away from work.  What happens when all your time is vacation?  Another client told me recently that the thing he was most looking forward to about retiring was being able to play golf every day.  When he got there and was able to play golf every day, it quickly lost it's novelty and pleasure.  Golf turned into work.  The reason is that there is a diminishing law of returns on leisure.  It is because your job requires you to do serious and meaningful things that you enjoy your leisure time more.

Some studies have shown that it can take three to four attempts for people to find the right balance between vacation and vocation when they retire. Many people find that they cycle between the two – perhaps taking some decompression time and then realizing that in order to feel useful and relevant, and to maintain intellectual stimulation, they need to go back to some form of work. A question I recently heard asked was ‘you may have had enough of work, but have you had enough of your usefulness’?

The key thing is that to get that balance right, you need to take steps to ensure that if you work in retirement it's because you want to, not because you have to.  To have true autonomy it can't be about the money anymore.  Studies have shown that the main reason people return to work after retirement is for social interaction along with intellectual and personal challenge factors.

So my challenge to you is, if you are not yet retired, start thinking about it now.  Start thinking about what you will be retiring from and what you will be retiring to.  How will you maintain a sense of purpose?  Without thinking about it in advance, there is a real danger of getting there and spending the last third of your life feeling deeply unfulfilled and wondering what it was all for.