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What Is Retirement?

Just about everyone that I know is working towards retirement.  And, if ask most people to define retirement, I normally get the “duh” look and am given the answer:

  • It’s when I stop working

But is that really what retirement is all about – not working?

Consider that in 1900 the average life expectancy in the US was around 47.  Fast forward to today and you’re looking at a number right around 80.  Ask most people when they want to retire and you will likely get an answer in the 60 to 65 range.  That means 15 to 20 years in retirement on average.  And many will likely see that number push out to 25 to 30 years.

So I come back to today’s question, what is retirement?  Is it simply stopping working?  I don’t think so.  The best definition I have heard for retirement was shared with my by Ernie Zelinski.  Zelinski’s got a great book called How to Retire Happy Wild and Free (you can find a summary of the book here).  The only thing I don’t like about the book is that the sub-title is “Retirement wisdom that you won’t get from your financial advisor”.  I think there are a few financial advisors – shameless self-plug – out there that will help you with your non-financial goals.  Zelinski’s insight is:

  • Retirement is when you stop living at work and begin working at living

Now think about that for just a moment.  Why would you wait until you are 60 to 65 years of age to “begin working at living”?

I’m going to challenge you to RETIRE TODAY.  No, I do not want you to quit your job.  What I want you to do is to take a step back and ask yourself a couple of key questions:

  • What do I really enjoy doing?
  • Am I spending time doing those things I really enjoy doing?
  • Would I be happier spending more time doing those things I enjoy and less time working?

For most people, answering these three questions is going to be tough.  It will cause you to face the reality that you likely do not have your priorities aligned with what is important to you.  THAT’S OK!  If you draw this conclusion, you have the ability to re-prioritize.

And guess what?  If you re-prioritize so that you start working on living, you will have just stepped in to retirement!

You see retirement is a concept that is defined by each individual.  Some people will define it as sleeping in, sitting in front of the TV all day, and falling asleep early.  Others will define it as stepping in to a new career or calling that takes 80+ hours a week, BUT is something that they are passionate about.  Both people will “be retired” by Zelinski’s definition.  However, I would argue that the latter will likely end up having a much longer and enjoyable life span than the former.

Now some folks are going to point out that “working on living” versus “living at work” cannot be done without considering the financial impact.  Poppycock!  Yes, some people will have financial constraints that prevent them from living their dreams.  But our definition talks about how you must “begin working at living”.  It will not cost you a dime to answer the three questions above and start your retirement.  Yes, if you actually want to quit your job and go down a new path, there likely will be financial implications.  In this case, you will want to make sure that your financial plan supports the change.  However, and here is the key:

  • Retirement is about beginning

That brings me to one of my favorite proverbs:

  • The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today

You know what to do.  Answer the questions, figure out what you want to start doing, and plant the tree!

I enjoy working with folks to help them implement and execute financial plans that allow them to pursue those things in life that are important to them.

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Curt Stowers

Curt Stowers

Curtis Stowers helps individuals and families across the United States grow their financial assets, particularly in the Naperville, IL region. He is a Certified Financial Planner, holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois, and is the founder of F5 Financial.