What is Retirement?

A lot of what I am doing on this blog is trying to re-define what retirement looks like. The primary reason that I want to work at doing this is because too often we see retirement as something that should or has to be postponed until we are wrinkly and on our last leg (perhaps even literally). Despite what our culture may try to teach us, it doesn’t have to be this way.

How We Often Understand Retirement

This morning as I was traveling to work, I noticed an elderly gentlemen walking along the side of the road. He was walking without any assistance, but he must have been in his 80′s or 90′s. I’m guessing his age from the deteriorated posture in his back and the slowness with which he walked. It is times like these that help improve my own posture. After sitting up just a little bit straighter (as if this moment of perfect posture could help me avoid this same outcome), I had a moment of lapse. I fell into the traditional understanding of retirement. After all, it’s easy to do because our society inundates  with the same message. Here’s what my thought was:

“Why would I want to retire and prepare to die?”

Now, granted, retirement doesn’t always mean that you are on your last leg, but does often become that, doesn’t it. When you think of the natural progression of our lives, it starts growing up, going to school and then off to college or getting a job. Whether going to college is included in your life’s progression or not matters very little. Then, once you get your full-time job, you work for then next 30-50 years of your life. Then, you retire. Except, by this time you somewhere around the age of 65, and you are thinking about preserving your life as long as possible rather than living it to the fullest. Sure, it may include a few more rounds of golf or sleeping in, but that doesn’t sound like much to look forward to.

Then again, you may have grander dreams. You may dream of doing everything that you never had the opportunity to do. Whether this is volunteering, spending more time with family, traveling, or picking up new hobbies. To many, retirement may seem like an escape from a bad nightmare of the 9-to-5 that they have endured. Retirement is then the goal – it is the thing that keeps you getting up and going to work. If you can just make it to this point, your life will become so much more exciting and fulfilling. If only it worked that way…

Why Retirement Should Not be Postponed

When I realized that I was buying into this myth, I couldn’t continue on that path. I couldn’t give up decades of my life just to make ends meet if it meant I would be miserable. Life is short – you shouldn’t throw away the 30-40 years of your life away for peace and comfort in your old age. Instead of thinking about how much to save to prepare for the worst, there happens to be another way.

I am currently shifting my plan to develop more streams of passive income. I have this lofty goal of extreme early retirement, but ultimately it is about giving myself the opportunity to pursue my passions and dreams and being able to enjoy life. I am still not sure if I will be able to make it happen on the timeline that I would like yet, but I do know that I am closer today than I was a couple months ago. My understanding isn’t just about sitting on my butt 24-7 or not having to do anything. It is about finding the way to do what I want now. If people understand retirement as financial security in your later years of life and having the freedom to do what you want, why can’t retirement be understood as having financial security with passive income (instead of a lump sum, which would and does take decades) and doing what I am passionate about NOW? The truth is that it can.

Instead of viewing retirement as preparing to die, I am looking at it as an opportunity. With decades left to live (hopefully), the worlds seems full of possibilities. I don’t want to simply buy into this traditional understanding and lose many years of my life. I want to take action now and see what opportunities it gives me.