I’ve decided to stop thinking about retirement. And I feel better already.
No, I’m not going to stop socking dollars away into my 401K, but I am going to stop investing time, energy, and worry into a planning exercise that can become downright obsessive — and is quite probably useless.
This is not an altogether comfortable move for me. I’m a guy who likes to hedge his bets, be prepared for anything, take control of the situation before there is a situation. But, unless you’ve got a couple million bucks in your portfolio or you’re blessed with a generous employer-funded pension, no amount of planning is going to allow you to quit working and live a life of leisure when you hit your mid-60s. At least that’s the conclusion I’ve reached after much obsessive research.
If you’ve figured it out, congratulations. You can probably fund your golden years by spreading your wisdom around. You’ll have plenty of takers. Just not me.
My old high-school pal, Viking Bob, posted a photo on Facebook last week that kind of cemented my new way of thinking about this. He was dressed in hospital garb, and for a minute I thought he’d landed in some clinic. He had, in fact, but not as a patient. He now works there part-time. VB is 64, a year older than me, and retired from the Air Force in 1995 after 25 years of service. He pretty quickly figured out that his military pension wouldn’t pay the bills, so he took up plumbing to fill the gap. Now he’s picked up another job. It’s the way things work nowadays.
My older brother, The Tin Man, sold his business and relocated to Florida a few years ago. He’s worked at Walgreen’s and has confessed that he wouldn’t mind bagging groceries at his local supermarket. My other retired brother, The General, travels all over the Midwest cleaning up plane crashes when he isn’t repairing the RV he once imagined to be such a smart investment.
These geezers all have one thing in common: Retirement did not deliver the kind of life they imagined it would.
I’m hardly the first to consider the upside of dropping the retirement planning obsession. Since the Great Recession, plenty of folks my age have put off retirement plans for financial reasons. But, even if I had the requisite dough sitting in Google stocks, I’m not sure counting the days until I can exit my full-time job is a healthy way to live.
I’ve spent most of my working life adapting to fate and fortune — scrambling to grab opportunities when they arise and coping as best I can when things unravel. And to assume, as the retirement industry preaches, that I should somehow get all my financial ducks in a row at some point if I want to lead some imagined life of leisure seems to me to be pretty silly. Life doesn’t work that way. Every day brings some new challenge (or familiar annoyance) and it’s our job to deal with it. No amount of planning will make that go away. And why would we want it to?
Because it’s not really about the money, is it? It’s about living every day with as much presence and purpose as you can muster. There’s no deadline for preparing for the rest of your life, no roadmap to a sunny, post-retirement future. There’s just life, here and now. And for that, I guess I’m about as prepared as I’ll ever be.