Welcome to another edition of my Weekly Journal! I use this space to share about my journey from lawyer to jewelry business owner. In this week's journal entry, I want to challenge you to think differently about retirement. When you stop to think about it - our American culture almost teaches us that life begins in retirement. It's when you can "finally start living" and doing what you want to do. We are encouraged from a very young age to stuff as much money as we can into our 401(k)'s and "plan early for retirement." Blah, blah, blah. You've heard it all, I'm sure. I have a real problem with this for multiple reasons which I'll share below. Why am I bringing this up? Well, when you start to look at retirement from a different angle - from a more practical, realistic point of view - it can greatly impact the decisions you make today about your career and your life path.
I started to question the way our culture thinks about retirement when I lost my father to cancer in 2014. He was such a planner. The 401(k) saver. Spreadsheets and trajectories about future finances. Plans to move and retire to the beaches in North Carolina. He did everything "right" by society standards when it comes to retirement. But you know what? He died one month after he turned 65 years old. He never got to retire. It really made me question the value we place on retirement because... what if I don't make it there either? Let's face it - not all of us will make it to the ripe old age of 65. Shouldn't we be enjoying life now?
Back when I was a lawyer I heard so many people say, "Yeah I don't like my job but I'm just going to suck it up, work really hard now, and retire early." But there's several problems with that. First, you might never get there, like my dad. I think about how hard my father worked and planned for retirement, and he never got to retire. What a cruel joke. If I had remained a lawyer, I can think of nothing worse. With this mindset of "work really hard and retire early," you are giving up so much during the prime years of your life with the goal of "start living" at some older age that you might not even reach.
Now let's say you do make it to age 65 and retire, or that you are lucky enough to retire much earlier. What are you going to do with your time? Sure, you may have grand plans to travel and such, but unless you plan on visiting every country on the map and have the funds to do so, travel isn't going to take up 365 days of the year. What will you do on the other days? The thrill of retirement might last a year or two, but what will you do in year three? Have you thought this through? If you don't have purpose and a plan, boredom can be a dangerous thing.
Humans need purpose. They need a reason to wake up in the morning. Sure, it's fun to sleep in, travel, do what you want, but it gets old after a while. You need purpose on top of those things. This is another problem for people who "work really hard so they can enjoy an early retirement" -- when they don't have to "work really hard" anymore and suddenly have a lot of free time, they don't even know who they are. Work has comprised so much of their identity that when it is stripped away, they don't even know themselves. They've spent so many years building a bank account, they haven't built themselves and their identity. And they're lost when work is all of a sudden out of the picture. That's why I see a lot of people in retirement picking up part-time jobs. They were sold a lie in my opinion. Just work really, really hard for 65 years and save a lot of money, and then you can start to live and will be so happy. Wrong. Talk to a few people in retirement and you'll know exactly what I mean. This is also a big problem for people who are able to successful retire at an early age - say 45 years old. If you've worked hard enough to retire at 45, that means you've spent little to no time working on yourself. You barely know yourself. You've been distracted by work for years on end. Do you think you're just going to feel happy, comfortable, and safe when you give up the thing (work) you've been addicted to for so many years? The answer is no. You'll go through an identity crisis first.
And what will be the state of your health? I think back to the eleven years I spent as a lawyer in my 20's and 30's. I was sick all the time - nothing serious thank goodness, but I constantly had a cold, or a stomach problem, or this or that. Stress wreaks havoc on your body. I think about the condition my body would be in, at age 50 or 60, if I had remained a lawyer. When you are miserable, and stressed out, your body takes a beating and I can only imagine I'd be more likely to battle something like cancer or high blood pressure. I even look back at pictures of myself when I was 30 years old and still a lawyer - and I look older back then than I do today at age 42. Now let's assume that your health doesn't take a beating and you make it to retirement in excellent health. And, like everyone else, your plan is to move to the beach and travel a lot. Um, have you noticed that older people don't generally love to sit in the sun on the beach and would rather be indoors when it's hot outside? And travel requires a lot of stamina - do you think you're going to have that kind of energy - to explore and adventure outdoors the way you might now, in your 20's, 30's or 40's? Probably not.
And let's talk about one more thing - the celebrities we all know and love who worked until old age doing what they love. Betty White is the best example that comes to mind. She loved what she did and she did it until she died at the old age of 99. Tony Bennett is another person that comes to mind - he's still living at the age of 96 and he just performed his last concerts in 2021. I've always been inspired by the both of them. There are many more examples I'm sure, but the people who love what they do and keep doing it until the day they die are happier and more fulfilled and, arguably, live longer lives. Sure, as they age, they take on much less demanding schedules and work less (and they should!) but what a gift - to love what you do, to have found your purpose on this earth, and to keep doing it (on your terms and on your schedule) until you're in your 90s. Now THAT sounds like a good plan. And that's MY plan for retirement. I would love to get to the point when I'm about 60 years old that everything in my business is delegated to someone else, and I can work at my leisure, on my schedule, on my terms as much or as little as I'd like until the day I die. To have purpose and meaning, but also to have freedom and the leisure of doing whatever I please, whenever I please. That sounds like a healthy retirement to me. And that's what I'm working towards.
If you were to change your ideas about retirement, how would that impact the decisions you make today? Would you take that high paying job and run yourself into the ground for 25 years so you can retire early? Or would you spend more time now building a career (and a life) you love? If you don't want to give up the "traditional" ideas about retirement, that's totally fine! I just want to bring up this topic because retirement isn't all flowers and hearts. It can be a tough time psychologically when, all of a sudden, you feel you lack daily purpose. Do a lot of research on what retirement actually looks like and feels like, and don't go into it with this false sense of "oh my life is finally beginning!" because you will be sorely disappointed. Talk to people who are in retirement, find out the psychological impacts retirement can have, and be ready for those. It's not the dream your 401(k) company tries to sell you, believe me. I've seen it first hand.
I hope you're able to learn something valuable from my own experience. If you'd like my Weekly Journal sent straight to your inbox every week, click here to subscribe.
P.S. Are you on Pinterest? I have a Weekly Journal board on Pinterest so you can easily navigate my journal entries. You can view and follow the board by clicking here. I've written so much about quitting my lawyer job to start g+h over the past few years and I want to make it easier for you to access and read the entries that resonate most!