What is the dream retirement supposed to look like? This is a question I’ve often wrestled with over my professional career. I constantly tell retirees to live fearlessly and boldly — refusing to give in to the fear of running out of money.
But, once the fear of outliving your money has been extinguished, what’s next? Margaritas by the pool? Golf every day? Dinners out and sleeping in?
It’s this — the “what comes next” of retirement, that is the real struggle.
Sure you might have some projects around the house and a couple of vacations on the to-do list, but that is not going to fill up the rest of your days. It is essential for human beings to feel useful.
Where did retirement come from?
The concept of retirement itself is a modern, man-made phenomenon. Did you know that our modern understanding of “retirement” was created as recently as 1881 by Otto von Bismarch?
According to an article in the San Diego Tribune, “When farming dominated the economy, most men worked as long as their health held out. As they aged, though, they often cut their hours and turned the most physically demanding chores over to sons or hired hands. In 1880, when half of Americans worked on a farm, 78 percent of American men worked past age 65.”
While I’m glad you don’t have to work in the fields until the day your drop, it doesn’t change the fact that human beings were not designed to work for forty years and then live a life of leisure for twenty or thirty years until they died. Human beings were designed to be fruitful and active as long as their physical health held out.
Retirement is NOT non-stop leisure.
That is the lie, and if you buy into it, before long you too will feel the same sense of unease. “Is this all there really is?”
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, Americans have heard the same message: Work hard for forty years, even if you hate the work, because when you retire, then you can start to be happy. THEN you start living your life.
Does this way of thinking even make any sense? Who invented the concept of the dream retirement, anyway?
Who has told us that palm trees, warm breezes, leisure, and endless afternoons of golf lead to a fulfilling retired life?
Family vacations and cruises during retirement are fantastic opportunities, but the tourism industry is bloated with offerings designed just to pinch as many of your pennies as they can.
Florida’s entire economy is built on the hope that retirees continue to move here! You work your whole life at a job you don’t like, dreaming of moving to the sunny shores.
None of these industries are trying to help you live a satisfying retired life. They are trying to sell you something. Don’t let their vision of your retirement define your own experience.
Make retirement YOUR dream come true.
So, assuming you’re not a farmer in the 1800s, what do you do?
You plan for retirement. Not just your finances, but your life goals and aspirations. What are you going to do with all that free time?
Deepen your relationships with your family. Take that family vacation. Go camping. Visit national parks. Babysit grandkids, or great-grandkids. Spend time talking and sharing stories. Focus on deepening the relationships in your life.
Serve. You have skills that are desperately needed in the community. Find an organization that is doing something you believe in, then pick up the phone and see how you can help! You have a lifetime worth of experiences and skills.
Write your personal memoir. Do you have a story that you’ve always wanted to tell? With today’s technology, many people are finding it easy to self-publish professional-looking autobiographies.
Start a business. Ideally, once you retire you will no longer be driven by financial necessity. If you don’t need to worry about making huge profits, a small business can be extremely rewarding and fun. Here’s a great article with some ideas to get you started.
Teach and mentor. You have a lot of life knowledge. What are you passionate about? Start a free course a local library or club. Mentor young people to help them gain perspective on current events or learn professional skills.
Just enjoy the free time. I don’t want to discount the fact that many of you dislike your job so much, lying in bed all day might be more appealing (but after a couple of weeks of that, you are going to get pretty antsy).
Live that better life right now.
Don’t believe the hype. The American Dream of retiring to the beach just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Your retirement can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it’s fulfilling and meaningful to you.
And the best part is, you don’t need to wait until you retire to enjoy your life.
You can do all of these things right now.
Live a life filled with loved ones, new experiences, and opportunities now, and when you retire you won’t be asking, “What do I do now?”
Instead, you’ll ask, “What haven’t I done yet? What ELSE can I do?”