What is Retirement?

During a recent client meeting I was asked a very simple yet fascinating question: What is retirement? The client proposed this question in a bit of a sarcastic manner; I was talking about how the meaning can be elusive, and that sometimes what we say isn’t exactly what we are implying (See my previous blog post about the word professional). My client, who loves to humor me, asked what do we mean when we use the word retirement? Some people view retirement as sitting in outdoor chaise lounges sipping piña coladas all day. (Spoiler alert! That’s not what it is.) Others find it difficult or even unpleasant to think of a life without work. Because the needs, wants, and wishes of each person can be so different, I prefer to think of retirement as follows: It is just doing more of what you like and less of what you don’t.

On one hand my definition is very simple and eloquent. On the other hand, it forces a potential retiree to consider what he or she actually likes and does not like. This can be easier said than done. In another recent client meeting I had a discussion centered around whether a client should or shouldn’t sell his real estate business. Mathematically, it was obvious that he could afford to sell the business and live very comfortably off of his pension, social security and the proceeds from selling his real estate. But when I asked this client: Do you like running the business? He struggled to answer the question and was clearly on the fence.

Some people I meet cannot wait to give their two-week’s notice, others actually love their work and have a hard time imagining life without it. To the latter I always point out that retirement, for them, doesn’t necessarily have to involve giving up work. Instead, try to find things that you don’t like and start to think creatively about how to jettison them. Even easing your way into retirement by working part time can be an effective, and in some cases, necessary strategy.

Retirement is just doing more of what you like and less of what you don’t. It is acknowledging that your time on earth is limited and that you are committed to authoring the final journey yourself. So be sure to articulate your goals and develop a plan to achieve them. One of my favorite contemporary philosophers, Jim Rohn said: “If you don’t design your own plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”