Don’t Wait For Retirement

Forgive the morbidity of this post, but I’m often reminded of a piece of research done a few years ago on the top regrets of the dying:

Image result for top five regrets of the dying

Numbers 1 and 5 hit home for me as I think about retirement. With my new job, I set up a new pension (I’m a responsible adult now!) I received a letter from the pension company which ever-so-kindly informed me that I would be retiring in the summer of 2053.

Pensions are a funny concept. We know it’s a good idea to save for retirement, but we lack the self-discipline to put that money aside and not touch it until we’re 65 years old. Hence, we ask pension companies to do it for us.

By contributing to a pension fund, the money is deducted from my paycheck before I receive it. The theory is, how can I miss money I never had? I hope Future Donal is grateful to the sacrifice Present Donal is making right now.

But what does retirement really mean for people? If you work hard in your career for 40-or-so years, you earn the right to bow out gracefully from professional life and do the things you really love for your remaining years on earth.

To me, this seems like a backwards way of approaching life. You spend your prime years—the time when you’re young, healthy, and full of energy—consumed by your career, making money, and building an impressive resume. Then at 65—when you’re tired and more prone to health issues—you’re then permitted to explore the world, pursue your hobbies, or whatever it is you enjoy doing.

For me, I want to travel. I want to explore every country in the world. And I’m not going to wait until the year 2053 to do it.

Think this sounds impossible? Here are a few ways you can live like a retiree while gainfully employed:

  1. Find a job that gives you flexibility. The world of work is changing—more and more companies are embracing remote work and unlimited vacation day policies. And yes… Automattic is hiring!
  2. Don’t work so hard. This goes out especially to people in America, where employees get a standard of just 14 vacation days per year. After spending the first six years of my career in New York City, I fell into the trap of working more hours in a week than needed and letting my vacation days expire. Don’t do this! You don’t need to!
  3. Don’t waste your money on things you don’t need. Do you really need to update the contents of your wardrobe every six months? What about that expensive car that you drive right alongside the bus to work? Think about how your priorities don’t match up with how you’re spending your money—and start cutting expenses.
  4. Maximize your free time. Do you fantasize about retirement, when you’ll finally have time to learn to cook, read more books, travel the world, learn a new language? Start now— if it’s truly important to you then you’ll find the time.

You spend your prime years on earth confined to your career, and your subprime years free to enjoy yourself. I say don’t wait.

And if you’re enjoying retirement now, I’m jealous of you. Make the most of this gift of time the rest of us don’t have!

“Life is short, smile while you still have teeth.”

(Photo taken on Playa Ancon, Cuba.)