When you think of the word “retirement,” what images come into your mind? If we are to believe the movies, retirement is a time of relaxation and recreation. It is our reward for a life of hard work. It is a time for us to “age gracefully.” There’s a problem though – actually several problems.

First, with the exception of a fortunate few, our generation can’t afford to live in comfort for 25 years.

Second, contrary to the many myths about aging, most of us will not be content to go quietly into the sunset. We want to be useful, happy and engaged with the world.

 
 

Now, I’m sure that many people will disagree with me. Some will even argue that retirement, in the traditional sense, is a “right.” I hope that others will see the following as a rallying call to prepare for a different kind of retirement.

Retirement Will Almost Certainly be Longer than You Think

When the Social Security Act was passed, its designers selected 65 as the retirement age. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the life expectancy for a person born in 1935, when the act was passed was around 62. Over time, life expectancy increased, but, our perception of retirement, in the sense of not having to work, has remained fixed.

According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, if you are a 65-year-old woman today, you will very likely live for 20 more years. For men, it’s slightly less, but, not much. How many people will be able to afford to live on their savings, in comfort, for 20 years, even if we assume that our state pension systems stay intact? Not many.

We need a new way of thinking about retirement – one that accepts the fact that people are living longer and healthier than ever before.

Retirement is Not a Destination

Part of the problem is that our traditional view of retirement is pushing us to prepare in a one-dimensional way. Because we are encouraged to see retirement as a “destination,” we plan for it like any other milestone.

A quick Google search for “retirement planning” will return thousands of websites to help you determine how much money you need to save before you retire. What you won’t find a lot of is practical advice for how to build the skills you need to make money in retirement.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re 55, by all means max out your 401K and save as much as you can. But, at the same time, doesn’t it make sense to start developing the skills you will need to make money from your skills and passions after you leave, or are pushed from, the workforce?

If your expected monthly retirement income is $3,000, what would it mean to have an extra $1000 – $2000 in side income from your freelancing work or business? Having additional sources of income could make a huge difference for most people.


We need a new way of thinking about retirement – one that encourages people to start building skills and systems that will enable them to make extra money for as long as they need it.


Retirement is not about Aging Gracefully

What does popular culture tell us about how we should behave in retirement? If we are rich, it tells us that we should spend our days playing golf, cruising and spoiling our grandkids. If we have a more modest income, it tells us that we should spend our days in front of the TV, knitting scarves and, if we are especially active, gardening.

It also tells us that having to work in retirement represents a personal failure. After all, shouldn’t we have planned better?

Now, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with golf, grandkids, cruising, TV or knitting – I’ve been known to do all of these from time to time. But, surely we should have the freedom to define what is important to us in retirement, without worrying what society expects from us? If some of us choose to build additional sources of income to support our passions in retirement, shouldn’t this be celebrated?

If some of us choose to live “adventurously,” “profitably,” or “rebelliously,” isn’t this our prerogative? After all, our passions, skills and experiences were a world apart before we retired. Why should we be expected to act the same as everyone else in retirement?

We need a new way of thinking about retirement – one that encourages us to leverage and enjoy our passions, live comfortably and express ourselves individually.

Do you agree or disagree that it is time for us to rethink retirement? Why? What steps are you taking to make sure that your “retirement” is happy and successful? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

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