I recently celebrated my 60th birthday, and with that age comes the endless diatribe of the same question from just about everyone – when will you retire? And I have to force myself not to roll my eyes. It’s not that I don’t think about retirement. I’m in my sixties, so it crosses my mind. But the idea of hanging everything up honestly terrifies me.
There’s a lot of societal pressure to stop working as soon as you can afford to. And people who retire young seem to be the envy of many. This is because from the moment we entered the workforce, we’ve had it beat into our heads that we must start saving up for retirement to eventually stop working and start living the good life in our old age.
But who says working is a bad thing? And why wait until you are old to “start living”?
Many of the most successful entrepreneurs and leaders worldwide are still working and producing well past the average retirement age. They’re flourishing in their golden years, and I can only assume that the critical difference that keeps them working is the fact that they love what they do. They’re not just working to survive.
On the other hand, many people hate their jobs and work only because they need money to live. I feel sorry for those folks; I honestly do. We spend half of our waking hours at work, and to spend all that time hating what you do would be miserable. But I personally don’t fit into that box.
I love working! If you haven’t figured it out, I’m a high achiever “type-A” personality. I’m constantly striving to do more, learn more and get better at everything. Once I achieve a goal, I raise the bar and strive for that next level.
From building businesses to manual labor, I enjoy doing all types of work. I love what I do now: leading the company I founded and figuring out new ways to grow and make a more significant impact in the industry. I love creating jobs for people and making a difference. And I thoroughly enjoy manual labor as well. Building things with my hands, tending to gardens, and digging in the dirt are some of my favorite things. I find sweating under the hot sun or feeling exhausted after a day of hard physical labor rewarding. I also find a sense of accomplishment in building things.
Sitting around and doing nothing bores me to death. I can barely even handle sitting at the beach watching the waves roll in for a short time before I'm stir-crazy and bored out of my mind.
A few months back, my wife and I attended a wedding in Florida, where we spent five whole days doing almost nothing except playing golf and hanging out on the beach. Even though the weather could not have been more perfect, I enjoyed some laid-back reading and taking in the ocean air for those first few days, by day four, I was thoroughly ready to go back to work. This got me thinking, “if this is what retirement’s like, count me out.”
I’ve got to call BS on the notion that retirement is some elevated status that we should all aspire to achieve. American media paints retirement as this idyllic state where there are no responsibilities and time ceases to exist. You can just play golf, travel, fish, and spend endless days with your grandchildren. But, from what I've observed from people I know who are retired, reality shows otherwise. Even if retirement were everything it's made out to be, there are several reasons why its appeal would wane for me over time.
For one, I enjoy sharing my wisdom with younger folks as I've aged. One truism that has become clearer than ever in the past 20 years is that experience is more valuable than any education – no matter where it came from. The “school of hard knocks” is still the best school – no exceptions. And I've spent a considerable amount of time at that particular school! So, I want to be able to share some of what I’ve learned with others so they can avoid the same mistakes. If I were spending my days lounging in my house like most retirees seem to do, it'd be hard for me to do that.
Additionally, life expectancy is much higher now than it was even a few decades ago. If I were to retire at 60 and live to 95, that's 35 more years I'd have left. To put that timeframe into perspective, my company is only 30 years old now. So, to think I could be retired longer than my entire career is insane! Three decades is a very long time to have no real purpose other than to enjoy myself and entertain my grandkids.
Then there's the money thing. Although I've been blessed with a very successful company and my financial status is solid, 35 years with zero income other than social security and investment income is pretty scary. And with interest rates super low and the stock market only one crash away from losing half your savings, living off investments is a crapshoot. It also feels a bit wasteful to retire now, especially given that I have all this experience and could be using it to help people while continuing to earn income.
Lastly, research shows a statistical correlation between retirement and death, particularly among high achievers. And the statistics are far worse for males. For example, a study of Shell Oil employees found that those who retired at 55 died 37% sooner than those that retired at 65. Another study showed that people who retire at 55 are 89% more likely to die within ten years than those that retire at 65. Social Security has also noticed that men who retire at 62 have a 20% higher likelihood of dying earlier than those who wait to retire later on down the line.
Add all that up, and retirement doesn’t seem all that great. In fact, it’s a bit terrifying.
I have a better plan in mind. Instead of quitting work at a certain age, I'll focus on what I enjoy the most and organize my time to optimize it for maximum happiness. In other words, instead of completely giving up work to spend all my time playing, I'll do both! I own my company, so I can set up whatever system I want! As I reach those retirement years, I'll dial back work to have more free time. But I'll still have something that challenges me mentally and gives me a place where I feel I'm making valuable contributions to others' success.
And since I'm competitive and ambitious, I'll keep doing the job I love that feeds those aspects of my personality. However, I'll delegate or give up the parts of it that I hate to free up more time for things like golfing, vacations, and spending time with my family.
Additionally, I'll set up my company so it can run without me always needing to be there. That way, the machine keeps running without hiccups, and I can come and go as I please.
Now that’s a retirement plan I can live with!