Recently, my colleagues have been floating the idea of retirement.
One of them shared that her father passed away shortly after his retirement. All he did was sit around at home watching television shows. And he was gone a few years after retiring.
No life-shattering illnesses. No typical old-age ailments. He just passed away, before even reaching the age of 70.
I was a little taken aback. I wondered to myself, ‘he had a stress-free life of leisure! No work stress. No financial stress. No family stress. He had all the time in the world to relax and watch as many shows as he wanted. That’s the dream, right?’
No, it’s not the dream.
I’ve since come to learn that the concept of retirement, like many other things in the world, is a social construct.
In 1889, Germany invented the concept of retirement. By having the state take care of people of old age, jobs were then freed up for younger people.
Soon after, the concept of retirement became a social construct that everyone now takes as gospel truth. For a great majority of us, retirement (or rather, early retirement) became the dream.
Why We Crave Retirement
“Retirement is a Western invention… that’s based on broken assumptions that we want — and can afford — to do nothing.”
– Neil Pasricha
We want the freedom to be able to do nothing. We want the freedom to be able to bum around at home in our pyjamas. We want the freedom to be able to binge watch entire seasons of Game of Thrones.
And what’s that all caused by?
Our soul-sucking corporate jobs. We run around all day, making money for other people. A huge chunk of our lives is being devoted to doing something that we dislike. Something that we don’t find meaningful.
In exchange for giving up many hours of our lives, we have only a few hours every week to spend doing things that we enjoy. Watching movies. Going for a run. Bumming around at home. Vegetating in our beds.
And that little bit of freedom we enjoy is a very, very small taste of what we will get to immerse ourselves in, when we do reach retirement age.
So, we all want that freedom. To do nothing.
Believing that it’s our one and only key to happiness.
After all, the grass is always greener on the other side.
But honestly, it’s not. Retirement isn’t the dream. And the grass isn’t greener when you retire.
(Early) Retirement and its Conflict with Human Nature
Retirement and the concept of a life of leisure is, in theory, a beautiful concept. Those 2 decades of leisure, after slogging it out for a dreadful 4 decades, sound like a dream.
It is, however, in conflict with human nature.
Think back to when you were younger, and mobile phones were like bricks. Now, they’re sleek, user-friendly, and absolutely stunning. Television shows used to be a pixelated blur. Now, graphics are so high-quality, they seem to transport you to an alternate universe. Abandoning Earth for another planet was never a possibility. Now, it seems within reach in the next couple of decades.
That’s the evolution of mankind. Progress, through the ages.
The nature of humankind was never to remain idle. It was never to live a life of complete leisure, just whiling time away, every single day.
Human nature compels us to make improvements to our lives. To make progress in our lives.
When was the last time you felt satisfaction?
When you were idling in bed?
Or when you were pushing yourself to your limits, doing something you love doing?
Personally, I love my Friday nights in, with a good movie and a cup of hot chocolate. I feel calm. I feel peace. I feel at ease with the world.
But I can’t imagine doing that every single hour, every single day of my life. I’ll go out of my mind. Because I wouldn’t be making any progress to my life. All I’d be doing is partaking in an endless supply of consumerism.
When do I feel satisfaction? Intense feelings of happiness?
When I tabulate my monthly income and expenses, and realise that I’ve hit my target savings.
When I finish a post, and publish it on my blog.
When someone I admire noticed one of my posts, and published it on their blog.
When I learn a sick drum beat.
Those feelings of satisfaction are derived from progress.
Progress in my savings. Progress in my blogging. Progress in my life.
Slow Down, but Never Stop Working
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to slow down, to spend more days of leisure. As we get older, we just want to take the time to smell the roses.
But never stop working.
Working isn’t a bad word. It’s only horrible when you’re working a job you don’t want to work at.
Working isn’t so bad when you’re running your own little side hustle. Or when you’re creating content that you’re proud of. Or when you’re putting ideas out there in the world that you know will help others.
You don’t have to constantly work at building a career. You can work on being more healthy. You can work on giving back to society. You can work on learning stuff you’ve always wanted to learn.
What’s important is that you keep working on yourself and your life.
The concept of early retirement and having leisurely days for decades used to be so alluring to me. But now, I’ve realised that I don’t want to retire. Ever.
I will quit my job in the near future, but I want to work on fulfilling all the dreams I ever had. I want to build my own little businesses. Travel the world. Learn as many languages as I can. Make a difference in other people’s lives. Give back to society.
For as long as I live.
Retirement isn’t the Goal
Financial freedom is.
Having the freedom, not to do nothing, but to fulfil all your wildest dreams. Without having to worry about how to put food on the table or having financial burdens weigh you down.
Remember, retirement is a silly social construct. A dream fuelled by the hate of your corporate job.
But true satisfaction doesn’t come from idling. It comes from making progress.
While you may want to slow down and enjoy more days of leisure, never stop working on fulfilling your dreams.
Don’t aim for retirement (or an early retirement). Don’t bother retiring. Aim to be financially free.
Free to chase all the wildest dreams in your life.
Super interesting take! I feel like we need a new word because retirement isn’t cutting it since it invokes an image of leisure. Early retirement kind of gets us there given all the progress early retired people (that we see anyway) make. Whatever this new word is that’s what I want 🙂 . I’m not interested in more leisure time or the freedom to do nothing. I want the freedom to go where I want, when I want. The freedom to stay with a friend or family member for weeks instead of a weekend. I agree it’s about freedom over your time, but I don’t need more veg time. I need more time doing the things I love (like photography and writing) with the people I love. Then again I could be completely wrong ?. We’ll see if you tell me I told you so in two years!
Hey APL! Yes, I 100% agree – we need a new word. You’re right; when we get so bogged down with our jobs, it can sometimes be really difficult to carve out time to do stuff we love, with the people that we love! Life is too short to work jobs, which we dislike, for extended periods of time. I don’t think that you’re wrong, and I’m super excited to follow your journey till financial freedom and beyond. 🙂
On another note, I didn’t know you love photography! That’s so cool 🙂