“This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
This quote from Thoreau’s Walden captures a primary theme of my blog, The Financial Philosopher: To lead one’s life on the basis of abstract concepts, such as retirement, freedom, and success is, at best, to lead an inauthentic life and, at worst, one of slavery.
Here are a handful of observations I’ve made in the past on this topic:
I have noticed a recent increase in news articles, in the alarmist fashion as usual, proclaiming that a growing number of Americans will not be able to retire. While the articles often cite statistics that may be informative and truthful, they also perpetuate the unhealthy and untruthful social convention that freedom can only be procured through financial means. And if this financial freedom is not obtained, it means a life of imprisonment—one where you must “work until you die!”
This is because, in America, retirement generally refers to the latter years of life where the retiree has escaped the hellish workforce and has survived decades of sacrifice to graze in the proverbial pastures of relaxation and travel, and to complete whatever bucket list items have yet to be crossed off the list. But retirement is simply a social norm or convention; it is a financial concept disguised as a personal quest and achievement.
Retirement can be anything you decide it to be; but it must be defined by you; the abstract concept must be made into the concrete; otherwise you have inadvertently formed a life philosophy that is based upon a false premise; you have defined your life to reflect the definition of a word, idea, concept, or convention.
“Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.” ~ Martin Heidegger
With the prospects of a financially secured retirement extending beyond the grasp of more and more people, it may be time for a more realistic and healthier definition of retirement. Rather than receiving the work-until-you-die news as a prison sentence, a healthier message is one of a change in perspective: Working until you die can be a gift of a lifetime if your work is meaningful.
Saving money for decades may not be your best path to freedom. If your definition of retirement is simply to do what you love, and accomplishing this goal by financial means is not likely for you, or money can only accomplish a portion of your retirement goals, there is only one solution to this challenge (and fortunately it may be the best choice of all): Start looking now for ways to make money with work that you enjoy. It may not pay as well as the job you hate but it can cover the financial shortfall of your conventional nest egg.
So when you hear the news that you must work until you die, you can become relieved and overjoyed that you are free from the slavery of saving money to procure an illusory freedom. Furthermore, it is doing nothing that hastens death. Many who have already retired find themselves bored and detached from life if they are not doing something that is meaningful.
You still have time to do what you love, to discover the joy and freedom of working until you die. But to do this you must free yourself from the bounds of social conventions.