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Why Wait for Retirement?

When you think of the word “retirement,” what is the first thought that comes to mind?

Here are some typical responses to that question: To some, it means that you no longer work at a job you’ve tolerated or even hated. It is what you do after you gave the same company 20, 30, or even 40 years of service and then quit at age 65. It is that period in your life after you receive your gold watch and your pension, and you no longer work.

In my parents’ generation, retirement often meant the age at which you were forced to stop working whether you loved your job, were exceptional at it, or hated it. That age was usually 65, but for some professions it was (and still is for pilots) age 60. For others, retirement means “quitting” or doing nothing, patiently waiting for the end of life.

Some baby boomers will tell you that retirement is a non-event because they don’t ever plan to retire. That attitude is probably a good thing, based on the fact that the boomers haven’t saved for retirement any better than their parents did, and, unlike their parents, won’t be able to count on social security and Medicare to bail them out.

I have another definition of retirement. I define it as the period in your life when you get to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, with the people you want to be with. By that definition, I am retired, my kids are retired (and will probably come out of retirement at around age 14) and my wife is anxiously awaiting retirement (probably around the time the kids go to college).

So it probably makes sense to you that retirement is a word I am struggling to eliminate from my vocabulary. I say struggling, because for a financial planner, it’s a tough word to eliminate. We constantly refer to “retirement plans,” “retirement projections,” and “retirement age.”

In the place of retirement, I am attempting to use words like financial independence, authenticity, and integrity. If retirement means doing what I want, when I want, with whom I want, to me we are talking about a life that is lived authentically and in integrity. When my kids ask me what those two big words mean I tell them, “It is when your insides match your outsides.” Granted, that’s a bit simplistic, but easy enough for a five-year old and a nine-year-old to understand.

Age has nothing to do with having a job that gets you out of bed happily in the morning and leaves you wondering what part of it is work and what part is play. By that definition, it took me until age 50 to “retire.” Julie just “retired” at age 34, when she accepted a position with my firm as a junior financial planner. Dee, our company cook, is happily “retired” fixing gourmet meals for our clients. How do I know they are retired? It isn’t because they aren’t receiving paychecks. It is because both of them love what they are doing so much, it doesn’t feel like work to them.

If retirement means doing a job you love, then why not start making plans to “retire” as soon as possible? Think about what it would mean for you to do what you want, when and with whom you choose. Then start thinking about how you could incorporate more of that into the life you live now. When you define it this way, the idea of “retirement” becomes joyful and fulfilling. It can be a beginning rather than an end.

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