“If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.” ~Confucius
A good friend of mine plans to retire in the next couple of months. She’s earned it. After working at a challenging job for over 25 years, she’s more than ready to move on to something new. But underlying that excitement I detected a bit of worry about the uncertainty before her. That mixed message of elation and concern got me thinking about how Thom and I are approaching our future. What I realized was that in our quest to rightsize our lives, Thom and I have gradually slipped into what we are calling semi-retirement in a natural and stress-free way. While so many people our age are asking an all-or-nothing question about retirement, rightsizing right now might be the best solution of all.
Is All-or-Nothing Retirement Outdated?
Let’s face it, the old model of working at a 9 to 5 job for 25 to 40 years and then retiring isn’t an option for most people any more. Unless we work in the public sector (government), we can’t count on a company having our back. Hoping and dreaming for a gold watch and a pension are things of the past. Unfortunately, I’ve talked to many who are still stuck in that old dream of ending work and never working another day in their life.
In addition, the old model of slaving it out at a job we don’t like is also in question. Do we really want to be as Emile Gauvreau says, “ I was part of a strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don’t want, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like”? And with reports from the Bureau of Labor statistics saying that American’s average 11 jobs during a lifetime, why would we stick it out at something we hate if there are other options?
The final issue that can’t be ignored is that many people will simply not be able to financially retire—ever. As massive amounts of baby boomers enter retirement age every single day, the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey says, “Thirty-nine percent of workers age 50 and older report having $100,000 or less saved for retirement, not including pensions or homes; and 24 percent have less than $10,000.“ With so little amount in savings, and nothing but Social Security as guaranteed income, most seniors must continue working as long as they are physically able.
Why Do We Want to Retire Anyway?
Of course maybe the real question is why do we want to retire in the first place. Chances are it’s about control. According to an article in the Canadian journal Financial Post, “The real key is being in control. How else to explain that the average retirement age for the self-employed in Canada is 69…By contrast, workers who are employed by someone else retire at age 62, on average. They wouldn’t leave so early if they were motivated by their jobs, but most of them have little control over what they do or how they do it.” I’ll bet many in the U.S. over age 50 feel the same. It’s not that people don’t want to keep contributing and stay active, but they want to have some level of control over the work and the hours. It’s likely that most people don’t want to retire and do nothing; most of us just want to stop doing work that makes us unhappy.
That’s where right-sizing fits in. A simple definition of rightsizing is designing and living a particular lifestyle that allows you to focus on the things in life that really matter. It’s eliminating the should’s, have-to’s and rules that we’ve allowed society to use to box us in, and to instead reinvent our own world. I’ve written about the idea from several perspectives before (that you can find here) but what I recently realized was how closely rightsizing and semi-retirement look from the outside. Most of us want to believe we are in charge of our lives and rightsizing allows us to create it from the inside out.
What’s the Solution?
So where do we start? If we are like my friend and just a couple of years from a set retirement, we might want to stay the course. Then once we officially retire, we can reanalyze what it is that will bring us the most joy and do that. But for any of us in work that feels unsatisfying, unfulfilling and beyond our control, maybe it’s time to start looking for a new way to live. And before we complain that we can’t because of the money, let’s start being very honest about what we are willing to sell our souls for in return. When asked directly, I doubt there are any of us that will admit that we will do anything for money. So if that’s true, by recognizing that we’ve used the “money excuse” as a reason to hold ourselves back from living a peaceful and satisfying existence, we just might finally give ourselves permission to find something else. If we can’t do something else, maybe we find a way to reinvent how we are doing what we do. Fewer hours? Different department? There are always options.
Of course rightsizing isn’t just about working or not working. Rightsizing is about eliminating the unessential and focusing on what really matters. Author Greg McKeown says it over and over in his book essentialism—the Disciplined Pursuit of Less when he asks, “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives? What if the whole world shifted from the undisciplined pursuit of more to the disciplined pursuit of less…only better?”
Once we start rightsizing our lives, we let go of comparing ourselves to the lives of others and needing or even wanting a bunch of stuff to define us. When we don’t spend all that money buying things we don’t really need, we often find we don’t require nearly as much money as we thought we did. That’s when we can stop working so much, or give up work that sucks the joy out of us. As we start being picky about where we spend our time, and eliminate wasteful spending, we easily slide into a rightsized semi-retirement.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to slow down and enjoy our lives as we age. But I think it is possible to start doing that sooner rather than later by rightsizing our lives right now. Besides, there will never be a time when we don’t have something valuable to contribute to the world in terms of our experience and wisdom, it is just having the awareness to choose when, where and how we will share it in ways that will be most rewarding. Thom and I don’t ever plan to retire, but thanks to rightsizing, we are living and enjoying the many benefits of semi-retirement right now. So no matter where each of us is on the journey of life, rightsizing your life just might be a SMART solution to where you go from here.