SFH #168: Is it Healthy to Retire?

Some thoughts and perspective 🙏🏽

Do you see retirement as an exceptional achievement off in the distance? Our Western culture has built a foundation around this idea, and I'm pretty sure it's not the most healthy pursuit.

I've never been a fan of retirement. My dad used to talk about it as a great success in life, which he achieved in his 50s. It just didn't make sense to me to all of a sudden stop pursuing meaningful work or being in service. I didn't have that language in my 20s though it occurred to me as more practical to set up life on a continuum of meaningful work, relationships, and gratifying lifestyle pursuits. So, where and when was the concept of retirement born?

In 1889, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck invented retirement, setting the idea in motion for our modern ways. His goal with the concept was to address the high youth unemployment of the time. He established the method of paying the working class over 70 to depart from the ranks. Other countries began to follow suit deciding on retirement ages between 65 or 70. It seemed like a straightforward and practical solution of the time—just one key issue for our advancing world. We live considerably longer now. Three more decades longer from a century ago, to be more exact. And yet, we prize the idea to retire much earlier. To do what, nothing for years on end?

I don't honestly believe that we actually want to do nothing. We want to do something we love. My dad sold cars for all of my life up until his retirement (he loved it). Then, after some downtime, he found ways to stay busy and create purpose for his day-to-day life in 'retirement.' Many retirees struggle with finding purpose after a gratifying career. How do we keep that spark lit is my question?

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't address retiring from the financial angle—having the nest egg or interest-only living. It's certainly a vital component to create comfort and safety. And yet, I still think staying within a purposeful mindset (like yesterday's ikigai entry) weighs heavily on the scales. You can still live off interest or build a foundation of wealth through a career and find pursuits beyond that pot of gold. If money were a great equalizer, we likely wouldn't see the drastic spikes in depression occurring with retirement.1

We all seek to live out a meaningful and fulfilling life. My perspective is that our modern definition of retirement can be a cog in the wheel of that flow. I'm all for downshifting from a career and building a foundation to live comfortably. I simply think we should carefully consider how we maintain our purpose through our long lifespan to remain healthy.