Mostly we don’t think about life after work until it gets really near. So I asked some people to think it about now, while they’re still working. Can you learn from the dreams and hopes and fears of others?
I’ve chatted with many people about their plans once full-time work stops for them. In some cases this was the first time they had given it any thought (though I think they were pretty coherent). I’ve artificially assembled portions from several separate interviews into a mock panel interview, changing and combining some details so that the interviewees don’t get recognized. Think of this as fiction based on fact.
Panelist 1: I’m not yet 40, so that’s a long way into the future, for me. But I admit I’m already worried about retirement. I’d like to retire young. It’s the freedom – not having to be somewhere every day, not even having to answer to anyone – go to the gym, run errands, whatever. There are happinesses associated with working, but for me working is just a means to an end. I’m not sure I want to work for the sake of working. Ask me in 20 years and maybe I’ll have an answer!
But I worry about what I’ll do with my time, after work. Not every career gives you the opportunity to keep doing the same thing part-time. So I’ll have to be proactive and take responsibility for my life. And I’ll have to link my life’s psychology to my physical health, whatever it is at the time. That’s as far as I’ve got.
Panelist 2: Well, my husband and I are a little bit older than 40! We’re hoping to retire in the near future. And on our vacation this year we discussed the sort of things we’d like to do. It’s good to find out that we’re in agreement!
Much as we love each other, we need social interaction. We can only be with each other a certain amount of time before we need to be with other people!
We hope we’ll have a good relationship with our kids and the partners they choose, but that’s not entirely within our control. I’d like us to be like my husband’s parents. They let us live with them in the early years and save money, but they never interfered with our life plans. Whereas my mother kept telling me what to do – probably because that’s what she got from her mother.
What will we actually do? Maybe take winter vacations together with another family (like my brother’s family). Volunteering. My husband coaches sports. Me with the church. A hospice too, now that I’ve seen how a friend needed one. Some fundraising for good causes.
Spoil our grandchildren, when they arrive!
Do fun drives and camping. See the country and the countryside. We’ve always loved doing that.
Panelist 3: Retirement, like university, is about graduating to a new future. (I remember you used that expression in a presentation!) I want to help people who aren’t wealthy. I want to get into public speaking, it’s so very powerful, to share with others what you’ve learned. In the same way, I like listening – I like learning from the experiences of my older colleagues, who may think of me as a daughter or a sister when they talk. Even now, my friends have younger siblings about to go to university – those siblings listen to me more because I’m closer to their age and I’ve had the experience more recently. What’s useful for them is: “If I could go back, here’s what I’d do differently” – and that’s mostly to keep a balance, don’t get all caught up in one thing.
I have a much younger brother (there’s a big age gap) just going into high school. We had our first serious conversation. He’s interested in investing, and had no idea there’s someone in the family who works in the business. I want to bring him into the office, etc. Even if he doesn’t end up in the business, he’ll learn so much from being around it.
It makes me happy to have some impact in kids’ lives. Sometimes they need an outside third party, because they’re not inclined to listen to their parents. It helps the kids to find themselves, just to have someone to talk to.
It isn’t just kids. One of my clients has friends, but none that he’s willing to talk to about his life, so he talks to me. It helps just to tell him there are lots of people in that position. Chatting about his daughters – I can’t give him advice, just how to think about the situation. It’s not just about investment questions.
Sorry, I’ve gone off track, talking about life in general rather than about retirement. Thinking about retirement excites me. I want to gather other people’s experiences so I can enjoy my own experiences – a huge field where I have the freedom to go wherever I want.
Panelist 4: I want two things when I retire. First, enough money to enjoy myself in the first few years. Then, when I’m decrepit, I won’t need as much, but I want enough to survive.
About our planned transition. My wife wants a retirement job of some kind, with no pressure when she gets home at night, to get paid “mad money” with some flexibility in working hours. Me, I want to apply my knowledge by “giving back” – I don’t care about being paid, I just want my expenses covered. I think I’m appreciated as a knowledge worker. And my employer has been good to me, so I’d like to make myself available to them rather than go somewhere else.
I’d like to write! I need to develop the discipline to do that. I think of stories – fiction – I think of an unexpected outcome and work my way to that. It’s not to become a famous author, it’s just for the pleasure of writing. Maybe I’ll take a creative writing course.
Where will we live? Our house is too big. Live near our grandchildren? There’s no guarantee our son will stay where he is. So we’re tentatively planning to go back to the town where we came from – our family origins – but we’ll have to re-establish close relations with them.
When? 55. Why 55? Scared of either physical or cognitive decline. I’ve seen it with aunts and uncles – late 60s, early 70s, and then they couldn’t enjoy life any more. You don’t live to work, you work to live.
Panelist 5: I told my husband: if we get to $X, I’ll stop working. He said: no you won’t, you like it too much! But even though I don’t show it at work, things do get to me sometimes. The thing is, whatever I do, my heart has to be in it.
I’m not sure I could stop cold turkey. Maybe in the next five years we’ll be able to afford it, but I don’t like big change. I’ve been lucky, even with a couple of work changes – it’s never been difficult, finding something good. I could even go back to being a bank teller, the way I used to be.
I’ll stop there, for now. What a fascinating exposure to philosophies of life! And it’s our philosophies that will either be put to the test or enable us to cope, as we graduate from full-time work. Does any of this resonate with you, or give you ideas you want to pursue?
I’m not sure, to be honest, except that people are different and have different dreams and hopes and fears. But isn’t it nice to dream!
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.