How My Hip Surgery Got Me Thinking about What I’m Retiring To

I had my hip replaced last month.  After spending three days in the hospital, I spent a couple weeks at home recovering.  And I was bored.  Really, you can watch only so many reruns of Gun Smoke or CNN’s nonstop coverage of Trump and Comey before all your energy is depleted.  The hospital certainly isn’t a resort, but, unlike my house, it’s buzzing with activity.  Just ask anyone who’s ever tried to settle into a long nap during a hospital stay.

Anyhow, I’m on my way to a full recovery.  While I was home, however, I had time to think.  That is, think about my retirement.  Not that I’m planning on retiring any time soon, but my recovery has given me time to envision what I want my retirement to look like.  And that vision doesn’t include old TV westerns.

Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about what we want our retirement to look like.  Instead, we tend to create this grand vision of what we think retirement will be like.  Most of us have been misled to believe that retirement is nirvana with endless days playing golf or sitting on a beach sipping drinks with umbrellas.

If you’re 5 to 10 years out from retirement, now is the time to start exploring the meaning of your work.  What role is work playing in your life? If you’re like most, you tend to undervalue the benefits of work in your life.  They go well beyond collecting a paycheck.  French researchers have found a link between delaying retirement and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and other mind-robbing diseases.  For each additional year you work, you reduce your risk by 3.2 percent.  What’s more, working longer also contributes to longevity.  On a recent retirement webinar, the facilitator cited an 11% (!) increase in life span for each additional year people work.  As an investment advisor, I’d say that’s a pretty good return.  What it all comes down to is staying engaged.  It’s the engagement with life that helps prolong life.

Let’s be clear.  Just because you’re leaving work, doesn’t mean you’re retiring.  Sure, you know what you’re retiring from, but what are you retiring to?  Our parents’ generation maydownload (1) have said, “When I retire, I’ll never work again.”  But today’s retirees are striving for more of a balance.  Most people are happiest when they find the perfect balance between purpose and pleasure.  Ironically, our pleasure (or leisure time) draws its meaning from work.  For instance, we all know someone who can’t wait to hit the golf course on the weekend.  His tee times are usually earlier than he’s rolling out of bed during the work week.  But golfer beware:  there’s a diminishing law of returns on leisure.  And when we retire, every day will not be a Saturday.  The thing you’re looking to for joy and fun can over time make you grumpy.  Do you really want golf to become your job?

In the past, my clients may have asked “Do I have enough money to retire?”  Or “Have I had enough?”  Now, clients are more apt to ask “Will I have enough to do?”  All of us, whether we’re a multimillionaire or someone who will be living on little more than our social security, will have the exact same amount of time to fill each week—168 hours.  If you don’t have a plan for maximizing your time, the next stage of your life may not be as fulfilling as you had envisioned.

Finding powerful reasons to get up in the morning will be as important in your retirement as funding it.  Don’t confuse leisure with happiness.  People tend to lean on leisure for fulfillment.  But we really can’t be happy without pleasure and purpose.  There are plenty of people who wake up seeking pleasure only to return to bed empty.  Successful retirees do things that they’re curious about.  They do things that bring value to others and meaning to themselves.  They’ve explored the meaning of work in their lives and find a way to make it a part of their retirement.

Retiring On Purpose

I ran into a friend recently who’s a hairdresser. He’s been in the business now for 50 years and has seen it all from the bouffant to the bob. After owning his own salon for as many years, he’s looking to sell it—on one condition: He stays as an employee. Despite being nearly 75, he has no plans to retire. Like he says, “What would I do every day?”

His story’s not that unusual. According to a June 2016 Pew Research Center analysis of employment data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more older Americans – those ages 65 and older – are working than at any time since the turn of the century, and today’s older workers are spending more time on the job than did their peers in previous years.

This is a new era of retirement revolution. Pensions and corporate stewardship have gone the way of the dinosaur. For some, not working isn’t an option; however, many are choosing to stay in the workforce—and thriving. As someone who’s been helping people retire for the past 25 years, I’ve witnessed the change in attitudes first-hand about retirement. Today I’d be negligent if I planned a client’s retirement assuming that he or she will be leaving the workforce at age 65. As a financial planner, I must get a sense of my client’s true age. By that, I mean his biological age, not his chronological age. For instance, I may have a client who’s 62, but he feels more like 50. He’ll have no intention of retiring in a few years. Like my hairdresser friend, he refuses to be defined by his age.

For me, the planning has evolved from retiring to retiring on purpose. We’re living longer, and we want to stay relevant. If you’re 5 to 10 years out from retiring, finding a reason to get up in the morning will be as important as the financial planning. Think about it: What if every day was a Saturday? Sure, the first several might seem blissful with days spent on the golf course or shopping at Target, but after a while, you’d probably get bored. Carlos Santana, the famous guitarist said, “The only thing that has ever made me feel old is those few times where I allow myself to be predictable. Routine is death.”

Besides keeping you alive (That’s true. Oregon State University found that people who continue to work past 65 have an 11% lower chance of death from all causes), the benefits of working into an older age are numerous. Of course, there are the financial benefits. The more years you work, the less money you’ll need take out of your retirement accounts. And you can delay taking your Social Security. For each year you delay between the ages of 62 and 70, your benefits grow by 8% annually.

The mental benefits are just as important. Working longer keeps your mind sharp. Like the saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” It also keeps you connected to other people, decreasing the chance of isolation. Moreover, and perhaps most important, working can give you a purpose, a sense of identity, a reason for getting up in the morning.

If you still need a little inspiration or motivation to retire on purpose, just look to some of these stars in their 70s: Helen Mirren, Robert DeNiro, Betty White, Morgan Freeman, Dick Van Dyke, Al Pacino, Mick Jagger. Like Mick said, “How Can I Stop?”