How to Make Later Years Better, Not Just Freer
Written by Russell Johnson
In my last article, “How to Know if You’ll be Happy in Retirement”, I outlined some of the risks of following the crowd into an unrealistic vision of retirement. If you haven’t read that article, I’d recommend reading it before this one.
If you have read it, then please read on.
A Better Approach Than the Traditional One
If your current role is unfulfilling, you don’t have to wait for retirement in the hope of a better life then. It often proves to be a mirage anyway.
You can have a career you love. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but likely in months rather than years.
Imagine a career in which you have the opportunity to be creative and the satisfaction of contributing to humanity’s progress. Additionally, where you have a reasonable level of freedom regarding your working hours. One where your value, and your marketability, increase over time. And even where you find yourself feeling deeply grateful for the opportunity to do the work you’re doing.
If you had a role like that, would you still even want to retire?
If you wouldn’t, are you willing to make some radical changes, to gain that more fulfilling life?
The Rewards of a Higher Level of Self-Discipline
If you’re an executive or a professional, you’re probably more disciplined than most people. But let me suggest a more demanding perspective than we generally apply: shouldn’t self-discipline begin with taking real control of our own futures?
If we accept personal responsibility for deciding how we will spend our days, based on a motivating vision of stimulating contribution and greater freedom, it does set the bar higher. And it may take more work than the alternative. But it also offers the potential for a more enduring and fulfilling future.
The Self-Discipline of Gaining Clarity
If you aren’t clear about what you could do to have a career you’d love enough to make retirement less enticing, then gaining that clarity will probably take some work. You may need to understand yourself and your drivers better. And your options, too.
But when you embrace the challenge, life will begin to gain, or regain, the stimulation of an adventure. You’ll restore the smile, the sparkle and the sense of fulfilment that made life vibrant and exciting before its pressures began to weigh you down.
And you’ll inspire others, and contribute to the advancement of humanity.
Excess is Never Good. Balance is Better
Everything – including leisure – works badly in excess. When we create value, we feel fulfilled. And happiness follows.
Moreover, life is cyclical. We are psychologically set up for the relatively short daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal cycles on which our societies and our planet operate.
Not for a decades-long period of productive activity followed by further decades as a spectator.
In Excess, Good Things Become Their Opposites.
Excessive power harms everyone, including those who hold it. We’ve seen it happen countless times on the grand stage of international affairs. The freedom fighter and national saviour becomes the destructive tyrant who brings his country to its knees economically, and creates the very fear from which he sought to free his people.
This consideration is just as true for possessions. They can become curses, taking over the lives of their possessors.
And it’s certainly true of time. Too much time hangs heavy on our hands. We find almost anything preferable to boredom.
We need time in balance – enough of it to take care of ourselves, and to contribute to better lives for others. We are happier, and healthier, when we balance free time with a sense of contribution.
Money is Necessary but Only a Part of What We Need
The game of chasing money is so pervasively played in advanced economies that it’s possible to believe it’s the point of work.
But that view strips work of its meaning. It also keeps us focused on things that will leave us unsatisfied. Things that will keep us from the deep work required to build a truly fulfilling life.
By working when we want to, and adding value throughout our lives, we can experience meaningful social engagement and better health. It’s a source of ongoing fulfilment – right into the latest stages of life.
And it can even offer the benefit of lower taxes. After all, if we don’t need to earn enough during our working lives to be able to sustain ourselves in a twenty- or thirty-year retirement, we will be able to keep more of every dollar we earn.
A Useful Clue to Consider
Earlier in this article, I mentioned the satisfaction of contributing to humanity’s progress. This is the sort of thinking that’s predictive of real fulfilment in work.
It’s even better if we have the opportunity to directly experience, through our work, the difference our organization is making in peoples’ lives.
A sense of service is perhaps the single most reliable pointer to a fulfilling career. And it carries immense benefits, even for our health.
Don’t Drift Into Your Future by Following the Crowd
We are living in the most privileged period in human history. Our options are beyond the imaginations of our forebears. Our transition to this state has been so rapid that it’s easy to lose sight of its significance.
In planning your future, start with this premise: except possibly in the short term, there is no valid reason to accept a job you don’t love. If you want a well-paid, interesting job that gives you the freedom you want, you can have that. If you’d like to be self-employed, or to find your uniqueness through a pioneering role in an as-yet undeveloped field, you can do that. You can even do them sequentially, if you want to enough.
We can be, do and have what we want, but we must decide what we want, in the context of understanding and accepting what we will need to give up.
And then we must act – boldly.
Eliminate the Hold of Fear
Don’t let fear hold you back. If that’s an obstacle for you, here’s how to eliminate it:
- Ask what postponing action is costing you, and what you intend to gain through taking action.
- Write your answers down and keep them where you’ll see them, daily.
- Follow the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.
- And finally, whenever you gain insight, act on it, immediately.
As Pablo Picasso put it, Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.