If I asked you to define retirement, chances are good that your answer would include some reference to age (65-plus), work status (not working) and money (you need millions).
The problem with buying into that definition is that it puts you on the deferred life plan. The life you really want to live and the things you really want to do get put on hold until you can check those three boxes.
It seems strange to me that it has become such common practice to push the best things in life to the very end. It's almost like an Industrial Age factory boss came up with the definition of retirement as a sort of opiate for the workers. In exchange for slaving at their machines during their very best years, workers get promised a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
I think there's a better way. I define retirement with one word: Control.
Think about it. When people talk about retirement, they say things like, “When I retire, I'm going to …” It is a transition from doing what you have to do to doing what you want to do. Does money play a part in that? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean that retirement must be an “all or none” proposition. After all, each of us controls at least some portion of our time right now.
What if, rather than looking at retirement as a binary, yes or no proposition, we looked at it as an iterative (or incremental) process? If you control 20 percent of your time, you're 20 percent retired. Control 50 percent and you're half retired. The more time you control, the more retired you are.
Timeline vs. pie chart
This is an important shift in thinking. Traditional retirement looks at life as a timeline where youth equals 0 to 20, working years equal 20 to 65 and retirement equals 65-plus. It is an age based, non-working, relatively brief period at the end of life (for those fortunate enough to get there).
The retirement I'm proposing looks at life as a pie chart divided between time you control and time controlled by others. Rather than waiting for “someday,” retirement begins today with whatever time you control. It starts sooner, lasts longer and is unique to your plans, dreams and priorities. Rather than being a life stage, it's a lifestyle philosophy. (For more on this new retirement, download “A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss” at intentionalretirement.com/bliss).
How to retire today
OK. So it sounds good so far, but how do you do it? For that, think back to the first iPod you bought or the first version of Microsoft Windows you used. Companies are great at versioning; they start with Version 1.0, which has a certain set of features and functionality, then they continue to build on it and improve it. Version 1.0 leads to Version 2.0 and so on.
What if we did something similar with retirement and started with Version 1.0 in our 40s? It wouldn't have all the “freedom and control” functionality that we hope to have in future versions, but it would provide some rich experiences nonetheless.
Then we could take what we learned from Version 1.0 and apply it to creating Version 2.0 in our 50s. Work will likely still be a part of the equation, but with more money saved and the experience gained from testing and implementing Version 1.0, we could likely make some significant upgrades (mini-retirements, hobbies, learning new things).
Then when we reach that stage in life where our savings and circumstances allow us significant control over our time, we would be well-prepared to implement a feature-packed, real-world tested Version 3.0. Rather than struggling with inertia and trying to figure out what we really want out of life (and wasting some of our best remaining years in the process), we would be ready to hit the ground running.
So don't wait. Reimagine what it means to be “retired” and start with Version 1.0 today.
Joe Hearn is an Omaha financial planner. He can be reached at 402-331-8600 or by email at email@example.com.