What if you never retired? No really... forget about retirement for a moment - let's just assume that you'll never retire. What would you do differently? How would you spend your life right now if retirement wasn't guaranteed?
People seem obsessed with working towards retirement, despite it being a relatively recent invention (1880's in Germany in case you were interested, and they set the initial retirement age at 70 years old). And life being a predictably unpredictable thing means that making it to retirement isn't guaranteed. In fact, most retirement ages around the world were set to be a close match to the life expectancy of the time. As life expectancy has dramatically increased, the retirement age has remained largely unchanged.
The concept of retirement comes with some drawbacks. For a start it is expensive. People need to save to fund retirement, so will compromise their current life to provide some 'security' for the future. While this makes sense to a degree from an economic perspective, many end up leading an overly compromised 45 year work life, in the hope of 10-15 years of retirement while they're physically fit enough to enjoy it.
What about if you worked for 55-60 years instead and didn't retire, but tried to make the most of each year instead? Well, that only makes sense if you enjoy what you're doing. In fact, you wouldn't settle for a job that you didn't find rewarding in a true sense - instead you would seek out (or even create) a career that was truly rewarding. You would find ways to extend your career beyond the typical retirement age. You would identify options for work that would allow for changes in your health and mobility. You would keep on learning and staying up to date to ensure you could continue to be of value to others. You would make a greater effort to stay fit. And I suspect you would be less 'old' in your outlook and ability. In fact, you may not end up being that 'old' at all!
We have three sons aged 9 and under, and so made a conscious decision to have 'outdoor' holidays as much as possible (those with young kids might relate!). We bought a caravan a few years back because it suited our needs as a young family, and have travelled all over Australia. The other demographic group that enjoys travelling in caravans is retired people. As a result, I've had plenty of opportunities to chat with retired people about their views on life. A regular comment from the retired people I've met is "I wish we had done this when we were your age - I wish we had taken the time to travel and enjoy life more with the kids when we were younger". These conversations have helped shape the way I run my business, the way I work, how I spend my time, and ultimately my desire to never retire (check in with me in 30 years or so!). Instead I've been planned, fortunate and disciplined enough to live a life that I genuinely enjoy, and that I feel I could sustain for a number of decades to come. Sure - that has meant some compromises. I don't have a regular pay cheque (or 'check' for US readers) that turns up each month. But I have quantity time with the ones I love (I don't buy the 'quality time' concept either), and I spend my time doing things that I enjoy and that I find rewarding. That kind of sounds like retirement, eh? And surely where you spend your time is a measure of what's most important to you.
So maybe that's fine for a 40 year old, but is it really reasonable for those joining the work force to find a job they love? Well, maybe not - at least not straight away. I've had some pretty diverse jobs that weren't always fantastic. But I have learnt a lot through each job. My passion has unfolded over time and with hard work. So don't expect that first job to be perfect (or the second, or the third). Work hard, keep learning and be flexible, and you might just find that perfect job and wonderful career emerges from the most unexpected places.
So, you might read this and want to examine your priorities and how you spend your time. If so, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will send you a worksheet that will help you to examine your purpose and values. Working through this may assist in clarifying where you want to head.
In conclusion, a healthy and happy retirement isn't guaranteed, so why live your life as if it is?