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‘Retirement Is A Life Event, Not A Financial Destination’

Retirement is not just ceasing to work; it is a new phase of life where we can do things that excite us and allow us to enjoy a sense of freedom, contentment and peace.

Suresh Sadagopan
January 31, 2024


Retirement is a word that conjures up many different images for different people. Some consider retirement a time to relax and enjoy; others dread the prospect of income stoppage and worry whether they will be able to maintain their lifestyle; still more cannot even think of what they will do if they stop going to work – for their entire identity has been their work identity!


Yet, there are others who want to retire early and would like to do things that they want to pursue. In fact, Financially Independent Retire Early (FIRE) is a trending topic these days, where people talk about accumulating enough money to fund their retirement years. 


In FIRE, they propose being frugal, saving up to 70 per cent of their income, and doing some side hustle even after retiring from active work to take care of the basic expenses for as long as possible. Being financially prepared is one thing; preparing for a fulfilling & meaningful life is quite another!

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Motivation Behind Retirement – There is a very curious thought pattern among people looking forward to retirement. These people somehow do not enjoy what they are doing at that point and are looking to pull on with the drudgery until retirement. 


They are doing work which they don’t enjoy in a stressful environment. On top of this, they have to deal with inane bosses, contend with long working hours and lack of recognition at the workplace, unfulfilling and meaningless work, etc.  


Hence, these people are resigned to performing soul-sapping work until they can retire! After they retire, they want to live happily, enjoy life or even do elevating work!


Retirement Reality – The irony here is that we do not know whether we will survive such long periods, after which we hope to live a happy life and do work we love!


Besides, many assume that on retirement, we will automatically find happiness and something meaningful to do just after we retire, like at the flip of a switch. Others have rosy notions of retirement – like relaxing and watching TV, reading, listening to music, meeting friends, going for walks, and indulging in other leisure activities. While on the face of it, it seems enticing enough, the real retirement years can be quite different from our dream retirement. For a lot of people, retirement is one long, boring holiday!


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People plan for retirement primarily financially. We need to understand that retirement is not just ceasing to work; it is a new phase of life where we have the opportunity to do things that will excite us and allow us to enjoy a sense of freedom, contentment and peace. Retirement is a long second innings for most people who spend 2-3 decades here. If someone retires earlier, the retirement phase will be even longer.


Hence, it is imperative to be clear about what we want to do during retirement.


Living A Meaningful Life – Let us go back to why we want to retire. It is due to the mindless work we do, which is the reason why we want to retire as soon as possible in the first place. 


Importantly, it is not possible for most people to retire from work as we have so many goals and we need the money! Then, are we stuck?


Not really! 


Firstly, we can breathe meaning into any work we do. If the work environment is stressful & toxic or the boss is a prickly pear, it is always possible to move to another place. We need to know what we desire in a workplace and find that. 


FIRE is trending today as work has been inextricably linked to a meaningless grind, out of which one sees no way out. That is why people want to retire early.


Secondly, we can evaluate our work life and examine whether any major shift in our career can make life far more meaningful. For instance, a corporate executive may have aspirations to be a musician. One could examine the possibility thoroughly and see if such a change is feasible and whether the family will support it. If feasible, the life ahead could transition from the mundane to very meaningful, enjoyable and even sublime.

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Assuming such a shift is not feasible, one may examine what changes can make life vibrant, enjoyable and full of vigour. Bringing in some changes like hobbies, sports, travel or other indulgences or including some activity like volunteering at a school, doing social work, etc., can improve the quality of life even during the working years. It is important to be flexible enough to accommodate these within the context of one’s life. This probably is what may be suitable for most people. 


There is another thing. Waiting till retirement is a very uncertain proposition – we do not know if we will survive that long! Hence, we need to make amends and live a fulfilling life here and now!


We need not wait for retirement to live fulfilling lives – for retirement is not the ‘Shambala’ that most people make it out to be. The retirement phase by itself can be fulfilling. The run-up to retirement can be equally fulfilling. We need to get that. 


The author is the MD & Principal Officer at Ladder7 Wealth Planners and the author of the book “If God Was Your Financial Planner”.

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