When you hit a certain age – somewhere north of 65 – you might wonder how much payback you’ll get for your efforts. When you take 5 years to build a business or learn a skill, you wonder, “How much time do I have to enjoy the reward?”
But that’s not because you’re old.
I once had a conversation with a young woman who survived a disease that led most sufferers into a quick death. She knew she wouldn’t recover from a recurrence and she was always aware that death might be close by. She was a short-timer at thirty-two.
My own role model comes from back in the 1960s when an author named John D. Macdonald created a fictional detective hero, Travis McGee. The series, created by John D. McDonald, was published in the 1960s-1980s; used volumes can be found online. Some were republished within the last dozen or so years. As an avid mystery fan, I read many of them back in the day.
McGee lived a dangerous life. He took risks. He “found” things for people for astronomical fees. Between clients, he lived on a houseboat in Florida.
McGee knew he might be killed on any assignment. His philosophy was to take his retirement in” chunks” — lots of long vacations between jobs, because he might not be around later.
I read the McGee series at a young, impressionable age and adopted his philosophy at once. I took lots of time off in my twenties, thirties, and forties … which ultimately contributed to a “been-there, done-that” effect at a very early age.
Taking time off before retirement age does a lot for you.
You begin to question the whole notion of “retirement.” You realize an exit need not be permanent. You can see your career trajectory as cyclical rather than linear.
You don’t arrive at age 60, 70 80, or more with the feeling, “I haven’t begun to live.” Even if you’re not living on the edge like a fictional detective, you could face a serious illness, car accident or other threat…anytime.
I once worked with someone who openly hated his job. “Fifteen years to retirement,” he used to say.
You’ll find articles by people who claimed they lived miserably until they retired. They define retirement as the freedom to enjoy a meaningful life. I feel stifled just hearing them talk. It’s like surviving in prison till you get a release date.
I decided early on, “That’s not going to be me.”
I suspect this philosophy will seem more challenging if you’re married with kids…but not impossible. I’ve met several business owners who committed to taking time off during summers and holidays. I’ve met managers and professionals who vowed “I will never be there” after they saw tired commuters riding home on the train. You also need a certain tolerance for risk, which is way beyond the scope of this post.
I’m not a psychologist, life coach or counselor. But I’m convinced that an early decision of “I refuse to settle for this” can be very powerful. When people make that decision long before retirement age, they usually find a way to make it happen.
This post is based directly on my book: When I Get Old I Plan To Be A Bitch: Aging in Sneakers & Running From Stereotypes.