Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Picture this. You’re sitting underneath the cool shade of a palm tree. A white sandy beach stretches as far as you can see. Crystal clear water is just within reach. You have your favorite libation in your hand and not a worry in the world. This is your life every single day. No stress, no responsibility, and no rules. Sounds pretty great right? Or maybe not…
I love a nice relaxing vacation just as much as anyone else. Taking time to reboot and focus on simply having fun is important. But when that becomes your sole activity, what happens to life’s meaning? What happens to your sense of achievement, growth and success? A life without work would lead to moral atrophy. If every day were a vacation, then there would be nothing worth striving for.
The utopian paradise that many people picture for retirement isn’t always the easy life they were hoping for. Humans were made to survive and be productive. Somewhere along our evolutionary history, we discovered that we could sacrifice the now for the benefit of the future. Not only could we make our eventual selves better, but we could also improve the lives of others. This ability to enhance someone else's existence leads to a virtuous and meaningful life. Because we are able to conceptualize a better future, we wake up when we don’t always want to and put our noses to the grindstone in order to make a better future for us, our loved ones, and where possible for others as well.
Some people work solely for money. After all, humans like to buy nice things and show off their social status. But that all too often leads to a shallow way of being. The real reason we should work, is to provide for our families, to give our loved ones a better life, and to help make the world a better place - no matter how big or small it may be.
Why then would you want to throw all the positivity and altruism of that effort away by retreating to a tropical island at the age of 55? I get it, you’ve worked extremely hard your whole life and you deserve a chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You certainly have earned it, right? In so doing, however, you are essentially throwing away many of the values you have formulated and lived by over the years. Where is the meaning in that? True happiness doesn’t come from the possessions we’ve acquired or even the flexibility for rest and relaxation we’ve achieved. It comes from personal sacrifice and the satisfaction that accompanies a productive life.
As the wise Dr. Seuss once wrote in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “the grinch, with his grinch feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
There is a lot to be learned from the Grinch. Replace the word Christmas with life, happiness, meaning, joy, euphoria or any other synonym you can think of, and you have a powerful doctrine to live by. If the traditional sense of retirement is your end goal, you may have your arrow pointing at the wrong target. It’s likely to lead to an unfulfilling end game.
A recent study found that people who retire at age 55 and live to at least 65 die sooner than those who retire later in life. Even more alarming, that same study discovered that individuals are 89% more likely to die in the first ten years of turning 55 than if you retired at 65.
So, consider reframing the way we view work, and recognize that the benefits of continued work effort and giving of ourselves never ends. We have an obligation to ourselves and humanity. We must always strive for excellence. Maybe it’s time to retire retirement.