Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rehearsing Retirement, Pt. 1

Townes Van Zandt--"No Place To Fall" (mp3)

Among the many ironies concerning retirement, perhaps the greatest is that even though people will talk about wishing they "could retire right now" all the time, retirement is really something that they don't want to think about.

Count me as being no different. When I ponder retirement, and, at the end of a summer when part of me really doesn't want to go back to work, I'm not really talking about actual retirement, I'm talking about being much younger than retirement age and not having to work. The immediate attractiveness of the concept of retirement is the notion of not having to work while still at an age where you can take full advantage of life and (potentially) the entire world. But I'm talking about a pipe dream.

The reality is that you don't just decide that you are retiring one day and then stop working the next. You have to rehearse it. You have to think it through in your head. Otherwise, it will be nothing at all like you want it to be.

My father retired at age 58. And even at that point, he had left the corporate world a few years before in order to pursue his dream of owning his own business, in his case, a racquetball/fitness club in Pittsburgh with tennis courts and Nautilus machines and a bar and a "healthy" restaurant, with an outdoor pool and snack bar to boost the summer months. He ran the club for a few years, bought out unproductive partners, and then sold the whole thing for a nice profit before the bottom dropped out of the racquetball craze of the lat 70's.

Think about it: my parents retired when Ronald Reagan was President. My father is in his seventh presidential term of retirement. Those are a lot of unencumbered years.

I can't help but to reflect on that as I creep ever closer to that magical age. Retiring then has allowed him, so far, 27 years of retirement, including 17 with my mother before she succumbed to ovarian cancer. It is hard to look at his decision and not to celebrate it, to realize, once and for all, that retirement is a decision about time, not money. Some of us don't see a way to separate the two.

I also realize full well what a luxury that is. But, and here is the point, it is a luxury that he planned for. My father never made a tremendous amount of money, nor did he inherit all that much from his parents, a steelworker and his immigrant wife. But he always had the goal, and when he was able to step away from it all, he didn't hesitate.

I contrast that with friends of mine who won't even look at their 401K balances, who won't take an active role in fine-tuning the maximization of their own money.

Maybe it's teachers and the way our profession seems to shelter us from the real world, but I really think it's America right now. We feel like there are too many things beyond our control or at least there are just enough of those things that lead us to shut down and to give in to the abstract forces that we think have complete control of our lives.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If we don't take control, it isn't ultimately money that we are giving away--it's time. It's the time that money can buy. Yeah, the Beatles were undoubtedly right that money cannot buy love, but money can buy time in any number of significant ways. Whether you are buying years of freedom or years of health, you have the discretion, if you work at it, and yes, if you sacrifice, to step away on your own terms.

Because retirement is the last stage of life, it isn't something that we want to ponder in realistic ways. It's too easy to see the Hollywood version or to want to jump into the billboards we see on the drive down to Florida. Having made that drive many, many times over the past 26 years, I know what is behind those billboards.

NEXT TIME: What I Learned In Florida And How I Learned It

1 comment:

troutking said...

Good post. I am taking this to heart.