Sitting poolside at a beautiful resort, the sound of a cascading waterfall in the background, ice cold Pina colada in one hand served by a friendly waiter, an engaging book in the other, relaxing for endless hours without a care in the world, where time is only judged by the position of the sun in the clear, baby blue sky…
Standing on perfectly maintained green grass, surrounded by magnificent mountains and breathtaking landscapes, calmly breathing in unpolluted fresh air, ready to take the last putt on the 18th hole for a birdie, knowing what awaits is a victory ice cold beer, and the cool ride home in an electric red Porsche…
It sounds too good to be true, a life worth striving for, working hard in our earlier years to hopefully reach this point in our lives where we can retire and simply enjoy the pleasures of life.
For many, it is the American dream. It is what we see in movies, what we talk about with friends, what we hear about from our bosses when they occasionally call into the office to make sure the work is being done and clients are satisfied.
For a privileged few, this is already a reality, a vacation. And fortunately, I had the opportunity to live this retirement dream for a couple of days when I took a trip to Arizona—golf haven, retirement home central, and reliable sunny days. I experienced and witnessed this life and to be honest, it was relaxing, stress-free, and enjoyable. However, when I looked at the multitude of individuals and couples who sat by the pool, walked the golf courses, I noticed something and began to wonder, “Are these people truly happy? Did they achieve what they want in life and in their later years, are they fulfilled, joyful, worry-free?” Obviously I don’t know what these people are truly feeling or thinking, but by observation, it just didn’t seem so. That made me wonder, what does my end look like? What does “retirement” mean to me?
Begin with the end in mind
While I had a lot of time to reflect and think, I began with one of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”—begin with the end in mind. Now when thinking about life, what we know with absolute certainty for humans is that our end is death. When we draw upon this habit and really begin with the ultimate end, it certainly helps us put things into perspective and gives us a different lens to view our life and the meaning behind it. But that’s for a different time…
I began with a different end—retirement. Retirement is usually discussed in the context of work and our careers, usually achieved around the age of 65 for social security benefits to kick in and hopefully for the fortunate few that saved, their 401-k’s and other retirement funds. With the exception of the unicorn stories, the Fortune Magazine 30 under 30 group, self-made millionaires, viral apps being acquired by mega companies, the majority of us work a vast portion of our lives (assuming we start working soon after graduating college in our early 20s and retiring in our mid to late 60s). Forty years… Approximately forty years we work, whether purposefully, intentionally, toward a goal, perhaps retirement, or maybe for some, aimlessly, without even a dream of sitting pool side or owning that Porsche.
I wondered, would I be satisfied with living out my recent vacation, every single day when I’m older? Soaking up the sun, playing golf, eating food and being served by someone else so I don’t have to lift a pinky up? As relaxing and enjoyable my recent vacation was, I don’t know if I would be satisfied with the cliche American retirement dream. It’s not to say that it is an undesirable dream, most certainly not, but to wonder if I would be satisfied with my life, to work hard for 40 somewhat years to enjoy, if lucky, another 15-20 years of it, does not seem like something I look forward to nor desire. It does not seem like a good investment of the precious resource of time given to me. Not to say that nothing bad won’t happen within those years where all the hard work would then amount to nothing anyway.
A new retirement fund
So if working hard, saving, and hustling to achieve comfort, relaxation, and what seems like “freedom” is not my own personal dream, then what is? What is… Now this is a difficult question, a difficult picture to paint in our heads because we’ve been absorbing since an early age this one picture of retirement.
I don’t know if I have an exact picture, a dream, or an end goal I’m striving for, but there are a few things that I can say at this stage and point of my life:
1) I don’t want to wait until I’m in the last quarter of my life, to be able to fully enjoy life
The common perception here is that we need lots of money to be able to be free, to enjoy life, but I’ve seen enough with my own eyes that there is so much happiness aside from the expensive luxuries of life, but that priceless treasures bring us so much more joy than what a consumer mentality teaches us. I want to continue to learn how to be content with what I have, and as a friend once said, “to live simply, and give lavishly”. I don’t need to wait to really enjoy every day of my life, to be thankful and grateful for what I have thus far, and to fully enjoy that.
2) I want to surround myself with people who share a similar hope
We know how easy it is to be influenced by the people around us, and there is much wisdom whether through literature or science, that supports this fact. And having traveled much, both inside and outside the states, I can confidently say that the New York, tristate area is definitely a major proponent of the lifestyle in placing an extreme emphasis on more work, more money, status, power, and fueling the idea that we need to have more to enjoy life and that luxurious things are better—luxury goods, luxury vacations, luxury foods, luxury homes. Having been blessed with much, I can say that though some of these things are most certainly nice to have, they are not necessary to have a fulfilling life.
3) I want to be in a place where I won’t forget what the ultimate end is
I know that life is short, having had near death experiences at an early age, having witnessed too many deaths from the small circle of people I know. I know that there is more to life and as I continue to grow in my understanding of this life, I want to be in a place that I can share with others my discoveries of greater joys, greater freedom, greater love, and a deeper meaning to what we view as our precious lives.
It is certainly not a definitive picture, and perhaps that’s better? Regardless, it is a direction, a focus, that allows me to not only invest into a 401-k, but also invest into my retirement fund of meaning, of joy, of love, of peace, and knowing that when I do so, my returns are truly priceless and limitless.
…Holding the hand of my beloved wife after many years of being together, weathering through the storms and enjoying the sunshine, still making each other laugh, holding onto one another like the honeymoon phase of our relationship, heart being tender and affectionate, gut still dropping when she gazes into my eyes… Meeting with various people, people who we can share our love and our joy with, people who we can laugh with, people who need care and can care for us, people who still make us better after many experienced years… Sharing a meal together, a simple meal, but delicious because of the laughter, the love, brightness and energy, sharing stories of hope, stories of love… And at the end of the day, going to bed with the warmth, comfort, and peace, of truly being happy with all that we have, however much or however little, knowing that we lived that day to the fullest, knowing that the day was meaningful and beautiful…
That’s a wonderful retirement for me.