A New Perspective on Retirement Goals
by Ryan Ovenden, Wealth Advisor
“One of the greatest gifts life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.” Teddy Roosevelt
I believe Teddy Roosevelt was on to something. Too many of us bow to the perspectives and paradigms of the people and media outlets we surround ourselves with. Too many of us have allowed ourselves to be defined by our work. We’ve bought into the lie that the end goal of work is wealth accumulation; that the end goal of wealth accumulation is a care-free, leisurely lifestyle. Many of us spend our lives running toward those ends assuming we’ll find freedom, joy and peace in a “retired” life where every day is Saturday and we have more than enough to live comfortably. But what if we are wrong and Teddy got it right?
New research suggests that we may want to re-evaluate our perspective on work. A study done by the Boston College Center for Retirement Studies* concluded that people who work longer ultimately live longer. What does this mean for us? Although these may not be the applicable conclusions the researchers are suggesting, I want to share some of my observations after spending nearly two decades working with retired people, both at a retirement village and now as a financial practitioner.
Work is a gift.
Work is not a necessary evil but I’ve found most people view it that way. The thought process goes something like this: Work equals money. I need money to buy food and pay the bills, so I HAVE to go to work. I can’t wait until I no longer HAVE to go to work. I’ll be happier not working.
Is this perspective about work true? The study suggests not. What I’ve observed is that the freest, most joy-filled and peaceful people I knew at the retirement village were those who were still working. They may or may not be getting a paycheck for their work but they found work that was meaningful to them. They kept busy doing “the work.” Some babysat their grandkids or great-grandkids. Others volunteered to serve on non-profit boards. Others worked part-time at a grocery store. But one common thread connected those I saw living “well” in retirement; they viewed work itself as a gift.
I believe the root of work being such a deep and valuable part of who we are goes all the way back to the beginning. Genesis 2:15 states, “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” According to the Bible, work isn’t just a necessary evil. Work is part of what we were created to do. Work is part of who we are and why we are here. Work is a gift. We GET to go to work.
Work gives us purpose.
Work is a source of purpose in our lives but not our only purpose. We cannot let our work define us. Jim Brown was once referred to as the “greatest running back of all time.” Brown corrected the reporter and responded, “A running back is what I do. It is not who I am.” Jim Brown worked hard to be the best running back he could be, but he never let others define him. We’ve fallen into the trap of allowing “what we do” to define “who we are.” Unlike many professional athletes, Jim Brown didn’t have a mid-life crisis when he retired from football. Brown pivoted his focus to other work he found valuable, like acting, and worked hard at that. I’ve found that people who find work that is worth doing, assess the value of that work regularly, and are willing to pivot to other valuable work are those who stay healthy longer and live happier. Work isn’t our only purpose but it is part of our purpose. Solving problems, accomplishing goals and helping others are all good reasons to get out of bed every morning; no matter our age.
Work that matters is what matters.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we could walk in them.” We are created uniquely and wonderfully in the image of a unique and wonderful God. Even our fingerprints physically speak to God’s unique design for each of us. God has designed each of us with a special set of talents and physical attributes in order to accomplish the work we were created for. The work that we do is meaningful because the creator of the Universe chose us and equipped us to do it. The World tells us in many ways that we are valuable for completing good works up to a certain age but the Bible and history paint a different picture: Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, the Apostle John’s revelation, Abraham and Sarah’s pregnancy, Jesus’ crucifixion. All of these “works” happened at the end of the worker’s life and were arguably their most valuable contributions. What if your most valuable contribution to this world comes from the work you do in your final years, days or even hours on this earth?
I have not discussed wealth accumulation to this point because at the end of people’s lives, I’ve found money is their least-valuable asset. People know they can’t take their money with them. Wealth accumulation is a by-product of working hard for a lifetime; not a goal. Reader beware. Many have sold out on meaningful work and have chosen to lean their career ladders on the house of wealth accumulation and worldly status. Working hard to climb this ladder often leads to both but what you leave at the bottom of the ladder can be your meaningful relationships, and physical and spiritual health. I’ve found that a healthier approach is to view work as a marathon that ends at death instead of viewing it as a sprint to complete as fast as possible. When viewed through this lens I’ve seen many clients have better work/life balance, invest more time in the things that matter along the way, and create habits and lifestyles that are sustainable well into the typical retirement years.
What if retirement at age 65 in order to sit on the beach or golf only lead to boredom, a life void of purpose, and an early exit? What if working toward purpose until we die became our goal instead of working toward retirement? It appears science is coming to conclusions about work that are at odds with the mainstream approach to work and retirement. I believe choosing to view work as a gift, realizing that our work will never completely end until we die, and continually looking for meaningful work will lead to the freedom, joy and peace that we are all searching for; something “retirement” alone could never provide.
We’re here to help you build a life you can confidently enjoy no matter how close you are to the typical retirement years.
*Zulkarnain, Alice. “Do Men Who Work Longer Live Longer? Evidence from the Netherlands” Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 03 Mar. 2023 https://crr.bc.edu/briefs/do-men-who-work-longer-live-longer-evidence-from-the-netherlands/#:~:text=The%20experiment%20confirms%20that%20working,expectancy%20during%20their%20late%2060s.