Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What if you knew you would never reach retirement age?

A question has been weighing on my mind as of late. What if I never reach retirement age? The men in my family, as far as I know, do not reach retirement age in any useful shape. Given that longevity tends to be somewhat hereditary, it makes sense that I should think about my mortality. This isn't some morbid exercise finding reasons to give up on living. Rather, it is a practical perspective on what I ought to achieve in the potentially short time I may have.

This is somewhat related to the ideas by Tim Ferriss's question, "what would you do differently if you knew you could never retire?"

There is the question of planning ahead. Obviously, retirement planning would be done with a grain of salt, a tongue-in-cheek exercise. I'd have to stash money away for retirement on the off chance that I do survive to retirement age. On the other hand, wouldn't it be more beneficial to stash money away for use today? Have money put into investments that produce income for the here and now?

Having income-producing assets would go a long way towards helping me achieve a life of freedom where I don't have to work if I don't want. But, getting there is the dilemma. You must put your nose to the grindstone for a few years, forsaking anything you would consider a life.

There are personal ramifications to a short life-expectancy as well. Knowing that you may potentially have health issues lurking around the corner, wouldn't you want to make the best of your health now? Run that marathon, go skydiving, learn to dance, play soccer with your son or daughter, or any number of activities that will not be doable soon enough. If the whole point of life is to enjoy it, then during ones remaining time, it should be a priority to enjoy it while you can to avoid the regret of having missed it.

Knowing that your existence may be short-lived, when seen from that perspective, has a tendency to set your priorities. You cannot just leave things to chance as many people do who save up money to enjoy in their retirement. Maybe they'll enjoy it; maybe they'll spend those last years in poor health. The point is, one must plan for the future; but, not forget about making things work for today. You cannot pin all your hopes on someday. Retirement as a contingency plan rather than the goal.

So, once you know your priorities, it becomes very easy to make decisions. Either something will move you towards your milestones, or they won't. You can cut out extraneous activities that do not contribute to your overall aim to seize the day and make the most of it. Knowing that your time may be limited allows you to cut out the drama that seems to envelop the lives of some of the actors in your life's play.

There are some who would have you abdicate all responsibility and indulge in wanton pleasure every day that you can. What I am thinking is quite the opposite. One should be very deliberate about making each day count while one still can. For this, you must have a set of fixed priorities that transcend your occupation and the vagaries of life. To live as though it were something to be done rather than to be experienced.

The approach does not detract from enjoying your time on Earth. Rather, it is a recipe to enjoy it to the fullest in a calculated and deliberate manner. Knowing that you may not reach retirement age frees you to squeeze as much enjoyment out of your working days as you can.

I recognize that there is irony in finding freedom in living a structured life. But, not having an open-ended exit forces you to accomplish all those things that will lead you to that day when you can look back and say that you did everything you set out to do and can die with no regrets. And, that's what we really want, right? To have done everything we ever wanted to do.

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