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Retirement as Career

Many of my friends look at retirement as one period of time following another period of time. During the initial period, they build up as much as they can in the way of wealth while they're still working. That takes a lot of effort. During the following period, retirement itself, they expect to be on "cruise control". That takes a great deal less effort. In short, work hard, than glide into the autumnal years. Sounds nice, very nice. It also sounds unlikely.

I'm going to put this very briefly. Lifespan increases the older you get. If a new-born can be expect to live 78 years, a 65-year-old can expect to live to 83. This has to be the case. Otherwise, an 80-year-old would have a minus-2 life expectancy! On average, the longer you live, the longer your lifespan. That average lifespan, whatever it is today, is going to move up long before the overwhelming majority of my readers have passed away.

Now that the human genome has been itemized and genetic engineering is a growth business, medical science is at the beginning of a major shift. At the same time, the "baby boom" is reaching the 60 mark and its demands for better health care will grow exponentially as the "boom" generation has the money to pay for at least a goodly portion of what science comes up with. For the same reasons as are graphically demonstrated at my Surfing the Wave section, this over-sized age group will increasingly be "where the money is" in medicine. The medical industry will respond, just as education, music, real estate and other sectors have responded to this generation in the past as it grew up. What does this mean to you?

The odds are very high that you will live a decade or more longer than you think possible at this point. Go with the odds. Prepare for it.

There has been plenty written in the news media indicating that many, if not most, people have not accumulated enough wealth to support themselves comfortably in retirement under current lifespan expectations. An extension of lifespan will only make the situation worse. As I discuss elsewhere at this site, one way of dealing with that is to emphasize a dramatic reduction in expenses and not simply depend on accumulating wealth. Whatever approach you take, here's my principle recommendation.

Treat retirement as a career. Put aside thoughts of just "gliding" and recognize that this new career requires planning, work, and effort. And, just like preparing for other careers, it will require flexibility if circumstances change in the future. You've done that in the past. You need to do it again.

Furthermore, think in terms of being a self-employed entrepreneur. That's the "retirement career" in a nutshell. You are your own employer so you are in charge. And just like any businessperson, you depend on income from outside sources and you have to control your own expenses. As any traditional self-employed entrepreneur can tell you, that ain't easy. It provides potentially very attractive benefits, but they don't fall into your lap. You work for them.

Some of the people reading this essay will have more than enough money to get through retirement. Some won't. But my experience in talking with and observing retirees for many years is that all of them will worry about it, some obsessively. They have to because they're frightened at the thought of out-living their money and they have no idea whether they will or not until they're dead. This does not make for a good time.

If you try to glide through retirement, prepare for a bumpy ride. You'll have plenty of time and reason to worry, and you will. If you treat retirement as a career, you'll have far less time to worry. You'll still encounter bumps, but you'll be far better prepared to get over them intact.

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