Today I want to talk about why being obsessed with retirement is unhealthy and may backfire on you in the long run. Before we get started let me be clear… I absolutely want you to save for retirement… I want you to get the company match on your 401K and max out your IRA… I want you to retire early if you want to… and I want you to continue to invest in a practical way. But I also want you to enjoy your pre-retirement life.
Are you obsessed with Retirement?
I think it’s fantastic that you are thinking about your financial future, but my question is this; have you become obsessed with it? As I read through blogs, Facebook groups, and all the places people discuss retirement I have started to notice something startling; some folks seem to be living their lives in the future. They are focused on a point in time years from now that they “imagine” will be amazing, and I think they are doing this because their present situation seems so bad. As their imagination creates a more and more wonderful escape into the future, the present looks worse and worse comparatively. A self-fulfilling prophecy ensues as they get more desperate to save money and thus start pulling entertainment, vacations, and dinners with their family completely out of the budget, making them even more miserable. I’m not talking about people a couple years out from retirement, I am talking about people a decade or two out from retirement who are spending all day at work thinking about the day they can finally leave; scrutinizing over every single penny they have now to do so. Perhaps this is better than being one of the millions of Americans who aren’t preparing at all for retirement; but regardless, if you are “obsessed” with the idea of retirement to the point that you feel miserable every day that you aren’t retired,,, maybe it’s time to regroup.
Why are you obsessed with Retirement?
I think some people aren’t enjoying the present,,, and are trying to convince themselves they’ll enjoy the future. But here’s the thing, what if they’re wrong? What if they retire in 15 years and then find out it’s not any different, that they aren’t any happier. Perhaps they don’t have anything to do all day… maybe they don’t have any more friends than they do now,,, what if they have health problems they hadn’t imagined… all of the sudden they could go from living in the future to living in the past. Suddenly they’re spending their days wishing they would have figured out how to enjoy those last 15 years, instead of spending it imagining how great now was supposed to be. I really can’t think of anything more awful than spending the first half of your life wishing you were in the last half, and the last half wishing you were in the first. I truly believe that if you can’t find a way to be happy now, you won’t find a way to be happy later. Retirement for most people means, “not having to go to work” so I think for most people an obsession with retirement is likely just a symptom of serious dissatisfaction with their current work. But don’t worry, we caught it early and luckily it is a treatable condition.
What to do about your unhappy work-life Balance.
- Find an employer that actually believes in work-life balance: America has a pretty terrible work culture, you may be expected to work many more hours than necessary just to give the appearance of being a star employee. You’ll need to find an employer who respects the fact that you need time for you.
- Find work you feel passion for: I know it’s cliché but it’s true. If you enjoy what you do you won’t wish you were retired every second of your life. As a matter of fact if you look at people who truly love what they do you will notice that they never retire. Think of people like Warren Buffet, or Willie Nelson. Very different people but they have something in common. Both of these guys could have retired decades ago if they wanted to.
- Shorten your commute: Are you spending over 30 minutes a day sitting in your car? Do you think you would you feel happier if it was significantly less? If so you may be interested in this previous article, How to Calculate your Commute Costs.
- Set Expectations: Make sure that your employer knows that you consider your personal time very important. Remember this is your life, not theirs.
- Use your vacation days: Sometimes it can feel like using your vacation days is a bad thing, that your company will judge you for being gone for longer than a couple days. Well if that is the case you are at the wrong company. You deserve all the vacation you have earned.
- Unplug: Stop getting on your laptop every night. It can wait until the morning.
- Do something you are passionate about outside of work: Have you put a hobby or interest on the back-burner because it seemed like too much with work. Again, if you have work that is so destructive that it doesn’t allow time for you to pursue other passions, you need new work.
- Sleep, Exercise, and Diet: I used to own a gym and was a personal trainer for years, I can tell you with confidence that those 3 things can have an enormous effect on your mood and general sense of well being.
These are just a few things you can do to start focusing on having a better life today. I don’t want you to wait until retirement to enjoy life. Life is very short and there is simply no reason to spend any of it living in the past, or the future.