Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Retirement as Perpetual Boredom

[Post prepared on 3/7/2010 for publication on 3/10/2010]

Tod of the freshly created blog Optimal Living has written an interesting piece on how popular financial conceptions about retirement are harmful. I'm very fond of this blog already and so hope to see more pieces from this author.

On my walk this morning this piece has made me detail my own thoughts about retirement. Given a proper value-oriented way of living, why would anyone want to retire at all? Today's culture is suffering from the view of work that stems from the story of Adam and Eve's eviction from Eden, where the ideal life is portrayed as perpetual idleness and the taking of orders while work is viewed as a punishment.

In just about all the instances of retirement I have observed I have noticed one thing in common: the person mistakes a short-term desire as an ideal long-term position and so inflicts discomfort on himself by acting on that desire. Namely, they observe within themselves a desire to rest, but instead of identifying it as a desire to take a week or two of vacation they believe it to be a desire to cease working for the rest of their life and so retire. Of course, later on they pay the price in boredom. For instance, an associate of my family once owned his own auto repair shop and decided to sell his business when he wished to retire, but just a short while after he did so -- I think it may have been as little as two weeks -- he went and got employed by the people he sold his business to. He rested up, discovered the long-term boredom of idleness, and desired to go back to work.

I notice this trend in almost all my observed cases of retirement: people retire, rest up, become bored, and then spend their retirement "looking for something to do." Never have I witnessed a case where retirement and idleness has led to a person's self-fulfillment. People like these don't know how to choose and pursue rational values, so when they act on their short-term perspective (the desire to rest) they take out of their life what makes it worth living. If, however, it is the case that they hate their job then they don't want to retire or rest, but rather quit their job. (If they managed to make it to retirement age in a job they hate, then life has been wasted.)

Picking a self-fulfilling career will prevent these maladies. One may want to rest with a vacation every now and then, but a good career, or even multiple good careers, should last a lifetime without plans for an end. It's when people have a false conception of how productivity should feel and go into careers they hate that they dream of a life of slothfulness.

Dedicate your life to a value-oriented career. "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."— Confucius


  1. What is missing from the lives of individuals who spent 20-40 years working a series of jobs they didn't love is a certain abstraction, a central purpose in life:

    That abstraction is broad. It subsumes one or more careers, as each career can subsume one or more jobs, and each job subsumes one or more tasks.

    One can retire from the money-making aspect of a CPL, but still continue working toward that CPL in some capacity. For example, a ballerina at some point must retire from dancing, but she might move on toward teaching or organizing a school or advocating dance or lecturing about it. All those would be subsumed under a properly stated central purpose in life.

  2. I think a major reason why our society is so focused on the idea that people automatically 'retire' in their early/mid-60s is that social security and the tax laws related to retirement savings encourage it. Perhaps 'coerce' is more apt than 'encourage'.

    I'm no expert on the particulars, but I believe that you can't withdraw funds from an IRA before a certain age without penalty. Similarly, I think if you work full-time after 63 or 65, your social security income is reduced. Thus there is an artificial, government-induced milestone that compels people to do a major reorganization of their life to take them from age 65 onward.

    Until just now, I had never really considered this particular aspect of it. Think about how much more hugely productive people would be in their later years if they could freely decide for themselves how and when to access their accumulated savings.


Comment Etiquette

1.) Do not use vulgar swear words that denote sexual activities or bodily excretions.

2.) Employ common sense manners when addressing the author or other commenters.

Additionally, you're welcome to present contrary and challenging positions within these guidelines, but please do not assume that my lack of response, even if I commented before, is evidence of my endorsement of your position.