In this solo episode, I outline the case for why you should never retire. Because retirement, as we know it today, has some questionable origins, potential disastrous consequences, and should be seriously questioned as an institution.
Special thanks to Joshua Sheats and John Mayer for inspiring the idea for this episode.
Featured in this episode:
My grandfather was a third generation Iowa farmer who never retired. While well into his late 80s Grandpa would be in the fields every day to “inspect” the crops. It was his livelihood. He inspired me to never retire as well.
There are great stories told in our family about these later years. Grandpa would sometimes be found napping in his pickup truck when he needed a break from the work of the day. He was not a wealthy man, but lately I’ve been thinking that he had something figured out about “punting” on retirement. After all, we were not made to slog through a job that we hate for decades. We should not be biding our time until the social security checks come in, all so that we can take a 30-year vacation. In fact, this concept of “retirement” is actually a very new idea.
We should reject it.
A friend of David Deavel’s describes the problem this way:
I think the biggest cause of our negative societal state (church and every other societal relationship) is because our elderly excise themselves when they retire. The wisest, wealthiest, most experienced, and influential people (along with their money) abandon their families, churches, businesses, and communities when they retire. After being gone for six months they come home and wonder what the hell happened to everything. The reasons they leave are not entirely their doing. But they leave just the same. This has been going on for 60-70 years. All of the wealth of every community has gone South, literally and figuratively.
Retirement, as we know it, is broken. But first things first, let’s define our terms. By retirement, I am referring to:
Even if your parents and grandparents retired in this way, your great-grandparents did not (sorry, boomers).
To be clear, I am not decrying good and virtuous things that men should be doing, such as:
The upside to following the “never retire” philosophy is that your wealth does not need to be consumed. You can invest in other number of things that you deem worthy, such as your family legacy, small businesses in your community, or philanthropic works. The list of causes you could support are as large as your imagination. As a family friend of mine likes to put it:
Use your wealth to serve others.
My mind started to change about retirement when I learned about it’s questionable origins. In 1889, German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck invented the idea of retirement and set the precedent for us today. He wanted to address high unemployment in his country by incentivizing those 70 and older to leave the workforce:
Those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state– Chancellor Otto Von Bismark
At the time, the average lifespan was only 70 years. Today, our average lifespans are much longer. Yet, we still are doing retirement in a way that is not all that different from 100 years ago.
Is the average 70 year old today an “invalid,” as Von Bismark described? I don’t think so. Then why is it that most today choose to retire at the age they receive Social Security payments? What is so special about that particular age? When placed on every individual, it is completely arbitrary.
Now you see the problems with this mentality. Retirement is a relic of the progressive era. Yet, it is hard to see that society’s obsession with retirement will change any time soon. As Franklin Roosevelt said about his new Social Security program, (which was influenced by it’s German predecessors):
no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.– Franklin Roosevelt
Even skeptics must admit there is something wrong about the “dream” of sitting on a beach in “tranquility” for the last few decades of life. Yet, this is the standard that is held up for retirees today. Taken to its logical conclusion, that version of retirement is like a Black Mirror-episode type of creepy.
Instead, we should ask ourselves, “do I want to ‘be retired’ from service? I think not.
We are meant to serve others. We are meant to strive! When we choose comfort over these things, we are failing to become the men we are called to be.
The truth is that at some point we will break down. Our bodies have an expiration date, even if it is probably at a later age than we are told. This is why it is still crucial that we achieve financial independence. At some point, our ability to work becomes limited.
But should we “hang in there” with a job that makes us miserable? All so that we can save up for a retirement we don’t know how to spend anyway? The key is in redefining what retirement should be. I prefer to think of the “never retire” transition as more of a pivot than a departure.
1. Define what is the most important thing you can do, of which you are the most irreplaceable. As Naval Ravikant puts it:
No one can compete with you on being you. Most of life is a search for who and what needs to you the most.– Naval Ravikant
2. We need to define our purpose. Doing this will naturally help dictate what we will do with our time as we grow old. I had lunch once with a friend who is in his 70s. Although he “retired” from a career years ago, he still goes into the office 6 days a week to work on projects and advisory boards that he cares about. His advice on growing older:
You don’t quit working. You slow down and change your focus.
(and there are many, many more ways to serve others without retiring)
Your retirement should not be years (or even decades) spent on the beach, on the golf course, or watching hours of Fox News or Twitter. Instead, your retirement should be a pivot to your next great thing. Our best years are ahead of us.
Kind of like Walt Grace-
The Reformed Financial Advisor is the project of Andy Flattery, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in Kansas City, MO. The podcast gives you the behind the scenes of what Andy has seen in 10 years of financial services, the good, the bad, and the complex. It also tells the stories of how financial history has shaped Kansas City. Andy and other experts in the Kansas City financial community will be delivering expert insights and even some unconventional advice on how to plan your finances and invest wisely.
Andy Flattery is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Owner of Simple Wealth Planning. He serves young and affluent families that are working to lower their time preference and achieve financial sovereignty. Flattery is the host of The Reformed Financial Advisor Podcast, where he relates stories in Kansas City history to pivotal themes in personal finance. When he’s not helping individuals build wealth, you can catch him playing rec sports, reading Austrian economists, and spending time with his wife and three children.