Is our idea of retirement outdated? Is it absurd to have an arbitrary age, a mark on the wall, for retirement? Mitch Anthony makes the case that the retirement of our parents isn’t, and shouldn’t, be our ideal of retirement in the latest edition of his book, “The New Retirementality: Planning Your Life and Living Your Dreams…at Any Age You Want”.
Age is just a number. Do you love what you do for a living? Why end your career simply because you hit 62 or 67 years-old? Why not keep working if you love it? Why not test out mini-retirements along the way? Are we doing it all wrong? Is our thinking about retirement all wrong?
I recently talked to Mitch Anthony about his book and what the new retirement mentality should look like. My questions are in bold, and Mitch’s responses immediately follow each question during the interview.
Tell me a little bit about your book, “The New Retirementality“. What’s it about? Who is it for?
MITCH ANTHONY: Well, the book is in its fourth edition. And, when I first wrote this book in 2001, everybody looked at me cross-eyed. And today, I think the world’s pretty much come toward me.
I’ve never believed in traditional retirement that was appropriate for the times we live in. And, so it was invented for a different time and a different reason than what is relevant today.
We don’t trade physical labor for a paycheck anymore. We trade intellectual capital and experiential capital for a paycheck. And the expiration date on that intellectual capital is in 62 or 65 years of age. So I think we’ve basically been sold on this idea of retirement in America.
So, retirement that our parents enjoy isn’t what I’m going to see? Or is it what I should be looking for or even planning towards?
The traditional retirement, or the retirement of our parents, was going from a life of total work to a life of total leisure. Neither one of those lives works that well. And, I’m guessing if your parents are happy in retirement, they’re not just playing all the time.
The only thing that keeps you happy in life is having a good balance in your life. I don’t care what stage in life you’re in. Turning a certain age is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter.
So if I wanted to keep working after 62 or 65 it’s not a big deal? A number is just a number?
People feel like it’s some sort of badge of shame to have to work past 65, and I tell them “No, it’s a blessing in disguise.” Let me tell you something that’s even worse. It’s being 65 and wandering around your basement or garage trying to find something to do with your life. The even worse fate is waking up every day with no purpose and no aim. And let me tell you, it happens to thousands of people every week.
I’m in my 30s. What’s my age group’s ideal retirement now if it is not playing golf everyday?
I’m starting from the point of view that the whole idea of retirement just doesn’t work the way it’s been sold to us. It’s been sold to us as this leisure life where you’re going to play all day and everything is going to be great. That life doesn’t work.
When all you have to do is wake up and play all day, it doesn’t make you happy. You have to have something that gives you a sense of purpose. So, in your life, it is find the fine balance between vacation and vocation, between connecting with others and taking care of yourself. And when you find that fine balance and find work that you love, it’s like the old saying, “If you do work you love, you never work a day in your life.”
You’re not looking toward quitting. The people who can’t wait for the day they retire are miserable. A lot of those people are people who chose a career they hate, or they’re in a work that’s wearing them out.
So why would we choose that path? It’s like I sat down the other day with a friend of mine who’s a lawyer, and he’s just into his 40s and he hates being a lawyer. And I look him in the eye and say, “Hey Bud, this isn’t a dress rehearsal. This is actually your real life you’re living right now.”
Right. Is that the best thing that we can do, is find something we love early?
We’re all going to go through periods in life where we’ve got to take some jobs just to get by and get a check. That’s sort of the exploratory stage of work. But eventually you want to find something that feels more like a calling than a job, something that you wake up to and it gives you joy to do it, it intrigues you, it energizes you.
So, I define work this way. Work is an engagement that brings value to others and meaning to me.
Is retirement still part of the American Dream?
I think it’s overblown. It’s over sold, and it’s overblown. Why do 60% of the people that retire should go to work part-time within 6 months? It’s not just because of economic influences.
Studies show that the top reasons they go back to work are:
- Social stimulation
- Intellectual stimulation
- Engagement with things that challenge them
In other words, it becomes a health issue. So there are all kinds of studies out there that show the reasons people are going back to work are more for wellbeing than they are for more money.
The most compelling reasons to save money for me, is to maintain my autonomy. So it’s a freedom fund. It’s emancipation money. Save your money so you can get to the place where you do what you want with your own time.
You talk about return on life (ROL), in your book The New Retirementality, instead of return on investment. What is return on life?
Return on life is getting the best life I can with the money I have. So the point isn’t just to slave my life away, doing something I hate so I can build a pile of money and hope that when that day comes I’m going to be happy. The idea is, let’s just get the best life now, with the money I have and continue to save for the future.
Many people I’ve seen who work jobs they hate and save piles of money have got some magic thing that’s going to happen when they turn 62 and retire. They bought an RV, and then somebody got sick and the RV never left the driveway.
The first fact of that reality is “age is irrelevant.” You’ve got to do what makes you happy. And guess what, for a lot of us, we love our work.
And it’s hard when you’re 35 years old to say, “Gee, I don’t want to work when I’m 65.” It’s hard to say I want to work when you get to be about 60. Twenty-five years from now, your view is probably going to change about that.
What’s the number one mistake we’re making now? Is it that we are holding on to the past, and like holding on to these ideas about what retirement is supposed to look like in our life?
I think one of the biggest mistake is we let institutions tell us how to live our lives. Just because the government, or your company, or our culture as a whole says, “You should do this when you reach this age,” excuse me, this is my life, you know?
Just because there’s a cultural expectation, when I turn 65 I’m supposed to do something, that’s what I call the new IRA – the individual retirement attitude.
Do what you want with your own life. Don’t let institutions, corporations and governments tell you what to do and when to do it.
And I’ve always maintained that retirement was an artificial finish line. The age of 65 is an artificial finish line. It’s a finish line imposed upon our lives by institutions. I’m not going to have an institution telling me how to live my life.
Are we retiring for the wrong reasons? Because we have to, because we’re just tired of working and we hate our jobs, or we’re trying to make it to that finish line?
One of the big mistakes people make is they retire from something, not to something. So they’re retiring from work they hate, or they’re retiring from an imbalanced work schedule where they’re stressed out and they’re worn out.
But, they’re not retiring to anything. And so the question I put to them is, “All right, how are you going to spend 168 hours a week now in retirement?” They don’t have a clue.
We’ve been sold this bill of goods that a life of nothing but leisure is going to make us happy, and it was called “The Golden Years.” And guess who made this whole story up – Del Webb. And guess why he made it up? Because he had houses to sell in retirement villages.
Then the insurance industry got on the idea in the early ‘50s because they’re trying to find ways to get people to save more money, invest more money. So they jumped on this whole “Golden Age”, the leisure retirement, never work again. And, it’s been sold that way for the last 40 to 50 years.
This whole idea is a recent phenomenon. Institutionalized retirement didn’t even exist in the world until 1889. Otto Von Bismarck, the chancellor of Germany, made the idea up because he wanted to get old people out of government.
The idea of retirement was invented for a specific purpose and a specific time. And the idea has run his course. But we’re hanging on to retirement like it’s some sort of age-old entitlement. It’s not.
How can I get into the mentality of the new retirement?
Find balance between four things, and you’ll have a life you can live ‘til you’re 100. There are four things: Vacation, Vocation, Leisure and Work. Find balance between those four.
Also find balance between connecting with others like hanging with family, friends, being involved in groups, church, and personal renewal. Your physical health, your mental health, your intellectual curiosity, your spiritual quest is all part of personal renewal. If you find balance in those four areas of life [Leisure, Work, Connecting, and Personal Renewal], you’ll never have to quit anything because you’ll always have it together.