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Does retirement still make sense?

I recently read an intriguing statistic about retirement: “people who retire at 55 are 60% more likely to pass away within 10 years of retiring than people who retire at 65.”

Intuitively, this makes sense. Many people work hard for years, looking forward to a distant future when they will retire and finally begin to live their real lives. And yet, when they get there, they are ill-equipped for this sudden, dramatic change in their daily routine. When confronted with all the time in the world to play golf, they feel as if they have fallen off a cliff.

All the sacrifices people make throughout their working lives do not seem to guarantee happiness and prosperity – often because a person’s identity has been so closely wrapped up with what they do, rather than who they are. When they reach the “promised land” of retirement, it doesn’t take long before they start reminiscing about “the good old days.”

This is a real shame. When do we take the time to savor, to enjoy, and to be passionate about what we are doing? If anything needs to retire, it’s the legacy mindset that drives this behavior! Look around: when people love what they do, the idea of stopping solely because they have reached some arbitrary age is not only unwise, it is unhealthy.

Retirement stems from a time when work was by definition physical and hard. The body reached a point where it was no longer capable of continuing – and there was an imperative to make way for younger people. But work in knowledge economies is increasingly based on what people know, and what they can produce using their imagination, heart, and commitment.

Times have changed: age doesn’t matter for most knowledge activities. In fact, the experience, wisdom, and networks that come with age are considerable assets. As a result a person’s ability to continue doing something that excites and motivates them is virtually unlimited, even for those who have not been accustomed to this type of thinking. And, the fact that people are living longer is only making this point of view more relevant.

Think about it: if you are doing what you love, if you love what you’re doing, you never need to retire. Instead of looking forward to retirement as a time to “get off the train,” you could look to it as time to change gears and explore new exciting directions. Instead of running away from something you could run toward something.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? No matter where you are, or who you are, you have the ability to think differently. It takes courage but it’s our birthright and an innate ability. Instead of retiring from something, you could choose to create something new that excites you. A wise friend once told me that in order to stay young longer, you have to be up to something and stay engaged with people. The traditional idea of retirement seems to contradict that.

Consider what your future would look like without the word “retirement” in it at all. This would be a very different relationship to aging.