Enjoyable work makes retirement less enviable

The vice president of an industrial parts supplier explained the retirement package his company would offer me. I wondered why we were talking about it. At 18, all I could think about was a weekly paycheck and $1.85 an hour.

Years later, I notice that even forward-thinking young people hardly ponder retirement more than I did.

LinkedIn profiles tell of a new day, when professionals are packing their résumés with work histories broken into three years, 18 months, 12 months and even three months.

Three years is long. Companies hire help from temporary agencies, so they don’t have to commit to a workforce they might not need for long. Forecasting business several years out is difficult to do when technology changes at blinding speed and strong competitors can enter the market almost instantly from unexpected corners.

Consumer preferences and demands change, too, taking their toll on the job security of the individuals who help provide services and products.

Most people I know who are in their 40s or 50s plan to work much longer than they assumed in earlier years. And plenty of workers in their 60s and 70s still need employment to survive.

Maybe that’s OK. Maybe expectations are the problem. Expecting to retire at 65 was a modern invention that shaped many a person’s self-image, motivation to work, and — of all things — a sense of justice.

My father worked until 55 and has been drawing substantial compensation from the federal government for 45 years. That’s 30 years of service followed by a stretch of benefits not many workers expect nowadays.

The good news is they won’t be disappointed.

I don’t plan to retire until 85 — at the soonest. I’ve studied and practiced for a long time to assemble the skill-set I enjoy. Quitting before I’ve put it to use for at least another 25 years would be a crying shame.

Much of my time is spent helping other people figure out the two big questions I wrote about in four recent columns: Who am I at this point in life, and what do I want to do.

This work is terribly important to clients and puts money in my pocket. I only had to be patient while assembling the skill-set that positioned me for creating several different streams of revenue.

If I were looking to retire, I would not have planned my life this way. There is no end to the businesspeople who need this service of getting answers and translating them into information products, and I’m having too much fun to quit.

One overlooked reason why so many workers are disappointed by delayed retirement is that they wait too long to start it. Retirement can be done in degrees; you don’t have to completely stop working.

After all, most retirees continue clocking in somewhere because they don’t want to burn through their money, or they need more of it, or they just want to stay busy.

My wife and I lived the semiretired life in our 20s. She was an RN, and I had a few degrees under my belt. We worked very part time, carried a small load of responsibilities, whiled away the days as we chose and got retirement out of our systems.

I also used that time to plan for the future, for the fun I’m having now with niche-y, challenging, enjoyable work. That is an enviable combination.

People who don’t enjoy their work more than they want to escape it will naturally want to retire while they’re still healthy and have many years left to play.

An alternative approach is to plan your life so as to position yourself for making money in a pleasant way. The fulfillment is worth the considerable positioning effort if you plan to live a long life.

If you want to be involved in your work more than you want to be delivered from it, retirement is neither distracting nor interesting. This is a great mystery to people who can’t imagine clocking in one more day than they must.

However, the concept is simple: People who prepare themselves to qualify for, and obtain, pleasant work will not spend their time longing for the last day of it.

Max T. Russell writes for the international business intelligence community. You can contact him via his website, maxtrussell.com.