Done by 60: The Dreaded Word, “Retirement”


I’m giving myself a challenge: For one year, I pledge not to use the word “retirement” in the context of my own life or ask anyone else when they want to retire. Here’s why.

My epiphany came when I was driving and saw a Prudential billboard ad with “The race for retirement is one we can all win.” Instead of helping people race to end a career, shouldn’t we be asking people what they want their 60s and 70s to look like?

There isn’t anything wrong with a life of travel, exercise, volunteer work and relaxation. Several clients and friends (fireman, Silicon Valley guy, teacher, etc.) who retired early keep telling me that they are genuinely happy with their choice to stop working before age 60. But for many of us, there’s an innate need to keep going.

Why Are People Working When They Don’t Need To?

We’re in a “knowledge economy” that values human capital (i.e. knowledge and education) more than ever. There’s also a “do what you love, love what you do” theme that is pervasive in today’s work culture. We’re asked to discover our strengths and areas of passion so that we can be more productive. By the time we turn 60, we’re hopefully clear about what we enjoy doing and what we’re good at, so why stop so soon?

Benefits of Post-Career Work

As I wrote in Stop Saving for Retirement, there are many jobs that sync up well with the older and wiser. At Abacus, we describe engaging in a work activity that you love but aren’t financially required to perform as “making work optional”. This kind of work has a handful of potential non-financial benefits.

First, working keeps the brain and body stimulated, so physical and mental abilities stay stronger for longer. In other words, working might help to extend your healthspan. Next, factor in the social connections you’ve built through work – you can keep these going. And my favorite: one’s sense of purpose, identity and self-worth. Who doesn’t want to feel valued?

Should you charge for your time and energy if you don’t need to? Perhaps. A therapist friend of mine once shared that he could have stopped charging his patients years ago but charging for his service confirms that what he’s doing is still valuable. A fellow financial advisor showed the other side of this coin with his pro-bono work. He said that when people received his advice for free they were less likely to do what he suggested.

My Silicon Valley early retiree friend is taking great joy in proving me wrong on all of this. He retired before 60 and seems to be having a blast traveling, socializing with friends, playing around the house and hosting the occasional fundraiser. I’ll give him a few years to see if he cracks. In the meantime, I’ll ask my clients what they want next, not what they want to stop. Heck, I’ll even put myself through this fun exercise. Scout’s honor.

Happy planning,