The “F.I.R.E.” (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement has gained serious momentum over the last few years as the younger generation targets early retirement. F.I.R.E.’s tenets are very pragmatic: Plan for the future, save and invest a meaningful portion of your current income, carefully track your spending, and keep alive the dream of escaping the “corporate ladder.”
Despite some worthwhile practices, the movement tends to result in emptiness. Why? Because it is almost purely financial-focused. It basically says you need to obtain X level of wealth, stick to Y level of expenses, and grow the wealth by Z in order to live off that growth (and do so as soon as possible).
But life can’t be simplified to that extreme. Unemotional robots might be able to pull it off, but we human beings are wired differently.
Yes, the financial side of retirement is obviously important. But preparation for such a massive lifestyle change as retirement requires serious reflection, intentional thinking, and attention to critical non-financial disciplines in order to thrive in what can be the most impactful, purposeful season of one’s life.
Extreme frugality sacrifices too much.
If you force yourself into austere living, you’ll most likely miss out on a lot that life has to offer in the short term. Sometimes when you put off important things for “later,” that “later” never comes. Balance is important.
I know a couple who planned this gargantuan 40th-anniversary trip around the world for which they were working hard and saving throughout their careers. But about a year before their departure, he passed away, leaving his wife with extra, meaningless money — and no memories of the adventure they had dreamed about.
A scarcity mindset is a heavy burden.
Wall Street’s performance is not linear — but your withdrawals will be. And that mismatch creates problems during challenging market environments. The one thing you cannot control is when and how the investment markets will grow (or not).
You don’t want your main narrative for the rest of your life to be “How are my investments doing?” … “Do I have enough?” … “I can’t do such-and-such because I have only this one precious nest egg, and it has to last.” So much of life’s fulfillment comes from generosity (in its many forms). It’s hard to keep being generous and NOT focused on money when you’re steered by a scarcity mindset.
How can you take a vacation if your entire life is a vacation?
Travel, leisure and no-strings-attached vagabonding can be super-enjoyable in realistic doses. But if they become the norm, they lose their potency. Vacations are only vacations when they contrast with the opposite.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go looking for another job, but you do need something that includes the job-like characteristics of challenge, responsibility, pushing you outside your comfort zone, learning new skills, constant interaction with others, and building relationships. All of these propel you down the path of a fulfilling existence. The fun stuff is great, but it can’t be your central narrative during retirement.
Society’s notions about retirement aren’t true.
A self-centric, withdrawn life is not a good one. Many stakeholders on all fronts — society, your local community, your family and friends, and you yourself — desperately need YOU to re-engage. In light of this, use your experience, perspective, time and resources to pursue purpose in your life, so that further down the road, you’ll look back on your history and be at peace with the “work” you’ve done. You’ll be transformed while also positively impacting those around you.
My colleague Joel Malick and I wrote a book titled afterwork to debunk the common misconceptions about retirement. It guides people on how not to wake up in the future disappointed.
After all, the plan shouldn’t be just to retire from something. Instead, the focus should be retiring to something. Purpose and leading a fulfilling life is the objective. The freedom one feels from not having to “work” is short-lived, but disciplines that cultivate purpose in life lead to true, lasting freedom. nCSBJ
Alex Lippert is a partner at Steadfast Wealth Co. in Colorado Springs; for information about afterwork, go to theafterwork.net.