Why Don’t We Plan for Retirement?

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“Now what are you going to do?”

“I have no idea. Nothing for a while and then I’ll figure it out."

This is the typical dialogue that takes place between a person about to retire and someone attending the retirement luncheon. They have no idea? Seriously? 

Yes, seriously. Preparation for this new stage of life starts in your teens and extends for 50 or maybe 60 years. With all that time and experience in the rear-view mirror, you'd expect a different answer.

At the other end of the age spectrum, usually upon graduation from high school, a similar question is asked: “Now what are going to do?" Inherent in that question is another one, “What are you going to be?” When the reply sounds like, I don’t know," we are quick to either verbalize or make a silent observation, “Well, you better figure it out!”

Why do we think a young person needs to figure out their life’s path and those over the age of 65 don’t?

The younger person may get a pass for a couple of years as they go to college but then those questions rise up again. If the same answer is given, there is a greater concern. The concern is based on the societal need to support yourself or your family financially and to make a meaningful contribution to society. What would you think if the answer, or the reality of checking back in with that person a few years later, truly was nothing? “Nothing, you are doing nothing?” Again, you silently evaluate the response and conclude that there is something wrong.

It is interesting to observe that the 65+ year old when asked about what they are doing, responds with “nothing” and we accept the answer as being appropriate and perhaps even reasonable. The acceptance of nothing being a reasonable alternative is because our perception of retirement is quite different than our perception of the transition from child to youth and then onto adulthood. The need to create additional societal and Kingdom value is a given for the young. It is not even recognized as an option for the old, those in the 4th Quarter. Strange, isn’t it?

Earlier today I heard a story of a 65-year-old woman whose husband died shortly before both of them retired. After a reasonable time of grieving for her loss, she prayed for new direction in her life. Her new course was launched by going on a short-term missions trip to Laos. There she encountered a couple struggling to make a difference in a difficult country. The couple noticed that pre-school age children did not have the opportunities that 2 to 5-year-olds had in the US. So, they wanted to start a pre-school.

the 65-year-old arrived on the scene and pitched in helping them to get started. She was flexible and open to new things. Jumping ahead 10 years, we find this same woman who looked for a new direction in life, actively involved in the lives of the six young teachers impacting the lives of 150 pre-school children. She bought the house where the young teachers stay and she encourages them by living life with them. Yes, she moved from the USA to Southern Laos. She is also the “Grandmother” to the 150 pre-school kids. Her new life is fulfilled, meaningful, and yes, difficult.

If her solution at 65 had been to affirm “nothing” as a viable option and “don’t know” as a reasonable response to the question about “what’s next”, literally thousands of lives would not be impacted for The Kingdom. Is she unusual? I don’t think so or if so, only because she chose to do something rather than settle for nothing.

Our societal view that assigns significant value to leisure is off kilter. When I look up the word leisure in the dictionary it says: spare time, idle hours, and nothing to do. We then look for ways to fill up the leisure hours - the spare time, the idle hours, the periods of nothingness - with activities that satisfy our personal desires. Our proclivities expand to fill the nothingness with more leisure activities. Where is the value in that?

We fill our time with either bucket list activities, entertainment options, or busy work with little lasting impact. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those things. They are great as interludes to meaningful activities impacting other’s lives. But, they are disappointing and tiring when they are pretended to be meaningful priorities and significant activities.

How then do we measure significance? We identify significance by measuring the impact our lives have on others. Meaning is introduced when our interactions with others change, enhance, or encourage them. When we try to create meaning out of nothing, we end up with sum zero.

We don’t plan for retirement. The closest most get to it is to address the financial side of the retirement equation. Certainly, being financially prepared is important. However, it is not the whole story. Many try to make it the whole story rationalizing that with enough money in retirement they can, in fact, do nothing. My goodness, what a trap that is. On the other hand, it makes no sense to, therefore, conclude that saving for retirement is irrelevant. It’s not. The role of money in retirement is to provide a flexible platform upon which the critical and meaningful issues of life can play out.

Because our 65-year-old friend was financially prepared for her next life stage, and the subsequent ones after that, she was able to purchase the home that houses the teachers of 150 kids and to be an active participant in their lives and the lives of those Laotian children. Yes, being financially prepared is important and way too few are, but even more are unprepared spiritually, emotionally, educationally, and relationally.

We don’t plan for retirement because we do not understand the length of time that makes up retirement – roughly 30 years. That is the same length of time between the ages of 10 to 40, 20 to 50, or 30 to 60. It is indeed a long time!

How sad it is to see a life wasted during any of those 30 year periods. Whether the wasting is due to opioid use, laziness, or even misfortune, we know more value is possible.

It is time to change the rhetoric about the 4th Quarter, those last 30 years. Let’s change our thinking resulting in changed actions and impact on others.

When the Bible talks about experiencing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, it is talking about what happens when we reflect Jesus in our lives and listen to his lifestyle promptings and reflecting on what he has written in the Bible, and putting all of it into action.

It’s time we embrace the promise of the Retirement Reformation. We are each called, prepared, and empowered to do more than nothing. And to do it for a lifetime.

Stay on the journey with us as we learn and experience the Retirement Reformation.

And by the way, pass it on!

Bruce