Retirement is a relatively new concept. Before the 19th century, most people worked until they could no longer perform their mainly physical labour. They were then supported and cared for by their family or community for a short period until death.
However, during the first half of the 19th century, after the Industrial Revolution governments and industry needed a way of pasturing off older workers to replace them with younger, stronger ones.
And so, the concept of retirement was born. In America, the idea of retirement as years of leisure was promoted to entice workers to take up retirement. It became a picture of the pursuit of a life of ease and leisure as the ultimate reward for hard work. A kind of delayed gratification. The promise was work hard, earn enough, save enough and then you will be rewarded with this picture-perfect life.
There is now a problem with this picture. An eighteenth-century British poet, William Cowper wrote, “A life of ease is a difficult pursuit.”
Many discover this reality when they retire - even with enough money to pursue a life of ease. After decades of attaching their identities to their jobs and nurturing nothing outside of work, they soon experience the vacuum left by work. Even ticking off the most exciting bucket list can become uninspiring.
Without purpose, you eventually risk your health and well-being. You can become lonely or dispirited.
Because our culture has reduced life to work (or recovering from work), learning how to live with purpose in the absence of work becomes work in retirement. There is much to unlearn in order to learn. Some may have to be healed from their addiction to adrenalin, others from their busyness.
It is hard work to unlearn and unwind to learn what will bring meaning and purpose to lives of ease.
There is another way. We could approach life this way earlier. Find out what our purpose is outside of work, or practice a higher purpose through our work. Pursue passions or invest in hobbies. Foster real relationships with friends and family. Ensure that we are well. Sadly, few do.
Either way, life forces us to do this work at some stage. Without it, there can be no contentment. It is a choice for us. When will we do this work?
At Foundation Family Wealth, we aim to help people with this work. Our annual in-person retirement workshop, which aims to help people prepare for retirement, not only financially, but holistically too, will take place in Johannesburg on 16th March 2023. Read more here.
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