Sunday, April 5, 2015

Is retirement the right construct?

The spark for this blog post came when Fred Wilson replied to a comment by Anne Libby on Fred’s blog on Good Friday / Eve of Passover.
I find the history of the concept of retirement as reported in this New York Times article dating back to 1999 very interesting. If you’ve never read it, maybe you want to take a look.
The construct of making an entire class of citizens “retire” is relatively new in society and I can’t help but wonder what would be an even better construct, particularly in the face of the changes that are occurring as a result of the globalization trend; as well as the deflationary economics caused by the technological disruption movement.
Another way I would frame Fred’s comment is “When you are still fully functional, why would you want to retire?”
When your work consumes you rather than completes you, or when it has come to be exhausting, I think it becomes easy at that point to shift into “wanting to retire”.
But I would assert that would not be retiring for “the right reasons”, (assuming there’s such a thing).
It becomes simply wanting to remove the exhaustion from one’s existence.
Or distancing oneself, once and for all, from doing what one hates so much to do, week in and week out.
On the other hand, if  you do physical labor for decades, chances are your body will wear out and you will need to retire from that activity, as Fred’s comment suggests.
But then why not transition into something fulfilling, but on a more cerebral plane?
In other words, is retirement the most optimal solution a society can find for the ageing segment of its population?
If you’d owned a casino, I bet you’d say yes.
As it is the case with many things in life and in many industries, I suspect that it is not the best solution that has won the popularity contest.
This issue is extremely complex as there are other factors involved such as physical and mental health, an individual’s background, cultural beliefs, economic circumstances, education and even morals and ethics-related issues.
For example, some people will not have the economics in place to retire comfortably, if at all; some will be too sick not to retire; while there are others who prefer to lead unproductive lives, etc.
To me personally however, by and large, it comes back to finding your passion.
Confucius has famously said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.
So why retire then, right?
To those who would argue that work is called work because it’s not play and that once you depend on something to put food on the table, it becomes different, I would counter-argue that perhaps the answer lies in aiming at financial independence specifically — and as soon as possible — rather than “planning for retirement” per se.
Looking at the etymology for “retire”, I’m tempted to ask, “Why would you want to draw back?”


  1. Mario, sadly my more thoughtful, longer comment just got blown up when I signed in to Disqus. (Gah.)

    The main point: age bias is a thing. The world lacks constructive ways for people to age out of careers into other things that our society deems productive. (Though I'd argue that focusing on grandchildren and community -- as many people do -- is unmeasured productivity. Not an option for everyone.)

    I don't think that people want to "draw back." They look at reality -- as presented to me by someone here in the NYC startup community who never revealed the approach of age 40 because it would be career badness!!! -- and see a paucity of options.

    So the question is, what construct would enable people to continue to earn, create, and contribute?

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Wow! I really like your perspective.

    I find the way you've posed the question to be more practical -- therefore likely more useful -- than the way I have put it.

    I also find your observation about unmeasured productivity very useful.

    Regarding your little Discus accident, it has happened to me as well. I have learned to draft my longer comments in a separate document and then copy and paste; or at the very least, I will copy the text that I've already input into Disqus box before trying to login, if I happen to have been logged out.

  3. The Disqus thing is probably a blessing in disguise. Forced me to be pithier!

    Thanks Mario. Whatever we call it, however we look at it, may we find a solution.