A New Way of Approaching Retirement 

Rethinking Retirement

Text by David M. Leber, CSA,CLU, ChFP, CFP
Leber Financial Group, Inc; Seniors Advisory Group
Financial, business and personal development advisors 
Allentown, PA.

My primary career has been in business and financial planning. For more than 30 years, I have helped individuals and organizations handle their financial and business concerns. One area of special interest - at least for individuals - is pre-retirement planning.

Many people are worried about whether they'll be able to retire comfortably when they reach the end of their so called "productive" working careers. Concerns about Social Security, traditional "defined benefit" pension plans, and corporate downsizing have led to substantial insecurity when it comes to retirement planning.

I would like to suggest a broader perspective on retirement. First, it's only in the last century or so that most people have lived long enough even to get to retirement age. Second, it's only been in the last two generations that the concept of retirement has become popular.

I said the concept of retirement, not the actual practice. The actual practice may have done more harm than good. While many people have been able to retire with some degree of financial comfort, they have to a large extent sacrificed their emotional and spiritual comfort.

In fact, putting healthy, productive workers "out to pasture" has had a marked negative impact on the self-esteem of millions of older members of our society. Most of us can remember friends or relatives who died within a few years of retirement, in many cases because they seem to have lost a sense of purpose in their lives.

Now the viability of retirement is being questioned from a financial standpoint, as well. Many of us simply are not going to be able to save or invest enough money to provide an adequate (let alone desirable) standard of living for the rest of our lives.

One reason is that we're going to live so much longer after the traditional retirement age of 65. Another is the financial pressure of providing increasingly expensive educations for our children. Some of us - the Sandwich Generation - provide for frail, needy parents, as well.

I believe it's time to question the whole concept of retirement as we know it. Who says we have to stop working at 65? If we enjoy what we do, why can't we keep doing it as long as we are physically and mentally able?

I'm not suggesting that we continue as members of the traditional work force. We already know that the traditional work force might not want us. However, the nature of work is changing so rapidly that tremendous opportunities exist for those who are willing to be proactive. I'm suggesting that we change the focus of our retirement planning. First, let's stop worrying about our future financial security. That doesn't mean we should stop saving and investing. It just means we should stop feeling inadequate if we can't afford to set aside as much as we think we need.

Second, let's start looking for ways to remain productive beyond traditional retirement age. We have the potential to contribute in ways we might not even be aware of. We need to start looking for those areas and positioning ourselves so that we can remain productive as long as we want to be.

Remember, to a self-actualized person, work itself is so rewarding and fun that it doesn't seem like work at all. Therefore, continuing it beyond the traditional retirement age can actually add to the quality of our life rather than detract from it.

So maybe traditional retirement isn't such a great idea. Let's look instead at repositioning our lives over time so that we continue to be productive as long as we can. The flexibility of Information Age technology will enable us to earn incomes to maintain our lifestyles, and still give us ample time for travel and vacations, for enjoying our children and grandchildren, and for pursuing other activities normally associated with "retirement." Doesn't that sound a lot better than being put out to pasture! It does to me!

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