Posted by: Uma Shashikant on Jun 08, 2020, 06.30 AM IST
Can one really prepare for retirement? If the future looks even scarier than before with the looming recession and the unknown after effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, how does one plan?
Somehow retirement has been painted dark by scaremongerers. We have been told that we may have less to lean on; we may have underestimated the perils of not having an income; or we will lose it all if we did not decide wisely. Is it really all about money and its adequacy? Is it really so pessimistic?
At 58 and in that stage of staring into my own retirement, I do not think retirement planning is about the corpus, its investment, the return and the asset allocation. Things will change, and I must be prepared to cope.
I look back at my working years with satisfaction and happiness. So much more could have been done, say some. Maybe. But I am happy about a work life I believe was productive, useful and brought economic benefits to the family.
In the years I grew up and went to college, no one asked what I liked to study or what I could become. We all chose what came our way, and focused on getting a job that paid. That’s all that mattered. Now as I look at retirement, it feels like relief. Even if I loved my job. There is no need to get up and go to work. That is wonderful.
I don’t want to fool myself with this idea that what I did for a profession is what I am for the rest of my life. Or that I must guard all that knowledge and experience and keep pushing it back to the world until I am alive. That book on personal finance may never get written, and I won’t regret it.
To retire is to not hang on to those trappings of the job, but to wake up to new beginnings. To retire is to know that the world out there is bigger than the job we held. To retire is to puncture that puffed up importance of what we did, and to look around and know better. Without the pressures of keeping the job, pleasing the boss, networking with people you don’t like, and attending mindless meetings. What joy.
As I realise I can be anything I like when I retire—from the gardener who shows the children how to grow peas, a guide who explains history, a caregiver at the assisted living facility, or a waiter who serves endless meals— I feel truly liberated.
There need not be other strategic plans that draw upon my profession. Of teaching at universities, or at private colleges; offering consulting services and advice; or seeking projects and tasks. To retire is to revel in the ordinariness of existence. And to discover in that calm, the pursuits that bring pure joy, without conscious and pretentious effort.
Stepping into that world of simplicity will need some preparation. The sudden realisation that one needs just three sets of clothes and two pairs of footwear. Something many have realised working from home these days. The wardrobe that catered to appropriate appearances can be donated in its entirety— ties, boots, formals, silks, scarves and all. I am so done with that show.
I then have to reckon who is likely to stay with me and how precious that would be. Retirement is the end of that circle of people around us for our position and power. We only have to go back to those hallowed places of networking after retirement to see how irrelevant we as people were in those schemes. Just the position we held was the calling card. To prepare for retirement is to count the friends that will come by when I cook a meal, and sing on the patio with me.
As I contemplate the new life, I am telling myself these things. You must begin by being kind to yourself and sleep a bit more. Those trappings of order, discipline, and complete maniac control of your day might not yield actual joy. There is some merit to letting the heart rule. You will figure, maybe without much effort, if you let things happen to you without the urge to be in the driver’s seat.
What you must do though are three things. First, simplify your life. From the assets you own, to your investments and your grand strategies, keep it all simple. Whatever you have will be enough if you can draw a little of it and use it, without having to worry. It is more about ease of use, simplicity of need, and willingness to draw. Do not pussy foot around selling that four bedroom flat. You really don’t need it.
Second, include the world around you in your everyday life. There is no purpose in life if you are not useful to the world. Make it your mission to find that way to engage and contribute. As you do that you will realise you are bringing to the table the best of your abilities and skill. You will find you are channeling that energy not for daily bread, but for the impact and influence it has on other lives. Work where that matters. That is why you retire.
Third, recognise what matters the most. You will find that hearty laughter, crimson sunsets, soulful music and comfort food bring greater joys than gadgets, cars, clothes and jewels. To retire is to get free from the trappings of consumption. To retire is to know that money need not be spent to acquire things and that the real things that matter don’t need much money.
I don’t intend being reckless and lazy. All I ask is the ability to tap into myself to be whoever I wish. I think about retirement as that phase of life when I will remain an active adult always willing to learn, engage, contribute and participate —as a mature citizen who is a giver not a taker.
Would money not matter? If needs are less, if desires are nil, and if everyday life is simple, how much money does one need anyway? The husband is a worried man who contemplates that I would be walking around like the nomadic teacher who eats her meal with strangers and sleeps under the stars. I so want him to be right this time.
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