People ask if we have retired. I don’t really know how to answer. In the early days I responded just that “we’re not working”, which didn’t seem satisfactory to my interrogators. This subsequently evolved into, “we don’t really have any plans to return to work”, which gave the questioner more of an indication that this was a not just a short-term phenomenon but a longer term trend. However, it still didn’t answer the question of whether we weren’t working by choice or by happenstance. Although I believe that everything is a choice, I’ve preferred to leave it this way, in part because of my own uncertainty regarding what the future might hold.
I didn’t want to proclaim that, at the age of 42, I was retiring, only to subsequently return to work by necessity. This would, in the eyes of others, and most importantly in my mind, likely be seen as a failure. No one wants to fail at retirement.
But it seems that we’re not alone. Like the definition of family, the definition of retirement seems to changing over time. It is now exceedingly rare to work for the same employer for 35 years, retiring with the gold watch and a defined benefit pension. Many baby boomers are realizing that they need to change their expectations of retirement, perhaps retiring later due to insufficient savings, a recent financial shortfall after the 2008 market adjustment, or a change in the status of their pension plan (e.g. Nortel employees).
It would have been nice to have a grand recognition of our retirement. To be honest, being able to stop working so young is something that I’m proud of, even though it is due only in part to my diligence. I’m careful to say this because studies have shown that successful people have a tendency to overweight the perceived value of their own contributions to their success, and underweight external factors (i.e. timing, luck). This is analogous to how politicians credit themselves for the success of the economy while blaming everything and anything else when it falters.
It would have been great to invite all of our friends to a party to formally recognize our
attainment of this important milestone in life and then, to head off into the sunset with both resolution and certainty. However, life is a lot more fluid than this. As it was, we kind of just slinked off into retirement, proceeding bravely but prudently as we dipped our feet into an alternative lifestyle.
How has your reality or perception of retirement changed over time? Will you be able to identify this milestone with certainty and recognize it in style?