In a brief conversation with a friend after church recently, the topic of "retirement" came up. He and I are about the same age. He made a statement that stuck with me. He said that he was thinking about retirement but had one big concern – he didn't have any idea what he would do after he retired.
This is not all that uncommon. It's probably one of the reasons some people delay retirement. Many people spend time planning the financial side of things but don't give a lot of thought to what they are going to do day in and day out when they are actually retired.
Retire from work to go to work, really?
Here's a suggestion: go to work. I know that sounds kind of crazy, or at least counterintuitive, but a recent article on MarketWatch listed "get a job" as one of the top ten things to do in retirement:
That might seem to be more than a little ironic—to leave the workforce only to come back into it. But one reason is that you might need the money. For another, retiring is often a great opportunity to start a new, totally unrelated career. Many people find encore careers liberating and fulfilling.
In fact, CNN Money reported:
70% to 80% of pre-retirees plan to include part-time or some other type of work in their retirement routine.
I'm not sure that such a high percentage will actually do so, but many certainly will, whether out of necessity or just because they want to. That same CNN Money study said that about 27% of current retirees have started some type of work, but that only accounts for those who work-for-pay.
Most people think retirement will be enjoyable and rewarding. But that may not be the case if you don't plan for it from a stewardship perspective. If you do, you will view retirement as an opportunity to rediscover, repackage, and repurpose the gifts that God has given you – i.e., your time, talents, and treasure – in productive activities in service to others. Do this, and you have a pretty good shot at an enjoyable and fulfilling retirement. If you envision it as endless days of vacation, perhaps not.
Work (but not necessarily the work you have always done) may be one of the primary ways you will find enjoyment and fulfillment in retirement.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God. Ecclesiastes 2:24 (ESV)
As Dan Miller wrote in his recent book (that he co-authored with his son), Wisdom Meets Passion:
When we talk about retirement, we typically mean when we stop working in something we don't enjoy. Then we fantasize about spending time doing only things we do enjoy. When I get just enough money for my own needs, then I'll withdraw from anything that combines my passion, talent, and economic productivity. Is that a reasonable way to think about retirement?…Do you really want to stop engaging in productive daily activities? Or to withdraw from service? Just take a quick trip to your local retirement center to see what happens to people who withdraw from active, meaningful service.
Some kind of work in retirement may also provide just the extra financial cushion that is needed for those in retirement who are having trouble keeping on top of their bills or in filling the "income gap" between what Social Security, pensions, and savings provide and what you need to live on.
When to start thinking and planning for what you will do.
You could just wait until you reach full retirement to begin thinking about what it will look like for you. However, it may be better to start in your mid-50s. Perhaps you can get to the point when you have a pretty good idea before you turn 60.
Even if you're only 35 or 40, you may already have some ideas about what you'd like to do in retirement. Just in the process of living, we build up dreams, passions, and commitments, and those can be the beginnings of your new focus in retirement.
What are your plans?
So what will retirement look like for you? Have you thought about it? Are you making plans? Well, it's certainly worth thinking and praying about before you actually retire. Maybe you'd like to talk to a career or retirement coach. Leaving a career that you have been pursuing most of your adult life is a big decision. Best to have a plan or at least some fairly concrete thoughts about what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that there is a sense in which retirement is a reward of sorts – for having worked long and hard and for being a wise steward of your money. If you retire at 65, there is a pretty good chance that you have been working full or part-time for 40 or 50 years of your life. You can splurge – take a trip, buy an RV or a boat, or just spend more time doing the things you enjoy.
I happen to like hiking (which can be physically demanding) and fishing (which I can do sitting in a chair or in a boat.) I'd love to learn to be a better golfer, but that probably won't happen in my lifetime. I hope to have time to do more of these things when I retire, but I don't plan to spend all of my time doing them.
I have mentioned this before but I want to reiterate that I believe that leisure and recreation in retirement is a gift from God and something to be relished and enjoyed. Rest from the pressures and stress of work-life can also be a huge blessing.
But the problem is you could live for another 20 or 30 years, and you may be capable of productive activity for much of that time. Some may be hoping and planning for "early" retirement. If they are able to achieve that, they will have an even longer time in "retirement," perhaps 40 years or more.
A retirement based on biblical principles of stewardship will not be an extended period of uninterrupted leisure. And in reality, most people will soon realize that they need more out of retirement than pure leisure anyway.
In his recent article in Forbes magazine, Robert Laura wrote:
Nowadays, a huge percentage of retirees work part-time, dabble with seasonal labor, consult with not-for-profits or startups, and even launch their own business. Average retirement today is unique in that it almost always includes some form of work and, more importantly, it's not done for purely financial reasons. They're doing it in a way that helps them stay relevant, feel connected, and apply the skills they've learned over a long career.
And Randy Alcorn, a well-known and respected author, seems to suggest that retirement isn't even "safe." As he wrote on his blog:
When a man retires at sixty-five, studies show his chances of having a fatal heart attack immediately double. Our minds and bodies weren't made for an arbitrary day of shutdown. Nowhere in Scripture do we see God calling healthy people to stop working. Of course, it's perfectly legitimate to work without pay. It's your option to give labor to ministry and volunteer work rather than to your present job. But as long as God has us in this world, He has work for us to do. The hours may be shorter, the work different, the pay lower or nonexistent. But He doesn't want us to take still productive minds and bodies and permanently lay them on a beach, lose them on a golf course, or lock them in a dark living room watching game shows.
But what kind of work?
If you're starting to believe that the essence of a satisfying and fulfilling retirement is some kind of work mixed with some recreation, leisure, and rest, and want to continue in some productive activities as long as you're able, what are your choices?
When I think of "work" in the context of retirement, I think about it in several ways. And I'm not necessarily talking about a "job", at least in the traditional sense, although that may be totally appropriate for some people.
I think work in retirement will look different for different people but could be thought about in the following ways:
Creative work — whether it's photography, painting, writing, or starting a small business, creativity should be a part of everyone's retirement. Retirement will give you the time for the kinds of creative expression you already enjoy, and perhaps to explore new ones. Maybe you do it for the sheer joy of self-expression, or perhaps you have an eye on leaving something behind that inspires, entertains, or informs others.
Dorothy Sayers, in a brief essay titled "Why Work," wrote:
Work should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God's image, should make things, as God made them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing….. Work is the natural exercise and function of man — the creature who is made in the image of his Creator.
Creative work is a natural expression of who and what we are as image-bearers of our creator God.
Productive work – when we think of productivity we typically think of output or results. In a traditional job, that means performing against certain goals and getting paid in a way that is commensurate with how well you perform. So, for many, income is a measure of contribution and productivity.
But just because you are no longer in a traditional job doesn't mean you can't do productive work. You can add or create value that benefits others rather than for pay. It's mainly about contributing – to your church, community, a small business, a political cause, or others in ways that may not involve a profit. Kevin, on SeedTime.com says:
Consider that maximizing retirement savings in order to fund an idle lifestyle may not be the best use of our God given time and resources… Consider retirement savings as a vehicle to fund a future ministry or a new career or business venture.
So rather than viewing retirement as a "way out" of a job you dislike, view it instead as a means to start a ministry, a business, or a totally new career without the immediate financial pressure to "earn a living." Having the ability to do that is a huge blessing.
Starting or becoming a part of a small business is an excellent way to do this. Even if there is very little "profit" involved. Another article on Seed Time provides a great list of business ideas you can start from home. Many of these will appeal to retirees.
Also, career coach Dan Miller, on his website 48Days.com, offers a list of 48 small business ideas. (You can download it for free.) Not all of these will apply to retirees, but you may get some good ideas.
In my own case, I've been able to combine my long-term interests in coaching and mentoring, personal finance, stewardship, and writing into a retirement avocation through this blog. Yes, I have set it up as a business, and it currently generates some (very little) income on the side. Once you figure in the time I spend maintaining software and services, researching and writing posts, and sending and replying to emails, I'm not making minimum wage, at least not yet! But the non-monetary rewards are great. It's a labor of love that serves God and helps people, my church, and the community, and that's what's most important to me.
One note of caution: If you want to start a small business and your primary need going into retirement is income, you may need to have a cash reserve or other income to live on as the ramp-up time may take a while. And you certainly don't want to take on any debt. If you have something that is already going, and you think you can grow it quickly after you retire, that could be a great way to start with some inertia behind you.
In lieu of starting a business from scratch, you could consider part-time or seasonal work, and there are a lot of websites out there for retiree jobs: RetiredBrains.com, Encore.org, RetirementJobs.com, Workforce50.com, and Workamper.com, to name a few.
Service work – work that includes the element of service to others can be particularly joyful and satisfying. It can actually be either creative or productive. As Christians, we all know that serving others is one of the most important things we can do. How we do so will vary in accordance with our gifting and calling.
When we were younger, we may have been too busy with a career and family to serve outside our homes or businesses as much as we would have liked. Retirement gives you a new beginning, if you will, to find a new path for serving others that fully utilizes your talents and abilities. You can pursue the things that you are most passionate about.
For some that might mean volunteering in the community. For many, it might involve taking a more active role in your church, a parachurch ministry, or nonprofit. I have always enjoyed teaching and recently signed up to start teaching second graders again in my church's children's ministry. It's a blast, and although the kids may feel like their grandpa is in the classroom, they don't seem to mind. Others may want to get more actively involved in social or political causes.
Al, on his blog Saving the Crumbs, sums it up this way:
I think it's important for a Christian to first redefine their idea of what "retirement" really is. It simply means a slowing down of labor when age makes it inevitable, and it involves a changing of responsibilities from being a mover and shaker to being a mentor and supporter—it does NOT mean stopping a life of active service. I've seen plenty of capable seniors active well into their 80s and 90s. As it's often been said, far better to wear out than to rust out!
Have a plan, but expect the unexpected.
Because nothing in life seems to go as we plan, be prepared for the unexpected. Life up to this point probably hasn't gone exactly as you planned, has it? It is very reassuring to know that the one who holds our futures in his hands is just as concerned about our life in retirement as he was all the decades before it.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)
In spite of all the economic and social turmoil, which can weigh heavily on retirement planning, God has promised to help and guide you as you plan for your future. This is our great hope.