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Most of us make this mistake, wittingly or unwittingly.
We always talk about that mythical day in the future when we are done with the rat race, when we’re done working ourselves to the bone, trying to put food on the table, paying our mortgage, paying for electricity, water, trash, cable, internet bills, tuition fees for our kids, and so much more.
The list of what we have to do is endless.
This leaves us yearning for the day when we will officially be done and can retire from the rat race.
For many of us, retirement is our go-to desire.
And these days, youngsters want to retire earlier. It’s no longer enough to work till you’re 60 or 65 and then retire. Millennials want to retire in their 30s because they want to enjoy life when they’re young. They want to see the world and experience different cultures and live life now as opposed to working through your 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, only to retire in your 60s and find yourself too old to really enjoy life.
When you can finally afford to do all that you want and desire, turns out that your body is too old and tired to let you have the fun you so desperately wanted.
I’m no different.
And I thought similarly. I spent the last decade working toward retiring early. The idea of waking up without having to go to work was a dream that pushed me to become as financially secure as I possibly could. The more money in the bank, the quicker I’d get to the retirement date.
And then something bizarre happened.
A few years back—not by choice—I was forced to take a sabbatical for a few months. Luckily, I had a solid financial buffer to tide me through what became an almost one-year break. It was my first exposure to what my future retirement life could be like.
I woke up later than usual, did not have any pressure to get my lectures done, grade or write research papers, or prep for conferences. I did not have to worry about making presentations for my part-time marketing gig.
For the first time in a long time, I was footloose and fancy-free.
I binged more TV shows and films than I ever had. I volunteered. And the first few weeks were heavenly.
Not having the pressure of a deadline freed me.
Mentally and physically, I felt unfettered and happy. I smiled more. I was always in a good mood, or so it seemed. My family and friends said so.
A month or so in, I still smiled. I still binge-watched. I still ate when I wanted to, slept when I wanted to, and enjoyed the no-pressure life.
And then, a few weeks later…
Yes. I went out to the movies…but on my own.
I hung out with…no one.
I had free time in my enforced time off from work, but none of my peers did.
The places I volunteered, the ones I was comfortable in, ran like clockwork, and my presence was almost redundant.
The ones that needed me were hard for me to handle. To the latter, I preferred to donate money and let the professionals take over and do what they did best.
And then—lo and behold—I made this monumental discovery.
I was bored.
I. Got. Bored.
Yes. Retirement—even temporarily—bored me to death.
I realized then that I liked being busy. I liked having targets. I liked lecturing kids on the writing process. I liked interacting with colleagues. I liked schmoozing and making my PowerPoint presentations for my part-time marketing gig and traveling for it. I liked working on my own writing—for work and for pleasure. I liked having a schedule. I liked knowing how my day was organized.
What I’d thought was a weight on my shoulder was something I genuinely loved and enjoyed.
I’d spent so much time wanting to be rid of the rat race and being retired that the possibility that I might actually love what I do never even struck me.
I realized also that I was one of the lucky ones who were able to see the world as part of my work. I loved my life. And during that enforced time-off period, I realized that with all the whining and complaining about my tight, can-spare-no-time schedule, I yearned to get it back.
So why did I think I wanted to quit and retire early? Why all the whining?
That’s when I had that “Aha!” moment.
I realized that I didn’t want to be retired.
I wanted to be financially secure.
Don’t mistake this for being financially independent. I am financially independent and have been for a long time. I pay my own way, pay my own bills, take care of myself and my needs, and have done that for a long time.
What I wanted was to be financially secure. I want to have enough money in the bank that I don’t have to worry if—God forbid—something was to happen and I didn’t have a job/regular income anymore.
I wanted the mortgage on my house to be paid off. I wanted money in the bank with a good return on investment. I wanted an emergency account that would buffer me when dealing with any unforeseen expenses. If I stopped working for whatever reason, I needed to know that I had enough money in my life that not working will not hinder my lifestyle in any way.
That’s what I wanted.
What I did not want to do is retire because I wanted to/needed to work.
That’s when I also realized that a lot of us confuse being financially secure with retirement.
Because, for most of us, financial security comes at retirement. After 30 to 40 years of working, we finally pay off the mortgage on our house, are eligible for social security checks that will take care of our living expenses, and have some savings in the bank. And that cushy lifestyle is what we aspire to but at a younger age.
But my one small stint at a quasi-retirement lifestyle showed me that, for me, I need the challenge of my work.
Check this out: I woke up to January, 2021 having suffered though one of the biggest losses in my life in December, 2020.
Mentally, I was shot.
I also worked full-time and remotely taught 10 classes for my college in Shanghai.
I am a content manager for the alumni department of a premier Indian college.
I launched my own lifestyle website and did all the work for it without any help.
I wrote content for my site and multiple other websites including Elephant Journal and more.
I’m aggressively sending humor and satire pieces, short stories, and other writings to many, many websites.
These days, I barely have time to breathe.
And guess what? This year has been one of the most challenging, fun, and rewarding years of my whole life. If I hadn’t suffered the loss I did at the beginning of the year, 2021 would have probably been my best year ever.
That’s when I realized that I’m one of those who will work till I die.
I cannot sit still.
I enjoy working.
But, yes. I do want financial freedom and security, and I’m working hard to get that done as soon as I can.
So, no. God willing, I will never retire, but I will work to become financially secure as soon as possible.
What do you think? Do you agree with me? Or not?
Are you yearning for the day you retire? Do you want to wake up in the morning and smell your coffee or tea and the roses outside?
Or will you—like me—work till the day you leave this world?
Do let me know by commenting on this story.