So growing up, back in the 1980s and 90s, we used to hear about this thing called ‘retirement age’. It was typically 58 for Government workers, PSU employees and nationalised banks. And anytime one was able to get one or two ‘extensions’ for one or two years, it was a cause of celebration!! While there was no defined age for retirement in private sector, it was assumed to be in the 58-60 range. The thumb rule was, if you are in the senior management and actively contributing to day-to-day affairs of the business, there was no defined retirement age.

The two key factors for retirement are:

  1. Need to Rest and not continue a demanding 9-6 work schedule.
  2. Need not earn as one has enough savings for the rest of the life.

And mind you, these were days when unemployment was not a serious issue and there was not too much pressure from the additional new work force joining the industry, that one would be threatened about ‘losing’ their job and actually not having a job when reaching retirement age. Firings were literally unheard of and while we did not have the discipline of ‘lifetime employment’ concept of the Japanese,  people would stick in the same company for a decently long period of time. 

From the start of the new millenium, things have changed a lot as far as concept of ‘retirement’ is concerned. People now talk about ‘early retirement’, which refers to retiring at 50 and even at 45 or 40. The people who talk about this concept are looking at ‘need to rest’ as far more influencing factor than ‘need to have enough savings’. These are people whose work life is quite stressful and demanding. While they do take vacations, but they are few and far in-between. 

The other factor that drives decision towards retirement is health and fitness. People living a busy un-healthy lifestyle are not able to spend enough time towards fitness activities in their daily routine. And when they get news of people getting Diabetes, BP and heart ailments in their 40s and even in 30s, with many cases of heart attack that prove fatal, they take the need for a break seriously.

But then I know of my late father, who was very much active till 3 months before his death, even at the ripe old age of 81. He could not fathom the idea of sitting at home and doing nothing. He was working as a registrar at a school, and would be gone from 8am to 2pm every day, including Saturdays. I have known of many people who cannot just ‘sit at home and do nothing‘ and prefer some ‘activity’ to stay engaged. And while charity activity and work with NGOs is an alternative, there are not too many ‘convenient’ opportunities in that sector to stay engaged continuously. And how much can you chat/gossip/watch TV/ browse Whatsapp EVERYDAY?.

And yes, we have been looking at retirement from a man’s perspective, assuming that being the sole earning member, his retirement would be a national issue that would be debated in every house. But in today’s world, with a dual working household where the wife is also engaged mostly in a full time role, the issue of ‘retirement’ for both the husband and wife become more important, as both end up having a demanding life and vacations are deprioratized due to multitude of different reasons. Hence both are yearning to ‘just give up’ and take life easy at some time in the late forties.

It’s interesting how the working man makes big deal about retirement, but the humble housewife continues working late into old age, without any qualms or complaint. And that, I believe is the secret to a retirement free life. If you look at your work as a chore, something that you have to do whether you like it or not, spend crazy hours and ignore your health and family, then you would be yearning for the day when you can give it all up and go home and relax. If you value the importance of ‘balance’ in life early on, then you can go on working late not only in fifties and sixties, but even in seventies and eighties. Yes, you might not have a high profile job, you may probably be on your own, be a consultant with lot of flexibility on timing (and even mobility), but you can remain gainfully engaged in an activity without being treated like a pushover.

There is enough data to show that mental well-being and physical fitness contribute towards an improved work output. To do better at work, you need to do less work, not more. So when you plan your professional career, remember that ‘retirement’ is a myth. No one genuinely wants to retire for ever and just sit at home and do nothing for years together, it’s just not practical.In monetary terms, one can have a figure in mind as far as savings for retired life, but the ‘ask’ for such a life can vary drastically on the type of life one eventually leads, so doing over-planning also does not help in that case. Prioritise staying fit, active, stay connected with family regardless of work pressures and ensure you take frequent breaks to rejuvenate (if feeling stressed) – that’s easier than working like mad and desperately looking for a permanent getaway!!.