Retirement planning: 5 ways to see retirement in a new light


My friend was adamant about her RSV. She was only 50 years old. She felt she had worked for many years and finally deserved some rest. The 25,000 rupees that came as a reward and the pension are enough for me, she argued. Now, after 10 years of not-so-glorious retirement, she wonders what she can do. Many of us who went to college in the 1980s earned degrees in physics, chemistry, math, and economics. And went to work for the post office, telephones, accounting, railways, banks or the government.

A degree was just the ticket to what we considered a secure job. At that time, it was easier to marry the young girl into a “decent” family if she had a job, especially a secure job. And it was routine to expect women to manage work and home. The burden of this mundane routine was tiring. But many women were proud of their economic independence and the comfort it brought to the home. Although they were accomplished in the clerical or low-level management jobs that many managed, the women did not see themselves as professionals with a purpose.

Work was a necessity and it had to be done without interfering with other responsibilities at home and family. My friend was one of these women. And that’s why she wanted it to end when she thought she had worked long enough. We all assume that the pursuit of happiness is an avowed goal.

We also imagine a different scenario than the one we are in now, as being better. In this world that we see in our minds, our lives are different. Assuming there is something in our present that keeps us from being who we want to be is how we deal with our lives. We believe that the end of our current burdens must lead to joy in our other imaginary world.

For my friend, retirement meant the end of the morning rush to finish chores and run to work; she would spend her mornings quietly. She wouldn’t have to spend most of her day working at her desk with colleagues she had to put up with; she would make new friends. She didn’t have to come home tired at the end of the day; she indulged in music, movies and good food. She had a romantic retreat just like we all create an alternate version of our lives in which everything is screwed up.

The list of issues reviewed after the first 10 years is long. Making new friends was difficult as finding like-minded people was not easy; doing nothing was boring after a first phase of relaxation; fear of being irrelevant and disconnected crept into conversations with children and family; if she hated being tied to the kitchen, she cooked even more now that she had the time; and with so much time available, she found friends and family asking for time for activities she was not enthusiastic about.

Every activity she thought was engaging, like travelling, eating out, attending parties, involved spending money and it made her feel insecure. There’s always room for a version 2, if we put our minds to it. Here are some of the possibilities we discussed:

First, take the time to find out what engages you. Instead of working with the many years of pursuing a worldly life that one did not choose, what would one do if one had a choice again? Are there any interests that wake you up and bring you back to life? There are friends who have started cooking; some have discovered painting; one has become a tourist guide; one learns Sanskrit and reinterprets ancient literature; the list is long. Find purpose, meaning will follow.

Second, don’t get trapped by what is expected of you and don’t follow unnecessary dogmas. There are no rules for making money in a new profession; serving society and the community can be done in many other ways than being a reluctant volunteer; giving up all the joys of everyday life like good food and clothes is not mandatory for retirees. Get out of the clutter to ask yourself what matters most to you. Seeking what your heart wants doesn’t always involve money.

Third, there is no alternate world in which you will magically become someone else. What you do now, the person you are with your time, effort, thoughts, and relationships is the real you. Be aware of your present and take small steps to do what you love. You can bring the world of your dreams into your life one step at a time. Don’t waste your years in the vicarious romance of a different and new you. You must build this new version one brick at a time.

Fourth, money is easily managed if you can honestly define your needs. For a person living in your own house and having no dependents, the pension is sufficient. There is no need to save and hold, but use the steady stream of income for your needs. Budgeting and allocating money for essential expenses is enough to keep it safe. Don’t imagine big expenses that aren’t real and fear the unknown. Align your lifestyle with your default income and don’t celebrate large unused bank balances. Fifth, find meaning in activities that don’t require money.

We spend the first part of our lives competing with our classmates and losing our soul to comparisons; we then struggle in our careers trying to figure out how to work with colleagues without jealousy; and then we grow old to realize that the real joys lie in collaboration. Bring that human connection back into your lives. Reach out and converse, engage, soothe, comfort and help other human beings. When you find ways to collaborate, doors of joy and purpose open.

My friend told me that she imagined retirement as something relaxing, but that she realized that without rejuvenation, it was not sustainable. Plan to live to be 90 and make those 30 years worthwhile. Nothing is lost if we pass earlier. But imagine the horror of meaningless existence at this age. Get to work, I told him, on yourself and your purpose. Life is too precious to just give up and retreat to an artificial mark they called retirement.


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