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Retirement Is Not A Natural Act

Retirement Is Not A Natural Act

By Mike Drak

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”– Mark Twain

For the past three years, I’ve been working hard on the follow up to our book Victory Lap Retirement by conducting interviews with retirees to get their thoughts about life in retirement. In addition to the research, I have gotten a chance to do much self-reflection and developed some new insights/beliefs about retirement, which helps explain why some people (myself included) have a hard time transitioning.

I’ve come to the conclusion that retirement is not a natural act, and for people like me it’s a bad move to retire, especially when I might have another 20 – 30 years to go.

The Master Plan

This might sound weird to some of you, but I believe that we are all part of a master plan, and that each of us is here for a reason. We have been given unique skills, abilities and values. People are also assigned a special purpose, a mission that needs to be fulfilled. Until we find out what that mission is and start executing on it we will never feel complete.

The challenge is that we don’t get a set of instructions outlining our life mission or how to get there when we’re born. Without the instructions, we end up spending a good part of our lives trying to figure out what our mission is and what we were put on this earth to do. The lucky few will get their answer quickly while others will struggle, become frustrated and stop looking, which is a big mistake.

We are all born with “innate needs” which serve as a sort of GPS system to point us in the right direction. Unlike personal values that we develop over time, and can change, these needs are always there. It’s like a hunger inside us that needs to be fed or we will never feel satisfied. This hunger will be stronger in some retirees and weaker in others, but we all experience it to some degree.

Need for Significance

We are all hard-wired with a need to feel “significant,” a need for achievement, accomplishment, contribution, connection and autonomy. It can come across like a need to be known and feel valued by ourselves and others. If we don’t find a way to feed our innate needs, they will keep pushing until we do something about it.

Needs and the Workplace

Looking at how these “needs” work can explain what happens to some of us during our primary careers. After having achieved some level of financial independence our innate needs poke through, and we want to make changes and find something that will more directly satisfy our needs because our existing job doesn’t do that anymore.

After the retirement honeymoon period, many retirees feel the same way. Despite having their material needs met, they feel lost and sense that something is missing because their work was their primary source of nourishment for their innate needs.

Some people whose hunger is not that strong will be able to ignore the uneasiness and may choose to get by and settle for what happens. Others will try to numb the feeling through self medicating – or eating/drinking too much, but that never works.

And if you think that money will cure things, it won’t. I know many people who are living through a miserable retirement with plenty of money in their accounts. They feel unhappy because they lack fulfillment in their lives. This feeling will persist until they find a way of satisfying their innate needs and complete their mission.

Supporting Evidence

After talking to thousands of people at our seminars, through our blog and at the Zoomer retirement shows in Toronto, I’ve found that few people of traditional “retirement age” want to stop working completely. They might want to spend less time working, or want to do a different kind of work, but they still feel a need to be involved in something. This finding is backed up by AARP, which reported that more than 50% of retired people would rather be working than sitting around in retirement.

Today, many retirees are starting their own businesses to satisfy their innate needs. In Canada, a TD Canada Trust survey (2019) found that 54 percent of baby boomers have started or considered starting a small business prior to retirement.

What’s interesting is that most boomers are not starting businesses because they need the income. A 2015 Gallup Poll showed that eight out of 10 Boomer entrepreneurs started businesses for lifestyle reasons rather than financial ones. For boomer women, the top reason for starting a business was the desire to pursue their passion, while boomer men were happy to finally be their own boss. Passion and autonomy are all innate needs that these retirees were driven to fulfill. Another interesting fact is that these new business owners also ranked their happiness at an eight on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the happiest.

Shouting FIRE

I felt fairly confident that I was on the right track after reading the research above. Everyone is talking about the FIRE movement these days where the goal is to gain financial independence and retire early, but all the people I know who have achieved FIRE are still working. For some reason they feel the need to deny that they are still working but why deny the truth? The lesson here is that even when you become financially independent and get your freedom back, you still need to find interesting, rewarding things to fill your day. FIRE is still a good concept and one that I’m teaching my kids. They just need to get rid of the “RE” (retire early) part.

Why do you think the Rolling Stones keep performing? They have more money than they will ever spend, but performing, feeling appreciated, and seeing how good they make people feel satisfies their innate needs. It’s what drives Mick Jagger and keeps him alive and thriving at age 76. I don’t want to see what happens to the band when they can’t tour anymore.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his beloved wife Roslyn have worked to support Habitat for Humanity by helping to build 4,300 homes across 14 countries since retiring. He’s 95, she’s 92, and they are still getting it done. To satisfy their innate needs, the Carters contribute through interesting, challenging and gratifying work. They’ve learned that writing a big donation check isn’t as satisfying as rolling up your sleeves and helping out.

Retirement success is not about chasing after money, rather it’s about finding significance and connectedness through what we can give, it’s about helping others. Through your unique ability and contribution, you’ll find deep and lasting fulfillment.

This post was originally published on Victory Lap Retirement and reprinted with permission.

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Mike Drak

Author, Retirement Coach and Public Speaker at Victory Lap Retirement
Mike Drak is a thirty-eight year veteran of the financial services and lives with his wife Melina in Toronto, Canada. Mike is the Author of the best-selling book Victory Lap Retirement and also an award winning blogger, retirement coach and public speaker. Mike has also appeared on BNN, CBC Radio and iHeart radio.