Live the Life You Want Now: Don’t Wait Until Retirement

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retirement
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I’ve heard people say this before: “When I retire, I can’t wait to …..”

Travel to France. Get my pilot’s license. Lounge by the pool. Go skydiving.

But what if you never make it to retirement?

And, why don’t you do those things now, instead of making retirement your lifelong primary goal?

Putting off joy until tomorrow

Yes, there truly is a groupthink phenomenon centering around the notion that people need to postpone everything—that they need to save their money, that they need to pay their bills, that they need to suffer now so that they get the life they deserve later.

I’ll repeat: What if you never make it to retirement?

My entire perspective on living life changed the year my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was 56, otherwise healthy as a horse, and other than some strange health symptoms that doctors couldn’t figure out, in no way were we prepared for such a devastating diagnosis. We were shattered when we learned that she was suffering from a disease that has a five-year survival rate of just eight percent and is the third leading cause of cancer-related death.

By some tremendous miracle, my mom is now cancer-free and healthy to date, almost four years later. She’s looking forward to her 60th birthday this winter and we’re going to plan a trip because we have all learned not to put things off for the future.

Planning for the future while having fun in the present

Now, don’t get me wrong. I get that there has to be a balance. You can’t throw caution to the wind, quit your job, cash out your retirement savings, and travel the world. (Well, technically, you could… and believe me, I’ve fantasized about doing that. Wouldn’t that be fun?)

But people, people, we all just need to stop being inert passengers on the road to retirement. Do the things you want to do now. Use your resources, financial or other, to make your best life right now.

If you’ve always wanted to learn to SCUBA dive, do it. In fact, that’s what my mom did after she was given the all-clear after chemotherapy. She and my dad now regularly take SCUBA trips all over the world.

If you’re saving like a maniac, good for you. But what if you diverted some of your money, like so:

  • It’s okay to temporarily reduce retirement savings to do something you’ve always wanted to do, particularly if you’ve been diligent about saving for a long, long time.
  • Do you have a money market account that you regularly stuff money into? Direct it to a vacation fund for you and your family. Your kids are growing up fast. You might as well make some memories.
  • Spend time with your spouse and those that you love regularly and spend a little bit of money doing it.

Our financial adviser is a good guy. He encouraged my husband and me to do this, exactly. He said, “Guys, guys. You’re doing all the right things. Make sure you’re having fun.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” I assured him that year. “We’re boating on the lake a lot, planning a camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, where we’re going whitewater rafting for the first time, and we might take a trip to the Caribbean in January.” We did all of that, and he was happy for us.

Not to mention, I don’t think I’ll be trying out a lot of whitewater rafting when I’m 80 (provided I’ll ever get there), so the time to do it is now, right?

Here’s a great quiz about retirement priorities on the following website, which I happily took (why, oh, why am I such a slave to online retirement quizzes?) Helpful? Yes!

If you’ve scored well on this quiz, then maybe you should set aside some time to evaluate exactly what you want your present life to look like, especially if you are living for retirement right now.

retirement and career
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Career calling

Also, one other thing I would like to discuss is making sure you’re happy with your career now. Don’t wait until you retire to realize you’ve worked unhappily in one job for 30 years. Why not figure it out now? If something else is calling you, go for it! It’s so much better to be 34 instead of 60 when you really do find a career that you love.

If your life has become a series of tasks: wake up, eat breakfast, slog to work, eat lunch at desk, pick up kids, come home, repeat… and that’s all there is… well, be honest with yourself!

Change your career—fast.

Finding joy

Also, what about finding joy and being happy every single day of your life?

Two months ago, I happily settled myself in for a comfortable, predictable (albeit invigorating, right?) nighttime read about investing, taxes, 401Ks, etc. (Cue happy sigh…) Then… it happened.

Toward the end of Start Late, Finish Rich by David Bach, he asks, “When was the last time you experienced joy?”

Wow. Wow.

What is THAT—a make-me-want-to-crawl-under the covers, totally invasive, inappropriate question— doing in an otherwise fantastic book about finances?

Aggrieved, I laid awake all night because of that book, and my worries had nothing to do with the size of my Roth IRA.

A litany of uncomfortable questions naturally surfaced. “Am I happy? What makes me happy? What am I meant to do? What is joy, anyway? Who gives a crap?”

It really bugged me. Was I really leading a joy-filled life?

However, a week later, I recovered, and I decided that figuring out what gives me joy is crucial to my wellness and well-being.

I think it’s an important exercise for everyone. First and foremost, it’s a guide toward living a life rich with purpose. Can you pinpoint what gives you joy?

In fact, when you figure out what gives you bliss, I truly believe it’s imperative that you catapult yourself toward it, and do it all the time.

And please, oh, please, don’t wait until till you retire to do it.

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Melissa is a Midwesterner with a penchant for travel (the further away, the better!) and personal finance. Previously, she worked as a writer/editor for a gardening magazine and has done lots of writing and editing for publications. Now, she works in the admission office of her alma mater, Central College in Iowa. She has special interests in reading about finance and politics, and together with her husband, spends most of her time chasing after their two kiddos.

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