For over a century, workers have been taught that the end goal, the final payoff of any career is retirement — that blissful time at the end of our lives when we won’t have to work anymore. It should be obvious by now, though, that retirement is not the golden dream it once was. Some might even argue that postponing your happiness until you are too old to enjoy it was never a very good idea. In today’s work world, retirement should not be the main goal of your career. Instead, replace that with the twin goals of having more freedom and more effect in your career throughout your life.
Again and again we hear stories of people trapped in a career they hate and their only sense of a lifeline — an escape route — is retirement. How sad this is to me. I can’t imagine the daily grind they must experience or how disappointed they are likely to be when retirement finally arrives. Furthermore, I can’t imagine how they can justify the wasting of their time and their lives in pursuit of goals they care nothing about. Surely a career has to mean something more than this.
In this new century, a career is not something to be survived. A career is an important part of your life, not something that merely supports you. Today’s career should serve multiple goals. First, it should support you with the money necessary to survive. Along with that, though, it should offer you a way to dramatically effect the world around you and it should provide you with a growing sense of freedom as you progress through your life. Sure, traditional retirement may provide you with a sense of freedom at the end, but in today’s career this is a continuum of freedom that grows along with your skills and influence. Retirement becomes the culmination of a lifelong process instead of an abrupt ending.
In some cases, you might never completely retire. I know that I cannot foresee a future where I would retire in any traditional sense. I will always want to be working on something — some project, some foundation, some book — until the day I die. For me, it will be a progression of more and more freedom in how I spend that very precious gift — time. So should it be for you.
Worse still, you will eventually come to a place in your career where you are simply “killing time” until retirement arrives.
Sure, early in a career, our lives are dictated by the needs of our employers, but each day, each week, each year, we should, through our good work, develop ways of expressing our own ideas, our own desires and our own goals more and more. If you allow yourself to become a mere cog in the machine of industry, your life will become more controlled, more circumscribed by your work. In many cases, you will fall into the traditional idea of retirement as your only way out. Worse still, you will eventually come to a place in your career where you are simply “killing time” until retirement arrives.
You are depriving more than yourself when you fall into this trap. You won’t accomplish many of the goals you might have had over the years, but even more important, the world will be denied the great successes you might have accomplished had you sought to increase your effectiveness and freedom every day. Our school teachers often called it “not living up to our potential” and saw it as a great waste. This is how I see it as well — a great waste of whatever gifts you were given at birth. For me, living only with retirement in mind is a great waste of your talent, skills and insight. You deserve the benefit of your talent and so does the world.
I am always greatly disturbed when I talk to a young person, maybe only in their mid-twenties, who has already given in to the retirement trap. You see this most often in more traditional career such as law, medicine and big business, but it can effect almost anyone. I want to shake them by the shoulders and tell them there is so much more to life, if only they would reach out for it. I guess you could say that that is often a driving force in many of these columns. The world has changed, but many of us are still living with our parents’, or grandparents’, idea of work and career. We owe it to ourselves and our children to embrace the new possibilities of career versus work.
Starting today, live each day as if it mattered, because it truly does. Find ways to express your own unique thoughts and desires. Find ways to develop a small piece of freedom in your life. See retirement as a continuous process of improvement and growth instead of something you achieve simply by putting in the required number of days, months and years. If you do, your satisfaction with your life and your career will surely grow, your freedom to make decisions that are best for you and your family will take precedence, while you career becomes something important instead of something to survive until you get your gold watch. That is truly the career you deserve.
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