Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 179, July 2014 )
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Retirement in today's times in the US (and elsewhere) is an ancient construct, an artifact no more modern than Stonehenge or the baths at Caracalla. With average lifespans reaching almost 80 and health care better than it's ever been for most of the population, the desire to stop working is bizarre.
Here's George Bernard Shaw: We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing games.
I know people who have retired "young" (in their late 50s and early 60s) who are sitting around waiting to die, which might just take some time. I don't believe that one has to remain fully employed—although with current economic volatility, a constant income and not mere fixed income is highly recommended—but I do believe one has to remain fully engaged. That may mean volunteer work, or a second career, or starting a new business, or working with others in their business. But it can't merely be tending a garden or collecting spoons.
Our brains atrophy no less than our mussels if they are not regularly "worked out." There is strong evidence that dementia and Alzheimer's can be delayed or even avoided if one is continually engaged in intellectual activities. Our memories improve the more we recall things. Some type of fulfilling "work" creates these needs as daily requirements and not idle pursuits.
Aside from the pragmatics (the Social Security funding fails, fixed income can't handle high inflation, markets decline) of continued income, there is the vitality that arises from employing one's talents and being paid for them. And the contribution to society can be immense.
Most of you reading this have the opportunity to create your own "non-retirement" activities. You should throw yourself into such planning.
When my wife asked our financial advisor ten years ago when I might be able to retire, she responded, "From what I can see of your husband's lifestyle and work habits, he's been retired for at least five years. Haven't you noticed?!"
The human condition: Unintended consequences
My observations on the Bad, Awful, Devious Law of Unintended Consequences (BAD LUC):
I had a doctor's appointment first thing in the morning and then had to catch a train for New York. My wife came with me in our SUV, and waited outside. Since she's taking piano lessons, she also brought her keyboard along to practice. It's pretty big.
When I came out of the building and headed for the truck, a man was staring at my wife in the back seat playing the keyboard.
"What's happening in there?" the man asked me.
"Oh, that's the best music entertainment system money can buy," I said, and got in the driver's seat and drove away, before my wife even realized what was going on.
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