a voice crying out in the postmodern wilderness

4 Reasons Retirement is a Myth

4 Reasons Retirement is a Myth

Maybe you already know this, but if you are young you cannot count on social security.  If you have seen the headlines about companies like Enron you know that your pension, if you have one, is not safe.  Your stomach may turn as you wonder if you are putting enough money in your 401K.

Retirement is a concept that was created so that we could get people to do back-breaking or miserable work for 40 years (or for folks like farmers, who used their bodies up to the point of exhaustion - and as a result life expectancy was shorter).  The carrot offered by big companies was that though you might be miserable your entire working life, you'll eventually get to play golf in Florida and wear Hawaiian shirts.

No thanks.

If retirement age is 55 and our average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78 years, that's 23 years of retirement.  That is a long time.

I know some people who are over 55 and are afraid that they can't retire.  Like not retiring means they have failed and are behind the curve.

The truth is, retirement is now a myth.  And it is a harmful myth.

I have not found a Biblical rationale for retirement.  For taking the wisdom, wealth, and knowledge accumulated over half a century and then leveraging to slow down and reduce output.  That sounds sinful.

Here is why retirement as an idea is harmful:

1.  It cons people.  The idea of retirement as heaven is simply a bill of goods.  If we work our entire lives for the idea of taking it easy and spending our piles of money, we will find our lives after 55 to be painfully disappointing.

2.  It is not realistic.  To produce for 40 years and then coast for 23 years is not a sustainable model.  You have to kill yourself for 40 years to amass enough wealth to do nothing for 23 years.  It doesn't even make sense from a logical perspective.

3.  It robs our joy.  Looking to a false future, retirement takes us out of the now and puts our heads in the clouds.  We are less present and aware of those next to us and the beauty in the work we are currently doing.

4.  It causes us to do horrible work.  White-knuckling a bad job for 40 years is such a waste.  If we are handcuffed to the idea that we must retire some day, we will be more likely to clock in at a job we hate and find no meaning in.  And while we are there, the likelihood that we will produce meaningful work is very low, as we keep our head down and live for Friday so we can get to the permanent Friday of retirement.

The people who really affect change in this world never retire, per se.  John Piper "retired" from his church and now puts out books and content like crazy.  Spurgeon worked himself into the ground.  Mother Theresa did not cash in a 401K and buy a convertible.  The apostles worked until they were killed.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with "retiring" from a company after many years of hard work, nor is there anything wrong with slowing down as you age to drink in life more deeply.  But shutting down your creative output because you've earned it robs us of a joyful opportunity to leverage ourselves to do great work.

How can we leverage our later years for God's glory and our joy?  What work is yet do be done?


photo credit: OTA Photos via Flickr


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