Why I am never going to retire and neither should you

Paul Boag

How often do you think about your career path? Do you ever consider where you want to end up? Do you wonder whether retirement will be an option? No matter how early you are in your career, now is the time to start thinking about these things.

It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy your job, we all have days that suck. Days where the thought of the years stretching ahead of us fills us with dread. On such days we dream about retirement. Of stepping away from the keyboard and living a different life.

Even on days when we do love our jobs, we don’t see ourselves doing them it until the day we die. Society has conditioned us to think that one day we will retire. That if we save enough (which none of us do) we will be able to hang up our mouse and kick back and relax.

We all expect to one day retire, but why wait to lead the life we really want?

But is that realistic in the modern world? Even if it is workable, do we actually want to do that? These are questions we need to answer now. Because they will shape the financial and career choices we make moving forward.

I have decided that retirement is not for me. At least not in the traditional sense. In this post I want to explain why and how it has shaped the choices I have made. My hope is that I will encourage you to challenge that assumption we all make, that one day we will retire. An assumption built on the past, not the future.

Retirement is a legacy of the past

In the past, only the privileged few got to do what they dreamed of doing. Everybody else picked a ‘sensible’ career where if you were lucky you would get a job for life. That allowed people to earn enough so they could enjoy life outside of work. But they also needed enough left over to save for retirement. Retirement was the carrot that kept people working. Retirement was the prize at the end of a life of hard work.

Today digital is changing that. As digital professionals we are fortunate enough to be in the vanguard of this change. Generally digital has made work more enjoyable. We have more opportunities in when and where we work. Most of us work in the field because we are passionate about it. If we don’t like our current job it is easy to move somewhere else.

As digital professionals we have more flexibility than most over when and where we work.

We even have the ability to make a career out of the most of niche interests. I know a lady who makes an income as a crochet blogger. I know people who have made a music career without ever signing to a record label. They have been able to do this because of the changes brought by digital.

In a world where we have the potential to do what we want, where we want and when we want, why would we retire?

Retirement has been oversold

If you think about it retirement has been oversold. Let’s imagine for a moment you could retire tomorrow. What would you do?

Some people would choose to sit on a beach and do nothing. But how long could you keep that up before getting bored? Not only that, studies have shown this is actually bad for our mental and physical health.

Others would choose to pursue a hobby. But with the opportunities digital affords us, why wait until you retire? Why not turn that passion into a job? You might not get rich doing it, but at least you won’t need to save for retirement!

Developer Jonathan Coulton turned his passion for music into a hugely successful career using digital channels.

Because retirement is expensive. We are living longer and expect a higher standard of living. This means that just saving for retirement is out of reach of many of us.

Don’t wait until you are old before doing the things that you love. Find a way to do them now.

You don’t need to keep doing what you are doing

Many of us dream of retirement because we are unhappy with the job we are doing today. But you don’t have to stay where you are. As digital professionals we are in demand. If you are dreaming of retirement because you are unhappy, do something about it. Don’t wait for a mythical day that may never come. Work towards your retirement lifestyle today.

The UK Government published a report highlighting the ‘digital skills crisis. That there is a lack of people like you in the workforce. It is a problem faced almost worldwide. A problem that means you have the chance to shape your career to suit your lifestyle. There are just so many opportunities available. Even if you set up by yourself and fail, there will be a job waiting for you. The risk of action is low.

The lack of skilled digital professionals gives us a unique opportunity to shape our working lives.

How to get from here to there

Dont misunderstand me. I am not suggesting you should quit your job today to start selling paperclips online. I don’t care how passionate you are about paperclips, that is not a good idea. We hear lots of success stories of people taking these leaps of faith. But what you don’t hear about is the other twenty people who had their houses repossessed.

If you want to build a lifestyle that makes retirement feel obsolete, you need to plan for it. Plan for it just like you would retirement.

This is something I do. I am pleased to say I am pretty close to my lifestyle dream. Things could always be better, but I have got to a good place. This is how I did it.

Work out what a good lifestyle is for you

If you want a better lifestyle, the kind of retirement lifestyle you dreamed of, you need to define it. The problem with dreams is they are often vague. But if we are going to make that dream a reality it needs definition.

What life would make retirement feel pointless? Is it more time with the family? Is it the flexibility to travel the world? Is it having more disposable cash? Get specific, write a list.

What does your dream life look like? Be specific and be realistic.

Try and avoid negatives. Many people want to retire because they hate their boss or find the work tedious. But it is hard to build a lifestyle around the lack of something.

Also don’t focus on the job at this stage. Focus on what lifestyle you want. With that done you can then identify what you need to put in place to make that a reality.

Identify what you need to support that lifestyle

With our list in hand, we can start to identify what our job would need to be like to maintain that lifestyle.

For example if you want to be able to travel the world you would need a job that allows remote working. That or gives you extended periods off.

If you want more time with the family, working from home would be good, as would setting your own hours.

Now you know the criteria for a job that would support your ideal lifestyle, you can start working towards it.

Take a step towards that goal

Your first step is to work out the last. What job would you need to support your preferred criteria? Now the chances are there will be lots of ways that is possible. Look for the closest option to what you are currently doing.

For example, I was working as a digital design lead. I met somebody who spent their life advising companies as a board member. His job appealed to me as it gave him the flexibility I wanted. I could also see a potential path to reaching that goal, by moving into consultancy. That is where I find myself today.

Try and avoid jobs that would need a big leap of faith along the way. The smaller the steps the easier it will be. That said, sometimes you will need to take bigger steps. If that is the case work out what you would need behind you to make that step less scary. For example would you need some savings or a fallback job?

Sometimes the first step can be as simple as working from home.

Of course all this can seem overwhelming. That is why you need to focus on just the next step.

The idea of being a board level director when I was leading a tiny team seemed impossible. I could have dismissed it as a pipe-dream. Instead I took just one step towards that goal, by beginning to offer expert reviews. This was my first step in selling my advice, rather than my pixels.

Focusing on the next step will also help when things going in an unexpected direction.

Be flexible and adapt

Nothing ever goes to plan, least of all careers. When I studied the web didn’t even exist! There was no way it was a viable career option.

Even if you could follow your career plan and get to that perfect job, what you want will change by the time you get there!

The answer is to remain flexible. Look for opportunities to improve your working life today. Don’t live for some utopia in the future. Whether retirement or the perfect job, we cannot sacrifice the present for a daydream.

That said, I would encourage you not to stumble along in your career blindly. Take a step back every now and again. Ask yourself if you are happy and if things are moving in the right direction. That brings us full circle back to the idea of retirement. Because the minute I start longing to retire is the minute I know something is not right in my career. It is the moment I know I need to take action. If you find yourself wanting to retire, don’t wait. Start making retirement irrelevant today.