Retirement: It’s About Meaning, Not Money!

Shifting the retirement discussion to meaning.

Posted Jul 23, 2019

Source: CC0/Pixabay

“What’s your number?” he asked, wondering if my answer might confirm that his number was within the ballpark of what he might need to fund his retirement. “I don’t have a number,” I replied, receiving a look of frustration from him. “How can you not have a number?" he continued, “Everyone should have a number.”

The conventional thinking about retirement centers on whether you have saved enough money to live on during your retirement. Specific rules, such as saving 75 percent of your pre-retirement annual income for every year you plan on living as a retired person, or calculating your estimated annual expenses and multiplying by 25 to arrive at how much money you will need to survive the next 25 years, are at the center of discussion.

However, the fallacy in focusing on “the number” should not be overlooked. How can you anticipate all your potential income with various factors such as interest rates, receiving an inheritance, selling a property, future government assistance, or even future political events? How can you anticipate all your expenses—including living expenses (alone, with a partner, with a new partner, etc..), health care costs, tax increases, family expenses, food costs, or travel costs? How can you really know you will live another 30 years versus, for example, for just 5 more years?

To be sure, I am not recommending that you not think about and plan your future finances. What I am recommending is that you look at retirement within a broader context which includes a discussion of meaning.

Retirement can often present a crisis of meaning. It can be a difficult time when we leave our jobs and find ourselves without the structure of the work day and without the work relationships that provided some sense of belonging. It can be a time when we are forced to reevaluate who we are without the identity and perhaps status of our jobs. It can be a time when we wonder what direction our lives should take for the next five years, the next 20 years, or the rest of our lives.

It is a time for us to ask ourselves important existential question such as:

  • What is the direction my life is taking or that I would like my life to take? This is a more important question than simply asking, “What is my purpose today?” Just because we fill our days with activities doesn’t mean we will find meaning in our later years. Now is the time to reconnect with your lost dreams and pursue what you always wanted to do. Make a bigger difference.
  • Will I have regrets that I lived someone else’s life and not truly my own? Now is the time to address the fears you may have about living behind a mask and not truly expressing yourself. Have the courage to live as yourself in the next stage of your life.
  • Is there a relationship that I need to mend before I die? Not all relationships need to be mended. Not all relationships are healthy. Some are toxic. But if one relationship is broken and it still bothers you, maybe it is time to reach out to find some sort of closure—for yourself and perhaps for the other person.

Life is a time-limited offer. Just because we have saved money for our retirement does not mean we will live a meaningful life during the later years. Life with money—but without meaning—suggests that we are simply surviving, not thriving. Broaden your discussion about retirement beyond money to include the important existential topic of meaning.