My favorite movie of all time is The Shawshank Redemption. In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie it’s lead protagonist Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, tells his friend life comes down to a single choice, “get busy living or get busy dying.” Both the simplicity and accuracy of that statement gets me every time. That’s why I get frustrated when I see the way many financial advisors portray retirement in their advertising. It’s usually shown as a never ending life of leisure that makes up for the years of suffering you experienced while working.
In fact, there’s an entire movement devoted to this idea of quitting work as soon as possible, called the FIRE Lifestyle which stands for “Financial Independence Retire Early.” However, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research might put a damper on this whole FIRE idea.
According to the study, a male’s mortality rate rises 2% the month after they turn 62. While 2% may not seem like that much, according to the study’s authors, this increased mortality risk is primarily concentrated among the 10% of men who retire as soon as they are eligible for Social Security at age 62. So in essence, what the study really found was that those men who retire right after turning 62, have an up to 20% increased chance of dying shortly thereafter.
The benefits of continuing to work later in life is echoed in a book I’m reading now called “The New Retirementality” by Mitch Anthony. The thesis of his book is that retirement has become an artificial finish line for too many baby boomers. He argues that not only is retirement often not beneficial, it’s also not biblical. He argues that as human beings we are created to be productive, and without productivity our lives become meaningless.
This of course does not mean you should never quit a job, or even stop being employed altogether. It simply means you should never stop doing work and being productive. There’s a famous saying that if you choose a job you love doing, “you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ve never really liked that phrase because to me, it implies that work is something to be avoided. I don’t believe that at all. I view work as good and important.
What should be avoided is work you’re not passionate about, or don’t enjoy doing. That kind of work doesn’t produce happiness or contentment for the individual, and the end results of such labor is usually low in quality because it’s being done by someone whose skillsets and passions do not match the task. I call that kind of unpleasant work a chore. I’m sure my wife will be happy to attest to the fact that when I do chores the end result rarely brings joy to myself or others.
As someone who has put together a financial plan that will hopefully result in me being financially able to stop working at an early age, this kind of information serves as a good reminder to me that I should never allow myself to look forward to a time when I stop working, but instead to a time when my motivation for working is just different.