Sunday, June 15, 2014
Retirement: Who Cares?
This week I received a letter from NYS telling me that I no longer had to take a biweekly deduction from my paycheck towards retirement. The profession I work in carries a pension that’s fully contributed to after ten years of service, which is great, but I’m beginning to think that retirement isn’t exactly the pie in the sky everybody thinks it is.
I’ve never given much thought to saving for retirement. I have no idea what an IRA is and have never needed a 401K. When one of these financial planners with their big-faced wristwatches and slicked hair tries pitching me some idea for investing my money all I hear is blah-blah-blah. I’m not giving some 26 year old with a degree from Schenectady CC a penny. I think people in my economic circle who use a planner are sort of dopey. Bro, you make $44,000 a year, you don’t need a team funneling eight bucks a week in deductions through the market. Whenever I get the email from some old friend who’s in finance now, I hit delete. A month later that same guy’s selling cars on Central Ave.
I’m not that worried about retirement because I "kind of" don’t ever plan on retiring. It’s not a natural thing to just stop working and do nothing. And please don’t think you’re going to retire from your municipal job and travel the globe like a Danielle Steele character on that pension. Retirement, in its purest form, I'm not sure. I don’t want to stop seeking out challenges and opportunities and enterprises. I don’t give a hoot about sitting on some beach. I want to always be working for something bigger, better, greater. You’re never going to have “enough money” to retire so let that whole pipe dream die an immediate death. You could contribute half your paycheck every week for the next twenty years and still fall short.
Does anybody else work with that knucklehead who constantly keeps you abreast on how close he is to retirement? “Just eighteen years and I’m out.” Only 18, huh? I pity that guy. If you’re spending your life doing something you hate and "possibly" making it to the end and getting out is the goal then quit tomorrow, live your life for right now, do what makes you feel alive. And maybe everyone doesn’t have the opportunity to chase some utopian existence and be-happy career, because the kids need to be fed and the mortgage paid. All I'm saying is: we know how the story always ends for countdown-to-retirement guy . . . he croaks a month before the finish line and everyone says, “He was only four weeks from the dream.”
I spent this morning with my father-in-law. He’s 70 years old and has been "retired" for a decade. But he still drives a school bus and works as the town supervisor and keeps himself busy and his vision kinetic. It’s the oldest rule in the book: a body in motion stays in motion. Believe me, money’s not an issue for him. I don’t even think he takes a pay check. My mother-in-law was a teacher for 34 years, retired and now owns a business, volunteers, gets on committees, and is presently building a reading program for teenage mothers. Ask her: 70 is the new 70. Daytime TV is fine but she rather have a three-dimensional reason for getting out of bed, because it’s never too late to help make the world a better place and engage in that betterment. It’s not sexy but it’s sustainable. They’ll both live to be 90 years old.
When you retire and slip into that abyss head-first because you’re retired! the health problems start, we all know that story. I believe your body can sense when the short and long term goals are suddenly non-existent. Humans need goals and things to work towards all the time. Whether it’s the weekend or the summer vacation or the next wedding or the annual Paws in the Park, we can’t function without purpose. That’s how come I think Heaven is a concept that would actually NOT appeal to the human condition. Something that lasts forever and ever and ever and ever . . . even if it has Pearly Gates and a guy named St. Peter, it sounds horrible if you think about it.
Is there anything more depressing than a retirement party?
I will be prepared when the time comes in my life to transition from my profession to the next phase--not retire--and I’m not being fear-mongered into putting a whole bunch of money into some kind of system that may go up in smoke ten years before I can access it. I have things in place and so be it. I don’t have kids and I get a pension plus my wife gets a pension, which is nice, so this may be an easy thing for me to say, I get that. Who knows? I could be dead by the time I hit retirement age.
Sometimes making it to see 20 years from now seems about as likely as tap dancing through a field of land mines and coming out fully limbed. I’m already falling apart at the seams, even though I eat the best foods and exercise every single day and haven’t touched alcohol in years. Life is hard and the obstacles are innumerable. I can’t give up anything else. If I was any more boring you’d have to hang a tombstone over my head. Me at 34: I won’t drive backroads after dark and I still don’t care about retirement. The concept doesn’t interest me. I’m here today and that’s what I’m living for.
Either way I got the call from NYS, saying I don't have to worry about retirement deductions anymore, and to borrow from my boy, Forrest Gump, “That's good! One less thing,” and life goes on.