Do what you want when you want to. That is the rule that I tell myself to follow. I have only one life and so do you. We should not let tradition or other people tell us how to spend our precious minutes.
Our society wants us to do as we’re told. We must follow a pattern.
Box Number 1
We devote the first part of our lives to learning. You are to focus only on school. This may be your first 20-25 years.
Box Number 2
Then you graduate. You have all the knowledge and skills you need. It is time to put it to work. That is the focus of middle life.
This is to be age 25 to age 65. Focus on the job and career and increasing your money. Forget about learning or fun. Those belong in the other “boxes” or stages (age ranges).
Box Number 3
At last, you arrived. Age 65. Now you can stop working and do what you want. Focus on pleasure and leisure. Finally, there is no more strain of learning or working. Time to enjoy!
Got it? Follow the rules and hop through the boxes when told. Box 1, then Box 2, then Box 3. Simple, right?
What a crock!
Life in a Box
Richard N. Bolles first called these stages boxes in his book the Three Boxes of Life.
These boxes represent the stages for your primary activity and focus during each age. For the first 25 years, you focus on your education and developing skills. You will need general knowledge for the workplace. Technical training or an apprenticeship can further prepare you for work.
Now You Must Work
For the next 40 years (age 25 to 65) you will be in the box labeled “work.” Just do your job. Show up and be reliable. The schools trained you how to do that. Learn more only if your boss makes you.
Don’t decrease your productivity to learn. You already had your learning time. Take only the minimum vacation days. Don’t use sick time unless you are in the ICU. You can rest and enjoy life and travel when you can’t work anymore.
You Are Old So Do What You Want
After this stage is complete, at age 65, you can enter the final box labeled “retirement.” You can do what you want as long as you go away. Go play golf or die or whatever. You are not of any use to this employer anymore.
These boxes are pure and based on chronological age. In other words, when you’re in school you are not working. When you’re working you’re not learning much. When you’re retired you will not be earning any income through employment.
The Times Have Changed
That pattern made sense for a few generations. It doesn’t anymore. We can’t stop learning when young. Many of us would have a much richer life if we ignore the three boxes.
We need all roles throughout our lives. We need Learning, Labor, and Leisure throughout every phase and age of life.
Think Outside The Boxes
If you agree a better model is needed, think about how to implement it. Here are some ideas. Students should also work. It will focus your time and apply your skills.
You will make money to help pay for learning and fun. The socializing will keep you connected and fresh which helps the learning. There is synergy.
Learn While You Work
When working full-time, think about how you can challenge yourself to learn. Could you take a Coursera course or an evening community college class?
Enjoy Life While You Live It
Could you extend your vacation or take a sabbatical between jobs? Schedule your fun and travel now while your kids are little and your body is fit.
Giving it all up, stopping, and “retiring” isn’t required. You can continue working, learning, and daily enjoyment.
Age Isn’t Everything
The chronological date on the calendar (your age) should not dictate how you conduct your life.
Maximize all that life offers. Enjoy all three roles throughout your life: Learning, Labor, & Leisure.
It is time for a new model. In modern life, there is a significant overlap in these boxes.
Many of us work while going to college. Many of us continue education while working. Some of us have fun, earn money, or go to school well past traditional retirement age.
Break Through Box Walls
Modern citizens do not fit well into such discrete boxes of life.
Many do not enjoy passive leisure. Stopping work is often not sitting in a rocking chair or retreating from the world.
People are now healthier and more active and living much longer. Why spend decades of life to leisure activities, especially when they are passive?
The Victory Lap
Mike Drake and Jonathan Chevreau wrote, “Victory Lap Retirement.” They proposed the fourth box and called it the “Victory Lap.” This box comes after the work box and before the “full-stop retirement.”
The Victory Lap box begins after years or decades of full-time strenuous work. It also begins after financial independence.
Pay off all debts and build several income streams before your Victory Lap stage. At this point, you will have a wonderful array of options. You can create a path of your choosing.
In the Victory Lap stage, you can continue to work part-time. You may work for your previous employer, a new employer, or for yourself.
Money and security are no longer the primary drivers.
You will stay engaged, learn, and grow. You will enjoy life to the fullest.
Work For The Love Of It
You can have time to focus on purpose and meaning. Work for the love of work. You can feel like a kid again.
Enjoy your physical and mental health. Adopt a positive attitude and embrace your very own adventure.
Finally Near The End
Traditional “full-stop retirement” is the final, less vibrant stage of life. This is the time of eldercare and decreased functioning.
Institutional living may be appropriate. This segment of life will be brief.
Consider Never Stopping
Work “lifespans” have enlarged. It’s easy to find examples of people late in life who work. Many of them are joyful and grateful for the opportunity of continued employment.
Several of my mentors practiced medicine and teaching well into their late 70s and 80s. One mentor gave a talk at a national conference after his 90th birthday.
He had plenty of money bought taught because he could teach. He was good at it and his students loved him.
Your Best Years Are Later
You may choose a gradual entrance and exit of the workforce. The peak of our careers may be into our 60s and 70s rather than 40s or 50s.
Enjoy The Journey
Consider a sabbatical. Consider a mini-retirement. Enjoy some freedom and defer traditional retirement long into the future.
Traditional distinctions between work and leisure fade. We play while working and work while playing. At this stage of life, even a little bit of work provides freedom.
Traditional media images of retirement are deceptive. Your life should not be only about sitting on the beach drinking a piña colada or golfing on an exotic course.
Passive Life is No Life
It is unrealistic to expect fulfillment from this activity for decades. Don’t retire early to a passive lifestyle. Some of my patients tried that.
They became bored and disillusioned. Too many retirees plan their day around the mundane.
There is no challenge in early-bird specials or an evening’s TV schedule. That is a ticket to a narrowing social circle and a life of ennui.
Do What You Want But Do Something
Retirement based on one activity like golf leads to boredom. Challenge yourself more.
Without continual challenges, the boredom of life becomes a living hell. It sounds wonderful but in reality, it isn’t for so many disillusioned retirees.
We need a strong focus and meaning. We need a very good reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Goals and aspirations provide that reason. The Japanese word for this concept is ikigai and we all need one.
Don’t Be an Icky Guy – Have an Ikigai
Ikigai – “A reason for being, with joy, purpose, meaning and a feeling of well-being.”
There’s a common misconception that as soon as we reach retirement, bliss arrives. All our work-suffering and frustration evaporates. This results in certain instant happiness. Not so.
In reality, we need to stay engaged, have goals, take risks, and likely continue work in some capacity. It keeps us active and challenged. We can spend “fun money” worry-free.
Financial Independence is Not The End
You may enjoy working after financial independence. It is more enjoyable when you don’t need the money. You have a whole new layer of freedom.
You feel more powerful and confident in negotiations. You’re willing to say what is on your mind. There is no concern for political repercussion or termination.
The choice will be yours as to when or whether you want to work.
For me, I’m choosing a life that I consider FINER. Financial Independence, Never-Ever Retire.
You may choose to work at least part-time during this phase of life. Some of the benefits include:
Avoiding loss of identity.
Improved health and longevity.
Reduced financial anxieties.
Improved daily structure and social interaction.
Feeling of accomplishment and purpose.
Make your own choices. You get only one life. Do what you want when you want to. Don’t base your life on only your birth year.
There are choices other than “full-stress work” or a “full-stop retirement.” There is a box in-between. Call it your Victory Lap.