The Real Lowdown on a Meaningful Life and Retirement

Lewis Walker |


There’s a hot new company advertising on television, The RealReal. Based in San Francisco, TheRealReal is an on-line resale marketplace for staff-authenticated luxury goods. If you are going to buy used Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, or other upscale item, you want certainty it’s the genuine article. Anyone who has traveled and seen the guys selling “luxury handbags” on European or Asian streets, aggressive salesmen who run like rabbits at the first sign of the police, has cause to be suspicious of deals and illusions that too often are too good to be true.

Illusions portraying a happy and perpetually idyllic retirement are peddled constantly. We know that the process of growing older is not one long day at the beach, so to speak. Money worries, physical aches and pains, responsibilities in caring for oneself and others, and myriad other challenges can upset the best of plans. Have you thought about your game plan?

In reality, your plan for a happy and well-adjusted life should be crafted long before retirement, ideally when you are young and just starting out. But since life is a process of learning that should not end until the day you die, you will think differently at age 22 than you will at 32, and so on at ages 42, 52, 62, 72, 82, and 92. Why count in multiples of 10? Long-range planning is always wise, but if you think too far out, the “fog of the future” can cloud your thinking. Just focus on the next ten years. Why ten years?

Anyone beyond age 70 will tell you that ten years will slide past you faster than you think. You don’t want 2023 to 2033 to be your lost decade. It will be if you just drift through it. Craft a plan. Then monitor your plan and modify it as you go. Change it as you learn and life lessons force growth in wisdom and understanding. A financial plan is best couched within an overall life plan.

Ask yourself, “Who am I and why am I here?”  People have a wide range of religious and non-religious beliefs as to why they are on this planet and of what is expected of them in terms of how one relates to others. Those who are not anchored by strong beliefs encompassing responsibility to self and others often are adrift, lacking purpose. That does not make for a happy life at any age. Answering key questions, knowing who you are and where you are going, can be the path to an energizing, purposeful, and happy existence, regardless of where you are in “the circle of life.”

From your early twenties up until you retire from your primary work life, you are busy. You’re often tired, and a two-week vacation, if you can afford the time and expense, is welcome. Spousal responsibilities, raising children, maintaining a home, managing your career or running your own business, continuing education, caring for elderly loved ones, can be energy draining and time consuming. But what happens when you’ve made it to retirement?

Once you retire every day is a weekend day. You’re not even working from home. You are home, 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, 8,760 hours a year. Suppose you sleep 8 hours a day and spend two hours daily on personal grooming and other necessities of life. That leaves you with another 5,110 hours to fill over the course of a year. Now what, pilgrim? What does your major life transition called retirement look like?

If you can answer the question as to why you are on this planet, that helps to bring meaning and purpose to your retirement journey. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren in 2002 wrote The Purpose Driven Life to help you answer the quintessential question, “What on earth am I here for?” Whether you are a religious person, a religious humanist, spiritual but not religious, a secular humanist, agnostic, an atheist, many retirees find energy and mental- and physical-health bolstering purpose in helping and serving others. Writer Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality, now in its fifth edition, asserts that in retirement you have to have enough money to sleep soundly at night, but you need a purpose to wake up to in the morning. Many retirees who are financially secure have a fear of being bored in retirement.

That bromide may help you answer the question, “Where am I going?” Aging is not one long vacation. There are everyday aches and pains, health challenges, losses of loved ones and friends, caregiving, and other responsibilities. But a purpose driven life stems from the satisfaction of knowing that you loved others, you met their needs and did the right thing no matter the challenges. You ran a good race, fought a good fight. Remorse is a sad thing. It’s comforting to know that when your soul shuffles off this mortal coil, to paraphrase Shakespeare, an eternal reward awaits.

A sense of hope, of purpose, of meaning right up until the day you die, is the foundation for a happy life and rewarding retirement. It’s not the “secret to life” because it’s not a secret. Read the teachings of the Old Testament prophets contained in the books of Sirach and Wisdom. Authored thousands of years ago, some advice is timeless.

Happy and fulfilling retirement is far, far away from anything that the RealReal or more spurious sellers promise. In fact, most retirees quickly realize that they have too much stuff. Garage sale, anyone?