“Someday when I retire” was the most common response to my questions about why we weren’t going to do an activity or plan a vacation. I watched friends go on Spring Break. They had passports and big plans. But not us. My Mom was saving up for retirement.
Retirement was a finish line everyone in my family was working towards before they could do exactly what they wanted with their time. When new ideas or fun plans came up, they said things like: “I’ll do it when I retire.” Or, after a long week, it was: “I can’t wait to retire.” It was like making a wish and a plan at the same time. In my mind, this was some kind of equation where you were earning your freedom. Work this long, be retired for this long, get old, leave this Earth at peace with a well-lived life.
Retirement was the ultimate goal and worthy of each sacrifice. I would skip the movies, the new shoes, or whatever other little thing to add one more dime into this pile of money that would guarantee I got to take a break someday. That I could enjoy the part of my life that apparently everyone was waiting to live for.
I guess hindsight is 20/20. I was wrong about retirement. Just last week I helped my best friend’s 85 year old grandfather clean up his room after a fall at his senior care facility. As I scrubbed the blood off the floor (sounds a lot more sinister in the memes about cleaning up crimes with your best friend), I kept doing this retirement math.
If the average retirement age is 65 and the average life expectancy is only 75, that means we’ll spend 50 years working to get 10 that we can actually enjoy. That is fucked up, especially when you consider that quality of life within the last few years before you die will most likely be declining. You can’t just get up and go when you’re worried about mobility issues. Retirement is not a finish line but instead a beginning toward the end of our lives.
Then there’s that variable we are too scared to say out loud. The one that says there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get that old, anyway. One cancer diagnosis, a bad car accident, or something else could completely throw any dreams into the drain.
I try not to think about it. It makes the planner in me panic. The part of me that always thought I had to work hard to earn every minute of rest feels like they were lied to. We were. We’ve all lived through enough historic events to know nothing is guaranteed anymore.
I’m done saving up all my wishes for someday when I retire. I’m letting myself live. I’m taking my days off and buying that extra donut. I’m going on a walk instead of checking one more thing off the list. I’m buying that plane ticket when it’s on sale. For so many years, I wouldn’t let myself do any of this all while wondering why I felt miserable. A day off? Never!
I know my situation is a little different. I’m not saving up for my kid’s college or someone else’s future, but even if you are – I know there are things you’re not letting yourself do. Things that would bring you so much joy. Things you need to do, but you prioritize everything else instead.
None of us get to control when we go, but we do get to control the minutes up to it. I won’t die wishing I lived. If we’re truly living for today, I don’t think it’s even about doing the bucket lists and taking leaps. It’s about the living, minute to minute.
Living is more important than work or worrying about someday. How we live today should matter a lot more than how we prepare for the end. What legacy can we leave behind that’s more important than teaching people to value time? You don’t know that there’s a next year. But I do know I’m not waiting until I retire someday to start living.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.