My friend Ardis MacGregor turned 100 this Tuesday. This will be the first winter in several years that she hasn't spent a few days with us in Florida during the cold weather. But this year, she's having more trouble getting around in the aftermath of an auto accident that broke several of her ribs.
Although the pain has slowed her down, it hasn't taken any of the edge off her wit and awareness of the world around her. And she even did a little dancing at her grandson's wedding a few months ago.
Ardis' energy and longevity have made me rethink the idea of retirement. Does it make sense to retire at 60 just to spend the next 40 years rocking on the porch? And even if I wanted to do that, could I afford to rely on savings and government largess for four decades or more? I don't think all the retirement planning in the world is really going to bail me out if I live that long. And if Ardis is any indication, I might.
One of the most interesting recent books on retirement is Lee Eisenberg's bestseller, The Number He contends that all the retirement planning in the world is pointless unless you know what you want to do when you retire. Only when armed with that information, can you figure out how much money you need.
I interviewed Eisenberg a few months ago for a piece for Bankrate.com on retirement planning in a lousy economy. He said it surprised him that so many people close to retirement said they planned to spend their time golfing or traveling – pastimes he felt weren't substantive enough to sustain very many people for the 30 or 40 years of life that is likely to remain for them. He suggested that people identify more meaningful activity by asking themselves, "If I had 24 hours to live, what would I most regret?" And then use that answer to develop a retirement life plan.
As the New Year rolls around, I've been thinking about this. In fact, it's my New Year's resolution to figure it out, because the answer doesn't seem obvious. As I finish up 2009's responsibilities, it does seem clear to me that while I love what I do for a living, doing practically the same things that I've been doing for the last 30 years for another 30 or 40 doesn't sound very fulfilling – let alone exciting. And neither does endless golf or boating or any of the other pastimes that make weekends special.
My grandparents worked until they dropped. My parents died too young to enjoy retirement. Me – I'm working on being lucky enough to have a choice.
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