Author of ‘Practical Steps to Financial Freedom and Independence’, USIERE UKO, writes about planning ahead so that you can choose either to retire or not
The word retirement elicits different reactions from different people. For many, it is something to dread – they avoid thinking about it until they inevitably get to that bridge. They know what they don’t want. They saw what happened to their parents, older relatives and neighbour and they sure don’t want it to happen to them – images of prematurely aged senior citizens on TV carrying placards, demanding their rights or camping out for data verification. They hope it will not happen to them, but they have no plan how to ensure it doesn’t.
With the transition from industrial age to information age, pensions have moved from employers to pension fund managers and ultimately to the markets. That means your fortunes rise and fall with the markets, depending on the asset allocation strategy of your Pension Fund Administrator. All you can do is hope and pray your money will be there when you need it, so that you don’t have to ask ‘who took my money?’
Retirement also conjures an image of a senior citizen on a rocking chair watching life pass by while trying to eke out a living on a stipend, having to depend on grown up children who may have become too busy to spend time with them. Sadly, many die a few years after retirement. Their goals, hopes and dreams were wrapped around the job. Their job was their life and with the loss of the job, there was virtually nothing else to live for. They never had time for their family when they were climbing the corporate ladder, and now the family does not have time for them.
A flawed paradigm
Many of us were brought up to go to good schools, get good degrees to get a good life. The focus is on earning a living rather than getting a life. Jobs are chosen based on earning potential rather than the opportunity to learn and grow as a stepping stone to achieving our maximum potential. Rather than a marathon, life is looked at through the lenses of 100 metre dash. How fast you get a good job, rent a nice flat and buy a good car becomes the measure of success rather than how much you are growing as a person, following your passion and purpose on your way to achieving your dreams. The person who laughs first wins.
The problem with chasing a high paying job is that you often leave your passion behind in the quest for a better pay. You don’t love what you are doing but you do it anyway because it helps you to maintain your current standard of living. This short sightedness does not allow one to see that a job is no longer guaranteed and one may wake up one day to realize that happily ever after is a mirage. The pension you had long hoped for may not be what you had anticipated. Meanwhile, in chasing the mirage, you had neglected personal development, financial education, developing multiple sources of income and becoming financially independent. By the time involuntary layoff knocks on your door, it may be at the most expensive period of your life is, when your kids are in the university abroad and age is not on your side to re-enter the job market with new skills.
Between job and work
Although we use work and job interchangeably, there is a world of difference between the two. A job is something you do to earn money – a necessary evil. It reminds me of a story I read in the papers about the flag girls of the Lagos Ibadan Expressway. These are graduates earning N30,000 per month standing in the hot sun all day to control traffic at portions of the road under construction. They are not doing it for the love of the job, but because they are tired staying jobless at home; as going into prostitution is not an option. I know folks who would rather work as a store keeper in an oil company than take a lower paying job that would lead to their dreams. As long as the pay is good, they can dream another day.
However, work is what you were born to do. That is your assignment; what you are wired up for. It is the reason you have those talents, innate abilities, dispositions and desires. As individuals, we have a unique contribution to make. That is why everything about you is unique – voice, eyes, finger-prints, DNA, you name it. There is no one on this planet like you. You have a unique assignment. That is your work. That is where your natural strengths lie. This is where you can achieve your utmost potential. When you get to this place, you become a brand. Nobody can fire you or lay you off. You can never retire from your work until it is fully done. When you build a business around your work and do a very good job of it, financial freedom is not far away.
When you are doing your work, you are not afraid of retirement. You retire on your own terms. You don’t work for money anymore. Money works for you while you pursue your passion, touching people’s lives in ways only you can.
Retirement is a choice
When you achieve financial independence, you can engage life on your own terms. When you are doing what you enjoy doing, you want to do it for the rest of your life. Retirement now seems like being out of the game, watching life from the sidelines. I know of people who sold their companies and sailed off to go enjoy the rest of their lives. Within six months, they got bored and got back into the game, to feel alive one more time. If you are an active person, inactivity can kill you. When you conquer one mountain, you aim for the next peak.
If you do not enjoy what you are doing, you can’t wait to get out. Retirement becomes a lifesaver. However, if you do not discover your work and start doing it, you will find that being idle is not fun as it seems. You have to plan the next phase of your life long before you approach the retirement age. You need to start doing it in a small way and grow it gradually. When it is time to leave your job, you can transit seamlessly. If you wait for the last moment, collect your gratuity with trembling fingers to engage a marketplace you have been insulated from all your working life, you may kiss your money goodbye. If you don’t know what to do with your money, those who do will help you spend it.
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