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Every time I use the word “retirement” in an article, I get kickback from someone who wants to make a big deal about it. “Retirement doesn’t exist anymore, except for the super-rich.” “Retirement isn’t realistic in this economy.” “I’m 50 and I haven’t saved anything yet, so I’ll never retire.”

I challenge you to look at your definition of retirement.

Does it mean working for one company for decades, getting a pension (and/or a gold watch), and moving to Florida as it did for generations gone by? No, it doesn’t.

This is not your father’s retirement.

Does it last from age 55 into our 60s or 70s, which was our projected lifespan back when Americans first considered retirement to be an acquired right of every worker? No, it doesn’t.

This is not your grandfather’s retirement

According to the Social Security website, when the system was created in the early twentieth century, “life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed only 58 for men and 62 for women, and the retirement age was 65.”

Times have sure changed. Today, according to data compiled by the Social Security Administration, on average:

    * a man reaching age 65 today can expect to live until age 83; and
    * a woman turning age 65 today can expect to live until age 85.

“And those are just averages. About one out of every four 65-year-old today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95.”

Did you register that? Have you really internalized that one of those 25 percent or 10 percent could be you?

What that means is that, by the time you take your benefits (however large or small…whether at 62 or 70…and if the system isn’t bankrupt), you still have almost an entire second adulthood left to be lived out. And financed.

As for the “financed” part, that’s a topic I write about often, where I try to instill the urgency of putting aside whatever you can, as soon as possible, and shepherding it carefully. But that’s not the topic for today.

Today I’d like to talk about “almost an entire adulthood left to be lived out.”

Somehow, for many the traditional image of retirement has persisted until today. There’s pre-retirement one day, then post-retirement the next. As if one door closes, and another one opens.

I challenge you to look at the rest of your life as a continuum. From today forward.

What’s the best way to do that? I propose that you set aside a chunk of time. Say a Sunday afternoon. Go sit out on the back porch or deck. Or in your favorite chair inside, if no one will bother you. Use pen and paper, and not your computer (too many distractions like incoming email and unfinished projects).

Start writing down how you envision your later years. What will you be doing? What activities will be important to you?  Where will you be living? Fantasize about how a day will be spent. Get into as much detail as you can. Relish in it; feel it viscerally.

Now, don’t even try to figure out how much that lifestyle will cost you. For today, that’s not the critical issue. For today, it’s important to see and feel what that will be like. Kids are grown and your needs, as well as your responsibilities, are different.

Next, list ten different things about your ideal “later life.”

Pick one thing. Is it that you want to downsize and simplify your life? Why wait? Do it now. If the crazy real estate market affords an opportunity that moves you where you want to move…and does so intelligently…why wait? And if downsizing isn’t realistic because of the market, simplifying still is.

Pick another. Do you want to dedicate more of your time to volunteering? Why wait? Do it now. Find something that may even be a watered-down version of your grandiose volunteering idea and start it now. Let that good feeling start to fill your life now.

Pick yet another. Do you want to spend more time surrounded by your kids and (if you have them) your grandkids?  Why wait? Make more effort to integrate them into your life by revisiting your priorities as you decide how to spend your time. Build those memories today.

Surely there will be things that you cannot do with today’s job and time demands. That’s fine. Maybe you want to move to Costa Rica eventually and the job you have today isn’t computer-based and portable. But if your job isn’t real secure, you might want to look at how to take your job skills online and move to Costa Rica where the cost of living is a fraction of what yours is here.

Or maybe you hope one day to be running a charitable operation that you start up, based on a cause that is your passion, as part of the legacy you want to leave. Maybe today you’re employed full-time doing something else. No, you can’t drop one to jump into the other. But you can sure inch into the charity by reallocating some time and energy.

When it comes to “retirement,” it’s unlikely that one door will close, neatly, as another one opens. It’s more likely that there will be a shift in activities over time, some paid, some not, as you recreate yourself in your second adulthood.

Whatever your vision looks like, start creating your ideal life today. There’s no reason to wait until all the pieces are in place.

Besides, any pieces of that ideal life that you do start living now will keep you focused on achieving the rest of the dream. Whatever it looks like.

So start “retiring” now.

I have.

Sharon O'Day

Sharon O'Day's mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term.

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