Dreaming of retirement helps you fantasize about your ideal life—and potentially have it now

Imagine your retirement.

Are you picturing long, lazy days on a tropical beach under coconut trees? Maybe you’ve opted for a life of adventure, traveling to all the places you haven’t been to yet. Perhaps the science fiction novel you’ve always wanted to write is finally pouring out of you. You might spend all your time volunteering for a social or political cause. Or maybe you even go back to work, but in a very different field than before.

As human life expectancy has increased, retirement has evolved from “the end of life” to “a second life.” The average retirement age in OECD countries in 2018 was under 65, yet some research suggests humans could live to be 120 to 150 years old in the future.

That leaves us so much time!

Of 9,000 adults in the United States and Canada in a recent study, 55 percent said that retirement represented a new chapter. After decades of working to earn a living, they are turning to projects, pastimes, and even second careers that excite them.

But why should you wait until you retire to pursue those things? Lifespans may be increasing, but long life is no guarantee. What if you used retirement as a frame of reference to realize how you want to spend your time right now?

Retirement As a Frame of Reference

The idea of retirement lets people dream big. My guess is they feel that after fulfilling one career, they will have met their social, familial, and financial responsibilities and cast off the chains of wage slavery, finally free to do what they really want.

They had a job that provided for themselves and their family and—hopefully—enabled them to save enough money to live comfortably. They contributed to the economy and taxes, and the working world. They satisfied their parents’ or family’s expectation that they do a specific job and be “successful.”

Thinking about retirement lets us see past what we should do to what we want to do. It cuts through the distractions that keep you from recognizing your values, which are attributes of your ideal self.

Even if you’re not on the cusp of retirement, fantasizing about retirement helps paint a picture of your ideal life. But it doesn’t just help you figure out what you’re working for and toward—it helps you integrate some things you thought you had to delay until retirement into your life now.

When my last company was acquired, I had time to think about what to do next. One of my friends asked me, “What would you do if money was no object?” (This question is similar to “What would you do in retirement?” because it cuts financial, and some familial, responsibilities out of the equation.)

I said I would learn for a living. I would learn and write with the goal of making the world better by explaining what I’m learning to others. I started doing that, which turned into blogging, which turned into my two books, Hooked and Indistractable. This passion became my livelihood, but it doesn’t feel like a job.

So, what would you do in retirement? Once you have a rough idea, you can pinpoint which aspects you can make time for today.

Have Your Ideal Retirement Now

Fantasizing about retirement reveals what’s meaningful to you. It shows you how you truly want to spend your time, exposing your values.

You may not yet have the money saved to live the retired life all day, every day, but you can inject small periods of bliss into your schedule.

Use the time management technique timeboxing to schedule your “retirement” activities in a calendar. (I have this free schedule maker and habit tracker to help you get started.)

If you’ve always wanted to write a science fiction novel, consider timeboxing a biweekly writing routine. If you want to volunteer at a dog shelter, sign up and timebox it in your calendar weekly.

Of course, because you aren’t retired, you won’t be able to make time for everything you pictured in your ideal retirement. For example, switching careers might not be feasible due to your financial or familial obligations.

But think of it this way: What steps can you take toward switching careers that you can do right now? Timebox those small steps into your calendar.

Every step, no matter how small, that fulfills your values brings you closer to your ideal life.

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