When many of us think of retirement, our thoughts zoom to some sort of lazy day. We might be sitting on the front porch, watching the grandkids play, or we might be sipping a cold drink on a beach somewhere.

However, the reality is that a “traditional” retirement might not be that awesome. Are you likely to want to relax? Sure! But to be doing nothing all the time? I know that I couldn’t live like that. And that’s one of the reasons that many people are redefining their idea of a “good” retirement.

Where Did We Get This Idea of a Traditional Retirement?

The funny thing is that the traditional retirement is a somewhat recent development. Most people, up until about a century ago, were expected to work until they died (or they “chose” to work until they died because scraping a living before the advent of policies designed to encourage a broad middle class didn’t leave much room for saving).

Over time, our idea of a traditional retirement has evolved into something that involves working for 30 or 40 years, and then retiring to live off a pension and Social Security. You live quietly, pursuing inexpensive hobbies, and hanging out with your posterity. Of course, in the past, if you retired at age 65, you were expected to maybe live until 75 or 80.

The traditional retirement managed to rule our collective psyche for a few decades, and now many of us are rethinking the idea of what it means to have a good retirement.

And some of us are wondering if a “true” retirement is the right path at all.

Would You Really Want a Traditional Retirement?

One of the issues associated with a traditional retirement is the fact that it can get pretty boring pretty quickly. Not only that, but there are indications retirement can actually be bad for your health.

Initially, retirement might suit you. You have more time to relax, and you might see an improvement in physical and mental health. However, the problem comes later, when you get tired of having nothing to do, and you wish you had a purpose. There are a number of studies that indicate that social interaction and a sense of purpose are necessary to humans. Without them, it’s easier to give up and succumb to mental health problems, and even experience more severe physical health problems.

Many of us, if we really thought about retirement, would likely prefer not so much leaving the rat race behind as being able to have the freedom to pursue purpose in a way that matters to us.

I know that I have no intention of living out a traditional retirement. I know that I want to keep on writing — although some of the things I write about might change. I also know that I want to be able to serve in my community and make a difference, even if it’s only at the local level. And there are plenty of places I want to see and new experiences I want to have. The idea of wasting away on a beach somewhere doesn’t appeal to me. And the idea of sitting in front of the TV all day, and perhaps puttering around in the garden for a break, really doesn’t do it for me.

Most of us are active, vibrant people. The idea of a traditional retirement is repulsive when you really stop to think about it.

So, Why Save for Retirement?

Of course, if you aren’t going to have a traditional retirement, and if you plan on working longer, what’s the point in saving for retirement?

Well, just because you aren’t going the route that many people think of as traditional doesn’t mean you won’t need money. I think of the money in my retirement account as more of a guarantee of financial freedom. It’s a way for me to set my own terms and live life the way I want to.

Right now, I have a reasonable amount of freedom already. I am fortunate to have a career I can do from anywhere, and I make a nice living. I’m able to travel and see things, and spend time with my family. But I also envision a time when I’ll have more freedom to make a difference in my community, and perhaps write about things that don’t make as much money.

The reality is that retirement shouldn’t be seen as a destination. It should be seen as another phase of your life — and one that isn’t really a traditional retirement. So, yes, save up money. Build up your portfolio. The idea is to build up enough wealth that you can do what you want during retirement, whether what you want is traveling the world, working in a more fulfilling career (that doesn’t pay as much), or whether it really is just sitting on the beach sipping a slushy beverage of your choice.



Miranda is freelance journalist. She specializes in topics related to money, especially personal finance, small business, and investing. You can read more of my writing at Planting Money Seeds.