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How I Explained To My 9-Year-Old Son That I’m Never Going To Retire

The following was syndicated from Quora for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

What is the most important thing we need to teach our children early in their life?

My son: So dad, you aren’t going to retire? Ever?
Me: That’s right. I’m not going to retire.
My son: Why?
Me: Because I think the whole idea that you work and then retire is flawed and hopeless. If you count years till retirement it means 2 things:

1. You suffer throughout your life and see the retirement as a moment in your life when you’ll be set free from this pain, when you can finally say “Now I’m a free man. I don’t have to work anymore, not a single day.”

2. You treat work primarily as a way of earning money and not something that should in and of itself bring you joy, satisfaction and be important to you (have meaning).

And if that’s how you treat your work your belief is that you need a lot of money in order to buy things that will bring you pleasure. You end up believing that the work itself is not meant to be pleasurable. And that only the things that money will buy you will bring you pleasure — the fancy clothes, nice cars, houses, expensive travels, etc.

Sure, you need money to buy food, clothes, pay for the rent, electricity, etc. but that shouldn’t be the main reason behind working. Work could be (and should be) so much more. If you love what you do you don’t wait for the day when you can retire, you enjoy almost every single second of your work, and eventually you don’t want to retire even if you can. After all you can choose not to retire. Retirement is not compulsory. It’s for those who don’t like what they do.

If you work solely for money (you need it only because there is this necessity — you have to pay for stuff) and never ask yourself what it is that you would really enjoy doing, it’s obvious that after so many years of doing some random job and saying “I hate Mondays!” at the beginning of each week and “Thank God it’s Friday!” at the end of each week you will be exhausted, fed up and want to retire. You will say to yourself “Just 5 more years and I will finally retire.”

On the other hand, people who love what they do in life will never think of it this way. They want to work till the day they die because they enjoy it. They often work even when they’re in their 80s or 90s.

My son: But granny Anna couldn’t work now. Her health and age wouldn’t allow her.
Me: True, granny Anna couldn’t work physically anymore, but she could write books for example. Like Astrid Lindgren.
My son [excited]: Astrid wrote even in her 90s!
Me: See.
My son [fascinated by soccer and a soccer player himself]: But soccer players couldn’t do what they do their entire lives.
Me: True, soccer players and other pro athletes can’t stay the way they were in their 20s their entire lives — with time their performance will deteriorate. Maintaining this high level of human ability is impossible for people. But they can switch to being coaches and coach younger players, writing books, etc.

Let me tell you something else about Astrid. While those who work for money usually don’t create things that last, over her lifetime Astrid wrote so many books that she didn’t need the pension at all. She didn’t have to rely on the state to support her, to pay for all the things that she paid for herself when she was younger (and “able to work”). She created something of value that paid for her bills 10, 20, 30, 40 years later. Each new book that she wrote was one piece of a body of work that she created throughout her life and each brought her some money.

Individually those contributions might not be large but because she wrote a lot it soon started to add up. People who work for money usually don’t get paid for things they did years, even months ago because usually they don’t create things that last. They do their job (load, unload, check, prepare, clean up, deliver, consult, advise etc.) get paid once and that’s it. That’s why they need to rely on the state to support them later in their lives.

This conversation happened after one of our neighbors asked my son whether he would take me with him to a high school reunion (20 years after) as a response to his regret that he couldn’t have partied with me. She told him that by then I will be a retired man. After she’d left I said to him: “That’s interesting. She assumed that I will retire simply because that’s her reality — that’s what people like her do. And she figured, erroneously, that I’m like her and everybody she knows.”

To read more from Lukasz Laniecki, check out his blog errlikeaparent.com, where shares his personal viewpoint on a healthy parent-child relationship. Read more from Quora below:

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