What is retirement?

When I was a little kid–probably 5 or 6–my dad started taking Hebrew lessons from a brilliant woman at Sandhills Community College named Vivian Jacobson. Originally from Chicago, Vivian and her husband Ralph had retired to Pinehurst, where they became–and remain–an integral part of the community, and more importantly, close friends of my family (as well as employers of yours truly–I spent many a Saturday doing yard and house work at the Jacobson house!).

Marc ChagallAmong a host of interesting things about these friends of ours was that Vivian had gotten to know the great artist Marc Chagall late in his life through her work in the Chicago art community and was instrumental in a number of efforts to mark his legacy in Europe and the US, not least of which was his last work–the Job tapestry at the the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago–that he was working on right up until the evening of his death in 1985. And it was about Chagall that I called Vivian recently, when she said to me, “Jared, you ought to tell your clients about Chagall, and how he was doing some of his best work in his 80s and 90s, right up until the day he died. Retirement is not just sitting around doing nothing–that’s dangerous!”

And the first thing I thought when she said that was, “Man, there’s some real truth to that.” And then I thought, “Well, if retirement is not just about leisure and ‘doing nothing,’ what exactly IS retirement?” I suspect some of you, whether looking forward to retirement or currently there, may wonder the same thing.

When people talk to us about retirement, it’s often within the context of two money-related questions: “How much can I spend?” and “How long can I spend it?” These are very important questions, questions that are themselves impacted by a host of other decisions about work, saving, investing, priorities, and values. Getting some clarity around the numbers side of retirement is crucial.

But you know what’s at least as crucial? Answering this question: “What will you DO in retirement?” And I don’t just mean what big trips will you want to take each year, or how much money you’d like to give to charity, but what will you do each and every day?

The reason why this question is crucial is because, as Vivian told me, doing nothing is dangerous. Leisure is important, but without purpose and activity it loses all its value (not to mention it becomes boring and unhealthy–this is called hedonic adaptation).

So, I’m doing what Vivian challenged me to do, which is to challenge you: Think toward not only the financial part of your retirement, but the intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual parts as well. Get into the arts. Serve on local non-profit boards. Hone your cooking skills. Learn new skills. I could go on and on. The point is to commit to making the most out of each day in retirement.

Your leisure–and your life–will thank you.



Jared Korver
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A product of small-town North Carolina (Carthage, to be exact), I’m proudly married to my best friend and co-adventurer, Amy. Together, we have two sons–Miles and Charlie–and could more or less start a library from our home. I love being outside, can’t read enough, am in the habit of writing haikus, and find food and coffee to be among life’s greatest treasures.