I was about three years old and my dad scared the hell out of me. It was the first day of Yellow Duck nursery school. I had never been to school before. I vaguely remember being upset about it. Perhaps crying.
My dad said, “first you’ll have two years of nursery school, then a year of kindergarten, then 12 years of regular school, then 4 years of college, maybe another 4 years of graduate school, then 40 years of work, then when you are old as grandpa you’ll be right back where you are now.”
I was thinking, “Holy shit, this sounds pretty bad.”
No I wasn’t. I didn’t know that word then.
But I was thinking something along the lines of “Grandpa is pretty old. This sounds really really unpleasant.” I didn’t cry anymore. I had to go to school. The occasional bad thing happened at nursery school but that can be expected.
But it never escaped me, “wow, it’s a long time until I’m going to be happy again.”
I think my dad might’ve also said something, “in 60 years you can relax again” or something like that. I was three years old but I felt the unbearable burden of what it would take to become an old man. An endlesss array of tomorrows crushing me with their necessities. Even then I couldn't figure out how I would be able to carry one treacherous burden after another, crushing the music out of me. Because the truth any three year old knows is that old men can't dance and that you have to be completely insane to work that hard for that many years. I was being pushed out the door into a maze of lies and insanity and it was going to last for sixty years unless I died first. Nights would only be small pauses where cruelties and other insults against my soul and body would add up until finally, retired, I would be a rotted away version of my three year old self.
I decided at three I needed to retire immediately. But when you still shit in your pants, at three or at ninety, other people have control over your life. And they want you out the door, pronto!
I hear a lot of people say, “When I retire I will...”
Then they make their list. Here’s a sample list:
- “When I retire I will write a novel.”
- “When I retire I will hang out with friends more. People I like instead of clients or work colleagues.”
- “When I retire I will do stand-up comedy”
- “When I retire I will travel more.”
- “When I retire I will exercise more so I can stay in shape later in life.”
- “When I retire I will get really good at something - like golf, or piano, or maybe even tango dancing.”
- “When I retire I will spend more time with my kids.”
- “When I retire I will meditate and try to find inner peace.”
- “When I retire I will read more books about the Civil War and really brush up on my history.”
- “When I retire I’m never going to talk to all of these crappy people again that I have to talk to every day now.”
- “When I retire I will be happy”
I didn’t have that list when I was three years old, but I definitely thought to myself: “I’m in prison for the next 60 years.” Or maybe my dad said that. I forget.
But I definitely knew that the fairy tales were over. That Santa Claus was dead. That poetry (even Mother Goose) was now silenced, as I climbed in the bus and a Ku Klux Klan of three year old faces in hoods stared back at me.
If I couldn't retire at three I had to at least pretend. And I've pretended ever since.
So I’m going to make my list (it’s very similar to the above list) and I’m going to take out the words “When I retire”.
Now, how can you do it? What if you have a 9-6 job? What if you have to take care of kids before and after (and maybe during).
Well, then its harder.
But let’s think of the things that are NOT on that list that most people do right now that can be easily avoidiable:
- I didn’t say “When I retire I’m going to watch a lot more prime time TV every night.”
- Or, “when I retire I’m going to spend a lot of my spare time kissing up to people.”
- Or, “when I retire I’m going to eat junk food all day long and read three newspapers a day and spend time gossiping with people about Kim Kardashian all day long.”
- Or, “when I retire I’d really like to get revenge on this list of ten people I hold grudges against”
- Or, “I really hope when I retire I finally get that promotion I deserved for thirty years.”
- Or finally, “When I retire I really hope I spend at least an hour a day worried about money”.
Nobody says these things about when they retire.
And yet all of the above things take time. For instance, I’m imagining right now the kind of revenge I’d like to do against a specific person who has wronged me. I see myself following him to work and then bashing him in the crotch with a baseball bat. That took a bit of time and energy to think that. What a waste! Am I going to be sitting around when I’m retired doing all of that imagining while I’m sitting on the Hudson River looking at the trees?
It also takes a lot of time gossiping about Kim Kardashian with co-workers. I have probably spent a half hour in the past day thinking about whether or not her marriage was a fake, should the E channel cancel her shows, why are people so obsessed with her (including me), etc. That takes away quality time.
So here’s the challenge (if you can, do it right now. Take out a little pad, write these things down. Trust me. It will feel good. I just did it myself):
- Make the list of things you want to do when you retire. Start each item with “When I retire I will...”
- Take away the words “When I retire” from each item.
- Now make the list of things you do now that you definitely WILL NOT do when you retire.
- Add up how much time you would have per day if you stopped doing the things you list in #3. Obviously some things you can’t avoid: you have to commute. But while you are commuting you don’t have to listen or read the newspaper, for instance.
- Start doing, each week, the items on your list of things you would do if you retired right now. Even if you love what you do right now, and you love every minute of it, you can still take out the things you would never do if you were retired and replace them with some of the things you love to do.
In effect, you are practicing retirement. Don’t say you “can’t” do any of these things. If you can do them when you are 70 you can certainly do them when you are 40 (unless you say, “When I retire I will go on dialysis”). There really are no excuses. Time is not an excuse because of #4. The time we spent judging, grudging, gossiping, envying, kissing up, indulging (pop culture, snacks, news, post-work drinking, etc) adds up. Even if it adds up to just two hours a week (by the way, it adds up to much more than that), that's enough time to take a piano lesson and tuck your kids into bed.
There’s really no excuses.
Then it turns out the word “retirement” is wrong. You aren’t “Re” getting “tired”. You’re not old. You’re getting re-energized.
There’s an added benefit. When you start doing the things that re-energize you, you might find that you don’t want to “retire” anymore. Job and career and health might get better. Passions and work might merge. There's still some poetry left. There's still dance in your legs. Not every day is a juicer squeezing away the truth.
You might get those promotions. You might start that business (because you are practicing exploring your passions). You might find your true love (tango classes could do that). Life will get better.
When I “graduated” Yellow Duck Nursery School I remember very clearly the present my parents got me. It was a Hot Wheels toy car. It was colored orange on the outside and purple on the inside. The doors could open and shut and when I ran the car along the floor it went smooth and straight. When I’m 90 years old I’m going to get a car just like it. And I will ride away into the sunset, where my dead grandparents are waiting for me.