At Beer and Peanuts our goal is to answer the question, “What if leisure isn’t enough?” This question comes from our observation and experience working with hundreds of retired clients in our financial planning practice. Many people find that while they are working full time, they are very attracted to the idea of not having to be on someone else’s schedule. They want freedom to do whatever they want to do. They anticipate not having to go to work, not having to do distasteful, boring, or difficult things. And there is no wonder about this desire: work is hard. That’s why we get paid for it! (We pay for fun things, we get paid for hard things, right?)
What we like to call “The Vice”…
During the working years, people often feel like they are in a vice: one jaw is work. While it may be fulfilling and satisfying (and provides income), it is still filled with pressures and difficulties. The other jaw of the vice is the call, pull or desire to do other things such as travel, spend time with family, work on hobbies, or even just rest. Retirement gets you out of the vice. No more working, and you have the freedom to follow your own schedule, do your own thing. That is why so many of us work so hard at saving, paying off debt, building up assets and even dreaming about retirement. Just look at the all the pictures of beautiful 60 somethings on the brochures from annuity and investment companies. They are holding hands on the beach, pushing grandkids in swings, skiing down an awesome mountain. (Now that I think about it, the pictures look a lot like a Viagra ad, too! I guess its the same target audience, isn’t it?) Anyway, while we are working full time, retirement looks great, and my industry has put a lot of effort into helping make it both attractive and attainable.
The Elements of Meaning
While we are working away and dreaming about retirement, there is something that is easily missed. In our desire to get out of the vice, many people forget or just don’t notice that despite the stress of work, it also provides some intangible benefits. I’m not talking about salary or health insurance. Rather, work helps to structure our time and gives us somewhere to go and something to do every day. In B&P lingo this is Purpose. We also interact with colleagues through e-mail, staff meetings, project updates, birthday lunches, and chatting about the world series, among other things. We call this interaction Social Contact. A third benefit work affords is recognition, stewardship, and value exchange. These three things are elements of Meaning.
When I say Meaning, I am talking about the feeling of significance and accomplishment we experience from doing things that have impact. Meaning usually comes in relation to other people or other things. Meaning rarely comes from pleasing ourselves. The three elements that make up meaning are
Recognition: being noticed and acknowledged for something we have done
Stewardship: exercising care for others or things
Exchange of value: receiving a tangible reward for our effort
Each of these elements is treated in detail elsewhere (click here for links). Suffice to say here that even when we are in the vice, we do often derive meaning from our work. We get a paycheck (exchange of value). We get our work done, and take care of our customers (stewardship). Others acknowledge our efforts and our input (recognition). Even if we have a jerk for a boss, surely there are some other people — co-workers, customers, vendors who express appreciation from time to time. When we stop going to work full time there is nothing that will automatically replace the recognition, stewardship and value exchange that comes from the world of work. In the absence of work, many people find they miss the satisfaction they get from meaningful activity. And without meaning, life is meaningless.
The good news is that you are thinking about your life, rather than letting it happen to you. It isn’t hard to create a meaningful life. It just takes being aware of three things: First, your need for meaning. Second, the elements that make life meaningful. Finally deciding what activities, people, or projects you will invest in to receive the critical feelings of recognition, stewardship and value exchange.
Stewardship/exercise of care for others or things
Exchange of value