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Reboot, rebuild, recharge. That's retirement

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-04-2017 Priya Sunder

How soon can I check out is the most common question clients ask me about their retirement. And my answer is, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!” 

Hotel California is among the most famous recordings of the American rock band the Eagles. The song itself has been subject to various interpretations over the years since it was first released in 1977. I have contributed my own symbolism to its world-famous “You can check out…” lyrics. And thank heavens the Eagles didn’t retire and check out of music when lead singer Don Henley turned 58. 

Which brings me to the point: why should anyone have to retire? Is retirement the only chance to live an enjoyable, fulfilling life? If you made a strong impact on your organization and employees during your working life, are you sure you want to give it all up now? What if you were 80 and this were the last day of your life? Will you look back ruefully and realize that retirement wasn’t the happy life you imagined? What if you wished you had worked longer and contributed more to society instead? 

I have never heard a musician talk of retiring. Pt. Ravi Shankar continued to perform till he passed away at 92, as did Pt. Bhimsen Joshi till age 89. Lata Mangeshkar, Billy Joel, Elton John… the list goes on. As long as they are healthy, skilled and enjoy what they do, most artists don’t really quit.

Similarly, I don’t find many entrepreneurs, writers or politicians talk of resigning or retiring. Warren Buffett, at 85, says he feels like tap dancing to work every day! Such people have enough fire in their belly to go on for plenty more years.

However, with salaried people, the story is quite different. They are resigned to retire at 58. What’s worse, they want to retire even earlier. 

I find that retirement has a strong negative influence on a person’s mental and physical well-being. A once socially engaged, active and productive person is overnight left rudderless. Retirees are plagued by low self-esteem and a sense of abandonment. The psychosomatic effects of feeling adrift also lead to a slowdown of mental faculties, insomnia and various other health complications. This is something that most people who retire never consider. 

There are two aspects of retirement, financial and psychological. The financial part is easy to figure out. A good financial planner can project future spends and help build a corpus so one can retire comfortably. Even if income stops and expenses increase in the future because of inflation, travel or medical emergencies, it is possible to plan for such outflows and continue today’s lifestyle into the future.

A problem could arise when you retire early and have not built up enough of a fund to see through future expenses. Hence, the first consideration is to create enough of a nest egg. Given the average life expectancy is increasing by 1 year every 3 years, we must plan for living till 100. 

The psychological bit is the trickier part of retirement. Let’s say your financial security is a given, but you have an entire day stretching out in front of you for years on end. Time is no longer money. How do you fill your hours, days, weeks? You can’t impose yourself indefinitely on people, even if it is your own significant other. I’ve heard many spouses groan that a full-time retirement for one partner results in a full-time caregiver’s job for the other partner. 

You’ve travelled, visited your children abroad, enjoyed your grandchildren’s company, watched reruns of your favourite TV shows, joined the local laughter club, caught a spontaneous movie with your spouse. Then what? Is there anything that would make you jump out of bed in the morning and look forward to a bright, new day? 

My father, 78, found retirement devastating. A senior executive in a multinational, he prided himself on being the firefighter in his company; someone who others relied on in a critical situation. Whether it was bagging large international orders, negotiating with the labour union or rolling up his sleeves and fixing a faulty machine on the factory floor, my father lived to work.

The power, adulation and respect he had built up over 45 years of working life seemed to dry up overnight. In six months, my father was a shadow of the towering personality he once was. When an opportunity arrived in the role of a director of one of the largest corporations in West Asia, he grabbed it with both hands. He went on to become the only Indian to hold a board-level position in the company. 

The 60-70s demographic is an attractive talent pool of knowledge, skill and experience. It would be criminal to allow this treasure trove to sit on an unnoticed shelf, collecting a curtain of dust.

Senior citizens need to look within themselves and determine their course of life for the next 30-40 years, not just for the immediate few years. They may not be where they were in terms of stamina and motivation, but they still have a lot to give. They can work at their pace: maybe as a consultant, mentor, teacher or volunteer, or do pro bono work. Retirement is surely a time to slow down, to enjoy a stress-free life, and to do all the things you love to do. 

As for me, I am a singer in an all-girl rock band. That’s my retirement plan. We plan to sing Hotel California at our next gig. Don’t miss it. 

Priya Sunder is director and co-founder of PeakAlpha Investments.

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