We spend months or years preparing for many significant life events. The first for many of us was the build-up to going to ‘big school’. Our three-, four- and five-year-old selves grew increasingly excited, right up until the day school started and then there was an overwhelming flow of emotions that may have been more negative than positive. When you stand in the playground of first-graders on the first day of school, you’re bound to see plenty of tears.
Similar things happen when we move on to secondary and high school, when we turn 13, 16, 18 and 21, when we get accepted into college, start a dream job, buy our first home, get married, and have children. Sometimes there’s a honeymoon period, and we float around in a state of bliss at how awesome life is, but very soon, we realise that each decision has its challenges, and each day is often just like any other.
If you ask a child who’s just turned a year older how cool it is to be seven instead of six, they’ll be happy to be a year older. But you ask someone who’s just turned 27, 37 or 57, and they’ll probably admit it’s just a day like any other.
A significant event we possibly anticipate most is the day we stop working and allow our savings to support us. Traditionally, we call this retirement, but we’re trying hard to change the language around this because so many of us are not ready, no matter how much time we’ve had to plan for it. And, just like that first day of first grade, it may not be as impressive as we’d imagined.
We could call this “Financial Independence Day” or “Life after work” (as Douglas Fletcher coined in his 2007 book of the same title), or anything else that helps us make sense of what life will look like for us as we enter a new phase of life and change the pace of our work-life balance.
It could happen anytime, from our thirties to our eighties; the timelines are increasingly expanding. But however we plan for it, we cannot only focus on the money side; we also need to look at the emotional side of life after work. It’s easy to overlook this side as we spend so much time planning to have enough money, and often only plan to stop working when we finally have what we feel will be enough.
But life doesn’t always work out exactly as we plan, nor does it fit into the boxes and timelines we like to create. Starting to look at a fuller picture of what life will look like, not just our cashflow model, is helpful to make this transition smoother and more accessible.
With this approach, we can begin to break free of old habits and beliefs and celebrate the life stage. We can intentionally create deeper relationships and not just deeper pockets, having better conversations and expectations for life after work.