Do What You Love

15Nov13

There is a commercial for retirement planning with Prudential that I think is very telling:

Before getting to the silent volumes that this advertisement speaks, I would like to address one glaring issue: Retirement is not, “paying ourselves to do what we love.” Retirement is (hopefully) doing what you love while living off of savings and deferred compensation. If I pay myself $20,000 a year for writing this blog, I am not $20,000 better off. Paying yourself can be an effective personal financial tool, but in the end there is no net gain.

Now to address the assumption that lies behind the ad, specifically that we must postpone doing what we love until we reach retirement age. Though it’s more common to read stories about the rise of instant gratification culture, our culture actually insists on the ultimate delayed gratification.

When people are children, we ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  When they are in college we ask them the twin questions, “What’s your major?” and, “What are you going to do with that?” Then they get out into the workforce, and at this point we tell them that they can do what they want only once they’ve squirreled away enough in savings and deferred compensation to live off for the rest of their lives… usually once they’ve reached the age of 65.

In other words, from ages 0-18, we imply that people can do what they want when they’re adults. From 18-21 (or so), we imply that the ‘do what you want’ age is about 21-25. From their early 20s, we tell them that they actually have to wait another 40-45 years. Then, assuming their health is good, people can do what they want until they are limited by their physical ability… 20 years if they’re very lucky, more if they are incredibly so.

In short: learn how to work for the first quarter of your life, work for the middle half, and then (and only then) can you do what you really want… for as much of your final quarter as your health lets you. That is delayed gratification.

Does anyone else see a problem with this?

I think we need to stop waiting until the twilight of our lives to do what we love. I think we need to find a way to do what we love before retirement.

Let me be clear in what I am not saying: I am not saying that people should not do what they love in retirement. Far from it, once a person retires, they should write, paint, travel, work part-time, or whatever suits them. On the other hand, we should strive to do that earlier in our lives.

Obviously, not everyone will be able to achieve full-time employment in a career that brings them fulfillment — there will probably always be more dishwasher and hotel housekeeping positions than there are people who find fulfillment in them. (Though I can’t help but wonder what the total cost to the economy is in the lost productivity of workers who are only there for the paycheck.) On the other hand, just because you are in a position that doesn’t fulfill you doesn’t mean that you should accept that position as your lot. The Hollywood stereotype of the struggling actor (working as a waiter or barista, or a series of temporary jobs) should be what our template if we are in a job that does not fulfill us.

(On a personal level, just because I am feeling stuck in a job I hate, that sucks my soul, and that doesn’t pay enough to pay my bills, doesn’t mean that I will accept it as my lot. No, I will do everything I can to find a way to earn a livable income while fulfilling my soul.)

"Be happy with what you have while working for what you want. So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied. " -- Helen KellerI saw this on Upworthy’s Facebook page today, and I thought it fitting. I personally have problems executing the first part of the first sentence, but this should be our goal… not spending 45 years in a job you dread daily, so that you can spend 15 of your last 30 doing what you love.

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2 Responses to “Do What You Love”


  1. 1 Those Who Are About to Graduate, I Salute You | withamouthfullofstones

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