Don’t wait for retirement to live the good life. Do it now


Maybe the reason we’re so bad at saving for retirement is that retirement seems so ridiculous today. The workplace no longer demands that we put off our hopes and dreams until we’ve worked 40 years. And Baby Boomers aren’t exactly retiring in droves either, which makes younger people think that maybe they won’t want to retire either.

This demographic shift in thinking about careers leads to a new way to think about retirement and dream jobs and team work. Young people think their parents—Baby Boomers—missed out on this phase. Baby Boomers worked longer hours than any other generation and there’s a nagging feeling that it wasn’t all that necessary – that we can have engaging, rewarding careers without spending such a large percentage of our life at the office.

In fact, today there’s an intense peer pressure among young people to find the fulfilling dream job right away. This younger generation watched their parents put off their dreams until they paid their dues only to find themselves laid off mid-career, or underfunded for retirement late in their career. So Generation Y is not waiting.

Andre Blackman typifies his generation when he writes on his blog,, that, “If you work hard and keep pursuing your goals, things fall into place.” He is, of course, talking about those first few years out of college. Then he describes his own dream job as not about money or prestige but about working with “cool” people who “really know their stuff.”

The dream job for many people in the new workplace is a steep learning curve and freedom to contribute to the company in ways that are unique to oneself. Adam Copeland is an employee at Mirror Image, an Internet content delivery network. He has changed jobs within his company and he explains that the genesis of each move was the desire to increase his learning curve.

“I’m not even 30 yet,” he says, “I wanted to try something different.”

After a while, Copeland also found another way to create fulfilling work throughout a career rather than just at the end: Time for fun and travel. “I don’t need a castle and a moat,” he says, in a nod to the baby boomer tendency to work long hours for a huge home and put off enjoying it until later.

“I’d rather have something in the realm of time to travel,” Copeland says. For Copeland, fulfillment is a lifestyle that balances interesting work and interesting breaks. And this balance gives rise to the type of job that is fulfilling for its ability to compromise on many levels to get the benefits of work and play right now, without waiting.

For others, a dream job is contributing to the community in a way that matters. It’s impractical to wait until the end of one’s career—to retire from work and then start doing good. If nothing else, it’s a long time to wait to do good.

Sam Davidson, who blogs at Cool People Care, wrote the Gen-Y bible on instigating change for a practical generation. You can talk all day long about big change with big results. But what Davidson points out in his book, New Day Revolution, is that there are hundreds of smaller and probably easier steps we can take to make the world a better place. Davidson describes a lifestyle of micro change that can help you save the world.

Davidson focuses on a 24-hour period that most jobs can accommodate. Which means that any job can be a job that fulfills one’s need to make a difference, because anyone can use Davidson’s steps to “save the world in 24 hours.”

For Baby Boomers, the workplace competition was about money, and the material things that represent one’s earnings (after all, it’s so uncouth to talk about it). But Generation Y sees the competition as about fulfillment, and they are determined to get it.

In his post about his new dream job, Blackman writes, “And now if you will excuse me, I must break out into my secret victory dance one more time . . . .”

But maybe the most important thing to remember is that you don’t need a dream job to be happy. Your job cannot be a stand-in for relationships and people who care about you. A good job facilitates those relationships and often that is the sole reason that a once-quirky job now suddenly becomes reasonable and stable.

44 replies
  1. A.J.
    A.J. says:

    Has somebody been reading Four Hour Workweek?


    * * * * * * * *
    I haven’t said much about this book, but since you bring it up here, I will.

    When it first came out, I wrote about it a couple of times because it has a lot of fresh ideas in it. But here’s an important thing that I wish people talked about more: Tim Ferris works harder than almost anyone I know. Well, he did before he was a billionaire from this book.

    His big premise is how you can leverage yourself and your ideas and your work in order to generate income and drastically shorten the the amount of time you earn money and then you concentate on what you love to do. But most of the people who do this leveraging successfully have worked very very hard to create something to leverage. Tim is no exception.

    So the idea that normal people can do this, well, I’m not convinced. Because most people are not in a position to create the thing that they leverage. I don’t really understand why people don’t talk about this more when they talk about the 4 Hour Workweek.

    When it came to publicizing Tim’s book, I can’t think of anyone I know who worked harder. And I know a lot of book authors. This is a good example of how, in reality, most people have to work very very long hours, just like Tim did, in order to have the financial success that can support a life of dreams on 4 hours of work a week.

    So. That is to say that this post is about accepting that most of us have to work 40 hours a week. And the best thing to do is redefine work instead of tell ourselves we are going to try to not do it.

    I’m looking foward, actually, to a dicussion about this topic here. Curious about what you guys think. And how crazy is it that I’m writing all this in my comments section? ???


    • Jacq
      Jacq says:

      The fresh ideas in The 4 hour workweek were few and far between. Barbara Sher was talking about lifestyle design since the ’80’s in her book Wishcraft – only she called it “life design.” Richard Koch’s books on the 80/20 principle precede and are far better than 4HWW. Your Money or Your Life was another book that was far more practical “how to” rather than 4HWW kind of inspirational.

  2. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    Before the career gets going you have time and no money. Later you have money and no time. Later still you have time and money but not the health. Never put off travel or vacations till a “better” time. And yes save for retirement but not at the expense of doing important things now. You really are only young for a while so do it all while you can all you youngins.

  3. Andrea C>> Become a consultant blog
    Andrea C>> Become a consultant blog says:

    In my 20s, I was focused on the dream job. It wasn’t about the money. Then I hit my early 30s and the houses in my city went from $300k to $1.1M, just as I was downshifting so I could have a couple of kids. Now it’s all about the money! :)

  4. Tiffany Monhollon
    Tiffany Monhollon says:

    I think an interesting thin in all this is that what is really happening with our generation is, we are trying to redefine what it means to live the good life in a way that matches our idealism. A good life means good work. A good life means serving our community or other people. A good life means spending quality time with people we care about.

    The struggle comes in though because while we try to reject the “a good life is driving a new BMW and living in a 3,000 sq ft house and wearing designer clothes” etc. etc. etc. we still struggle with the consumerism so rampant and accepted in our society and want older generations’ definitions of a good life TOO. A good life still means travelling across Europe and plasma flat screen TVs and Apple products. Or, we really really want it to.

    That’s why the practical change Sam advocates is so revolutionary to us. We can do that – it’s not exactly radical, but then again, maybe it is, because it works.

  5. Robert W.
    Robert W. says:

    I second the question about the 4 Hour Workweek. Penelope, a friend/colleague of mine similar in nature to you is a woman named Fiona Walsh. She insisted that I read Timothy Ferriss’s book while I was away in Hawaii last month. That book, combined with the time away to clear my head, reassured me with great clarity that there is no time like the present to reshape my life the way *I* want.

    Where I live now – Vancouver, BC – is a very beautiful place. Many surveys say that it’s the most beautiful city in the world. True, but more so between May – October. The rest of the year I very much want to live somewhere else. And I’m nearly setup to do that – ie. have laptop, can travel. But now I have a definite goal to focus on and attain.

  6. Michael Henreckson
    Michael Henreckson says:

    You know, if we don’t concentrate on enjoying our life now, then we’re never going to have any time to enjoy anything. Now is what we have. Make the most of it. Sometimes it’s not about finding the perfect job, it’s about finding the nearly perfect job, and then exerting the extra effort to make ourselves enjoy it enough that it becomes the dream job.

  7. Brett Legree
    Brett Legree says:

    All very valid points, a good post Penelope. Another thing I would always suggest is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how well you eat, no matter if you are fit and young – if there is something you really want to do, do it now because even the young get cancer. The young die in accidents.

    I have seen so many people do everything right, get the Freedom 55 (or even much earlier) – and then, they never get to enjoy that dream.

    Dream big, do it now. You only get one chance. And no one knows when his or her time is up.

  8. David Rees
    David Rees says:

    I personally do not believe in retirement. I don’t think it is an interesting or worthwhile goal.

    I want to work until I am dead, but I enjoy my work – it does not really feel like work most of the time.

  9. GoingLikeSixty
    GoingLikeSixty says:

    Boomer here: We can’t help it! That’s the way were raised.

    College, career, family, wife returns to work, home in good neighborhood with yard and good schools, nice family vacations (credit card interest used to be deductible!) kids to good college, fully funded pension plan or 401K+.

    What happened to many of us was right after we ran up that debt for college (age 40-50) we lost our jobs or fully funded pensions changed to 401K.

    So with huge debt and underfunded retirement we’re screwed. Have you checked the performance of $10,000 invested in the S&P the last decade?

    All of a sudden those guys that went into the military right out of high school and took a fulfilling job at 48, or the guys that went to work making cars and retired with 95% pay and full health benefits after 20-30 years, are looking very smart.

    Plan all you can, but shit happens.

  10. finance girl
    finance girl says:

    Retirement = (Financial) Freedom,and everyone wants that.

    Want to keep working when you could otherwise not? You can.

    Want to just go play and relax and make new friends? You can.

    That is what retirement is all about, and you bet your patooty it’s still highly, highly attractive to pretty much everybody to have it as an option and to not “have” to work for money.

  11. David B. Bohl @
    David B. Bohl @ says:

    “If you just work hard enough and long enough, everything will turn out fine – eventually – and it will all be worth it in the end.”

    I cannot tell you exactly when that thought was ingrained in my Boomer psyche, but it was planted firmly there until I, too, figured things out.

    Thanks for the reminders.


  12. Gene Shiau
    Gene Shiau says:

    Everyone can’t be a generalist and be successful. If a dream job entails professional success, then the dream job requires career specialization. On the other hand, Gen-Y loves to chase learning curves, to keep varieties in career, and to take time off and enjoy “good” lives if not instant gratification. That ideal seems to be at the very core of Gen-Y’s dream jobs. Surely there can’t be two ways about it, so what does it take, really, to find/create a dream job? Should we focus on single but in-depth specialization, or aggregate professional experiences from a broad spectrum of fields?

    When Boomers started their careers, I am sure they thought of the preceding generations the same way Gen-X thought of the Boomers, and same still Gen-Y thinks of Gen-X and the Boomers. We all seem familiar with how the prevalent “dreams” and attitudes change from generation to generation, but why have they changed the way they did? Could we be deceiving ourselves when we claim we hold the key to a good life? What will Gen-Z think of us?

  13. John Lacey
    John Lacey says:

    I am absolutely in love with The 4 Hour Work Week. Conceptually. lol. I am still trying to figure out just how to apply to my own life.

    To be honest, I really felt like if I had to keep “delaying” the things I wanted in order to keep working in my dead end job I would go “postal”. ;)

  14. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:


    First of all it isn’t crazy that you’re writing all this in your comments section! The topic of this book (which I haven’t read) could be a future post of yours but at least for now is a mini-post thanks to you and your readers.
    I will second Michael Henreckson and David Rees regarding ‘enjoying life now’ and ‘retirement’. I will also add a favorite well known saying that often comes to mind – “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”


  15. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I actually wrote about retirement not too long ago, because of an experience I had recently. I was at a seminar and someone asked the question of whether Gen Xers will redefine retirement (I am a Gen Xer). It was an extension of the “aren’t Babyboomers great because they want to mountain climb their way through retirement” conversation.

    Our Babyboomer facilitator said the jury is still out. However, I had to speak up on the topic. My husband and I already know what we want in retirement. We want to go to the Gen X retirement home. They will play lots of Motley Crue, cook us dinner, and we can party with our friends. The only difference between that and our life now is that we currently cook our own dinner.

    So I guess what I am saying is that I agree with Penelope. Plus, it doesn’t have to be expensive to live the good life, either. It all goes back to work-to-live, not live-to-work. And having cool friends.

  16. coldfusion
    coldfusion says:

    “So the idea that normal people can do this, well, I'm not convinced. Because most people are not in a position to create the thing that they leverage. I don't really understand why people don't talk about this more when they talk about the 4 Hour Workweek.”

    So true. We were discussing this topic at work.. it’s funny how our minds work, OR don’t work for that matter.

  17. Izabella Tabarovsky
    Izabella Tabarovsky says:

    Right on, Penelope. I’ve long wanted to write a post on retirement and might do it now that it’s once again on my radar screen.

    One of my favorite authors on the subject calls our massive postponment of the joy of life for the sake of illusory security in old age a “lust for retirement.” I love this phrase, because that’s really what it adds up to. Watching your retirement account grow and fantasizing about what you’re going to do with all that money once you can get your hands on it – and once you have more than a measly 2-weeks vacation time at your disposal – is lusting for retirement. And how absurd and perverse is that??

    I’ve been writing a lot about happiness in work and life on my blog lately, and judging from page views, this subject is really striking a chord with people. But the thing with happiness is that it can only be achieved in the here and now, and it is as much a skill as anything else in life. If you sacrifice your happiness in the now for the sake of the future, not only will you have missed your life, you also won’t really know how to be happy when you’re old.

  18. Leonard Klaatu
    Leonard Klaatu says:

    Ferris’ 4-Hour-Workweek “mini retirement” strategy is a terrific idea, albeit impractical for most people (unless you call a vacation a mini retirement). However, that living in the moment mindset is valuable (and always has been). It’s more difficult for some than others because contentment is harder for some.

    Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I think somehow we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.”

    Some don’t like the choice they made, but don’t know how to change it. So, they dream and lust for something better while the days pass into nights. And before long, they’ve reached the end having done little or nothing to alter their destiny.

    Maybe the challenge is to question the decision we’ve made about who we are – and get about making a choice to be happy (either where we are, or where we’re determined to go).

  19. Miriam Salpeter
    Miriam Salpeter says:

    I think part of the issue of putting off the good life for retirement is financial advice that calculates how much money you'd have if you only invested the money spent at Starbuck's every week. If we don't enjoy a nice dinner out, but plunk the money in an IRA for a g'zillion years, we can (hope to) have X (large) dollar amount for retirement! With uncertainties in the market and in life, this can be a difficult line to buy.

    I recently finished reading Tamara Erickson's book, Retire Retirement. She suggests that Boomers may remain in the paid working world well into their 80s in some capacity. One interesting fact that she illustrated was how much less money they will need to save for retirement if they plan to keep earning:

    If living expenses are $75,000/year, with an annual income of $0, they would need $1,032,000 to live for 30 years (supposing an interest rate of 6%). In the same scenario, but earning $25,000/year, the figure drops to $866,000 in savings. By earning $50,000/year, savings needs drop to $344,000.

    That's a lot of lattes! Something to think about –

    Miriam Salpeter

  20. Kare Anderson
    Kare Anderson says:

    Few of my boomer colleagues were/are mainly focussed and what it could buy. Meaning and making a difference do matter to most of them. Re jobs for younger-than-boomers coherts see what one author thinks is ahead for some boomers, fyi in the book, Leisure Economy

  21. Jonathan E.
    Jonathan E. says:

    I have to strongly disagree with the notion that you can save less for retirement on the expectation that you’ll earn a substantial amount of income deep into retirement.

    Just because you can live longer doesn’t mean you’ll be willing and able to supplement your retirement income in any significant way. It’s a dangerous proposition to assume you’d be able to lift a finger much long after you plan to retire. For every spry 99 year old Eubie Blake-type of person you know, there are legions of disabled 60 year olds who are already collecting disability.

    Save, save, save, as much as you can. If you think anything more than hobby income — or the government — is going to fund your lifestyle in your golden years, you have another thing coming.

  22. Jim Eiden
    Jim Eiden says:

    I worked as a temp at Apple computer in the early 1990’s. Employees with 5 years of service were required to take a 6 month paid sabbatical. This was non-negotiable, and employees were compelled to go off and doing something.

    Some people went mountian climbing, others did community service, etc. But every 5 years you had to go on sabbatical.

    I am not sure if Apple still does this, but it was a great policy and built more well rounded employees who would then bring more creativity and outside influences into the company.

  23. GoingLikeSixty
    GoingLikeSixty says:

    “If living expenses are $75,000/year, with an annual income of $0, they would need $1,032,000 to live for 30 years (supposing an interest rate of 6%). In the same scenario, but earning $25,000/year, the figure drops to $866,000 in savings. By earning $50,000/year, savings needs drop to $344,000.”

    I HATE this kind of BS analysis. 6% interest? For 30 years? What about inflation?

    So unreasonable and so misleading… and so typical of financial planners. They are the snake oil salesmen of today.

    Don’t buy into this crap.

  24. GoingLikeSixty
    GoingLikeSixty says:

    About “lusting for retirement” being perverse…
    Maybe I’m lusting for just a year off.

    But guess what? It can’t be done!

    So I will be working until I’m seventy. And I have 8-10 times the savings of the average baby boomer.

  25. Ryssee
    Ryssee says:

    I’m 40. I’ve never known when I’m going to die, become seriously ill, or disabled, so to me, the last 22 years and hopefully the next few decades is the time to do the things I want-and need-to do. It’s taken me longer to get money in the bank and into my 401k and pay down my debt (finally have on all counts, yay!) but to me it’s been worth it to take the slower road.
    I would leave my job and find another if I couldn’t take advantage of the vacation time I’ve earned. I have also left jobs to see the world and take a step back. Travel broadens my horizons both literally and figuratively, and teaches me what really matters in life by viewing my life and my country, and learn about others’, from a different perspective for a few weeks each year.
    I live pretty simply most of the time, and don’t have all the stuff my peers do, but I do have a unique view of life and a few suitcases and backpacks filled with experiences and memories.
    I have been working in good jobs that are fulfilling and interesting the other 48 weeks of the year. I’ll be working until no one will hire me anymore, or until I’m unable to, but I want to live my whole life as fully as I can, so that’s the trade off.

  26. leslie
    leslie says:

    I agree that all of life is mostly about, money, relationships and time. One may not be able to have all of those things together on any given day but over a lifetime everyone will experience all of these things. However, corporate life isn’t kind to those who march to the beat of their own drummer which is why starting a business is so appealing to many of us. Its not really about the money, rather its about having control over your time.

  27. Don
    Don says:


    You talk about baby boomers as if they made a career decision right out of school. I’m a fifty year old guy, which puts me at the tail end of the boomer demographic. We thought the same thing about OUR parents: that they worked their tails off in pursuit of an elusive “good life” that they only cashed in on at the end — if they were lucky. But it doesn’t work that way. You get sucked into things along the way. Family, kids, responsibilities. Suddenly that not-so-perfect day job is not so easy walk away from or to recast into the dream career. Remember where the baby boom generation came from? They were hippies! The last thing they wanted was to settle down and work “longer hours than any other generation.”

  28. Dale
    Dale says:

    The 4 hour work week… what a terrible idea!

    In my youth – while watching my parents toil all their lives for my siblings and me – I thought it would be the best thing to be able to do as I pleased, when I pleased, with little or no need to work. But those are the musings of the naive. On looking back, I realize that my parents may have fought like cats and dogs, but they were the happiest people I knew.
    I now realize that work – be it hunting, gathering, farming, or sitting in the cube all day – is essential to emotional well-being (once our other essential needs are being met – you know food, sex, friendship, sex, spiritual, sex, self actualization, and did I mention sex. We all need a sense of purpose, a way to justify our existences. And while we boomers and our parents took it to extreme – thereby losing our true sense of purpose, in favor of a race for the material artifacts of life – today’s young people seem to be getting it right in many ways (especially the relationships and service to the community part).
    But each generation is sculpted by the previous, and I guess time will tell if we are truly headed in the right direction or if this is just another generational quirk. My money’s on us heading in the right direction:)
    Just my two cents worth.

  29. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    Great post as usual. (Also as usual I get a lot out of reading the comments.) Thanks to all in the “community.” I expect to work for life, or as long as it’s still fun. From 21 to 35 I did the job-hopping, marrying, kids and grad school routine, and, hardly slept but learned a lot. I finally “settled down” and now at 44 have my dream job, easy commute, kids almost independent, plans & ideas about future travel, some money socked away, and am working on paying off the last bit of debt. My hope is that by 60 I can scale back a bit, but likely keep working at least part-time. Every day however I try to find happiness in the little things, the big things, in learning, and in doing. I worry less now than I used to, having come through so much, but still wish I could have explored Mars! (Costa Rica, some day, will have to do.) Meanwhile, there are great plays, great sailing, and great food, nearby. (I’m in Boston.) I’m content, with what I have, and plan modest improvements over time. Seems like a good life, to me, so far. The Dalai Lama says “find happiness.” I agree. Warm wishes. Think Sring!

  30. Connie
    Connie says:

    To me this post and the next one deliver a one-two punch. The 3 career principles you highlight in regards to the Spitzer call girl absolutely apply to the current life vs. retirement life balance as well.

    For example, your career advice is “Know what you are selling” which could also be thought of as “Know what you want from both a career and retirement”.

    Then “invest money in your career” also becomes “invest for your retirement”. More specifically if your retirement plans are to write the next great american novel then taking a writing course would probably be a good idea.

    Finally, “if you have two careers, make sure they have synergy” has an obvious application in doing things in your current career to plan for your retirement.

    Of course all this reveals that for me and everybody I know we plan for our “retirement” to be an extension of our current life rather than the so-called traditional golf/travel/spend the grandkids’ inheritance.

  31. Richard Millington
    Richard Millington says:

    It worries me that i’ve only worked full time for a year and i’m already saving for retirement. It worries me big time.

    Perhaps a different career concept is to work less every year. Begin working the lunatic hours when you’re young with the enthusiasm and stamina that goes with youth, then each year try to cut the hours down by 5% or so. By the time you hit retirement age, you only work a few hours a week anyhow.

  32. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    But maybe the most important thing to remember is that you don't need a dream job to be happy. Your job cannot be a stand-in for relationships and people who care about you. A good job facilitates those relationships and often that is the sole reason that a once-quirky job now suddenly becomes reasonable and stable.

    And there is the truth of the whole thing. Money means nothing if you have no time to enjoy your earning.

  33. Charity Falkey
    Charity Falkey says:

    Work is very fulfilling and as long as you enjoy your work there’s nothing that says you have to retire. I think it’s important to save anyway just in case something happens and you can’t work and also to be able to have the option. It’s a lot less enjoyable when you have to work to survive.
    Staying active keeps a person healthy for longer and a job can give a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning.

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