Congratulations! You’ve celebrated the BIG birthday. What’s next in your life?

Are you looking ahead towards retirement? Or does it seem further away than ever?

I’m a statistics person. (If you’re not, bear with me. I’m not going too deep into stats.) When I see numbers, I dive right in to see how the world is doing. And the numbers are crazy right now.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women have lost 5.4 million jobs since the pandemic began, with 2.1 million dropping out of the workforce entirely. The percentage of women in the workforce is now as low as it was in 1988.

I find that unbelievable! Unfortunately, a lot of these women didn’t drop out because they wanted to. It’s more because they had no other alternative. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to try and keep your kids engaged in virtual school, run a household, and attempt to work virtually too. Frankly, I’m surprised the numbers aren’t even a little higher. If this is you, I feel for you.

When women don’t work, they don’t invest in their futures. Yet women are more likely to face old age alone when compared to men, and have a greater chance of living in poverty.

We may be dreaming about retirement as Gen Xers, but studies show that fewer of us will ever get there. A study conducted by Business Insider found that half – 1 in 2 – Gen Xers do not have a retirement savings account. Only 36 percent of Gen Xers are actively funding current retirement accounts, and while early Baby Boomers still have pensions to fall back on, those are all but fading away for our generation.

Are you still with me? Don’t fret; I’m not writing this to add more fear to your life.

Think of it as a wake-up call from one Gen Xer to another.

My hope is to get you to think differently about retirement, and what it means in your life.

Define Retirement

How would you define retirement? What do you wish to do?

• Travel more?
• Pursue your passion?
• Take up new hobbies?
• Focus on your family?
• Write a book?
• Start a business?
• Volunteer with a cause close to your heart?

Did I capture one of your goals?

What you really hope to accomplish in retirement is freedom. You hope to have enough financial resources and time to do the things that truly matter to your heart. You want a better life than what you are currently living, and you hope retirement is the means to the end.

When the concept of retirement first was put into the population, it was meant to fund those in the most difficult jobs, when they no longer could perform the tasks required of them. Retirement was closely aligned with life expectancy, so the government would only have to find funding for a short period of time.

As wealth increased and we developed a healthier lifestyle, life expectancy increased, but the retirement age did not. That meant that as we moved into the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond, retirement took on new meaning. It’s not unrealistic for today’s 70, 80, and 90-year-olds to spend as much time in retirement as they did their working years.

Think we’ll get the same flexibility as Gen Xers?

We can … if we define it using our own terms.

What we really do in retirement

Here’s the reality for many new retirees.

Many retire because they reach a “certain” age. Whether Social Security kicks in, they can draw a pension, or they have enough savings to release the “problem” job they’ve hated for so long, they make a choice to walk away.

Yet they’ve been so busy, they haven’t created much of a plan. They may have a bucket list like the one from above, but they haven’t set out to define how it all fits into their lives.

The first day of retirement comes, and they start the first twenty-four hours with nothing to do. They go for a walk. They click on the television. They sit down.

And they quickly fade away …

The traditional way of retirement takes away your heart and soul. You’ve thrived (whether you enjoyed it or not) on a very structured life, working 40 hours a week, adding a few more hours for drive time, maybe even more hours if you met with friends from the office for happy hours and such. And suddenly, it’s gone.

You want to write a book, but where do you begin?

You want to volunteer, but where do you start?

The unknown becomes overwhelming.

You sit. You fade. Disease sets in. You move to a full-time job managing your chronic pains.

I’m not saying this to belittle the situation in any way. For many, this is quite literally their path.

Is retirement really the desired path? Or, is it …

What we really want is freedom

Whether “retirement” is five years, ten years, or many more years away for you, what are you really looking forward to the most?

Retirement isn’t your end goal. It’s not your number one desire.

If you look carefully at why you dream about retirement, I bet it’s for:

• Freedom to do what you want to do?
• Freedom to write the book?
• Freedom to travel and learn new things?
• Freedom to spend more time with the ones you love?

Are you seeing the common thread here?

What you really want is … FREEDOM!

But here’s the thing; you don’t need retirement to get what you desire the most.

You can find freedom right here, today. If you want it bad enough, you can find freedom by restructuring your current life.

What brings freedom? I would argue it comes from two things:

1. Passion – you love waking up each morning because you LOVE what you do!

2. Finances – you have the proper amount of cash flow to cover what drives you each day!

And in my opinion, that’s what we should be educating our children for. That’s what we should be striving for as Gen Xers, and do so in a way that we will love each and every day for the rest of our lives.

That’s freedom. That’s what we truly want from retirement!

Master the art of living

Freedom comes from two things: defining your passion and having cash flow to live your days any way you choose.

When you look at each of those, they can quickly overwhelm. You want to feel more passion in your life, but what does that mean? Having cash flow sounds great, but where does that come from when you’re living paycheck to paycheck?

Stop thinking big.

Think small instead.

Pick one tiny thing – one thing that would make your days better. Do that.

Maybe it’s driving your kids to school. Or having coffee every morning with your husband. A date night every Friday. Being able to buy yourself a bouquet of flowers on the weekends.

Now focus on that one thing. How can you make it a part of your life?

Instead of buying candy at the grocery store (which really isn’t good for you anyway,) why not save the money and splurge on a great big bouquet?

If you want to spend a half-hour having coffee with your husband every morning, maybe it means getting up thirty minutes early. Buy yourselves travel mugs and go for a walk. This ensures your kids can’t find you, your email won’t be a temptation. Leave your phones home, and focus on one another.

See how easy this is? When you focus on small things, it’s easier to fit them into your life.

And between the two, it’s easier to go back and forth to make them possible.

Passion comes from a life well-lived. It doesn’t mean you need a million dollars, a new car, or a new job.

It means putting more pleasure into every single moment.

Do it once, and you’ll want more. You’ll crave it.

You’ll add another thing to build passion in your life. You’ll release something that no longer gives you pleasure, and fill it with something new.

You’ll ask yourself what’s really important. You’ll find answers you aren’t even asking yet.

And it will ultimately lead you to a better life.

Traditional retirement is dead.

Passion and freedom instead.