Jobs have changed, careers have changed, opportunities are everywhere you look. It’s never been more possible to make a bigger mark in a shorter space of time, making it doable for anyone that sets their mind to it to retire early. Plenty of individuals, upon reaching financial freedom, choose to volunteer or start projects. They might even work for money, but the point is they don’t have to.
There’s no fitting term to describe this group, and “retired” is misleading. “Financially free with the power to choose” is a bit of a mouthful. More people are entering this camp and there’s no useful or uniform way of describing it.
Retirement needs a rebrand, it needs a new word.
The basic state pension, then known as the Old Age Pension, was introduced in the United Kingdom and all of Ireland in 1909. An amount equivalent to £26 or $36 today was paid weekly to those over 70 who passed a means test. But average life expectancy at that time was 50 for a man and 53 for a woman. Although the high rate of infant deaths skew these figures, it remains that a pension and, therefore, retirement was reserved for the final years of life.
Retirement meant something completely different to what it does now. More people are living longer whilst creating financial freedom sooner. The numbers of people not needing to work in their thirties, forties and fifties is slowly rising thanks to technology and more opportunity to start and scale a business, a trickier feat in 1909.
There’s little benefit in describing oneself with reference to an absence of something. For example, “Hi, I’m a non-smoker.” Teetotal. Non-parent. Those introductions tell me what you are not, but not what you are. Retired tells me you don’t work, but there must be more to you than that.
Semi-retired doesn’t cut it because it’s too ambiguous. You work part time, you work but not for cash, or you work sporadically? I’m not quite sure.
Prolific writer Moira Black’s suggestions include Life 2.5, with the two being what you’ve experienced and the 0.5 being that little something extra. Encore, or Next Act, signalling that there’s something still to come. She borrows the Spanish term for retirement, jubalacion, saying it sounds optimistic and joyful. Robert Laura, author of The Naked Retirement, wants to rebrand it with the plural. “Retirements” signals that you can have multiple versions, each one defined by something new. A series of sabbaticals.
Kathleen Coxwell, retirement specialist for New Retirement has multiple suggestions including MyTime, arrivement, maturation, valuation and transitions. She too likes financial freedom and financial independence as descriptive terms.
Freedom is the central concept of retirement. Free from a job, free from the need to earn, free from anyone else’s control over your time. Free to spend your days how you want, which might be staying in and watching television but might be climbing mountains, competing in a sport or teaching. It might be enrolling on a university course, travelling the world or making art.
Retirement is reached when your cash reserves cover your lifestyle. Or perhaps when your assets or passive income cover your expenses. You are free from the rat race and free from the need to earn more money, so you don’t need to work for it. Running costs vary between households, so it’s subjective. A high-maintenance, luxurious lifestyle might never be sustainable without a full-time role or valuable portfolio of assets, whereas a low-maintenance, happy-go-lucky person might require a small lump sum to be set for life. It’s less about your age and more about the difference between what you earn and what you spend.
Jackie and Len were teachers when they decided they wanted to move to France, renovate a country house and garden and not have to work. They lived in a tiny studio flat and saved every penny until the scales balanced and then they were off. Now they’re free to paint, landscape and entertain friends from their French paradise. Are they retired? Kate realised the website she had been building made money without any input required. She took a step back and let it tick along, checking only once a fortnight, leaving her free to explore the world. Is she retired?
Bev knows her talent agency could sell for a sum on which she could retire, but she loves what she does. If she stopped enjoying work she would sell, but for now she’s having a great time. Bev is working for fun not for money, is she retired? Shane had earned handsomely selling television advertising in the eighties when he decided to quit his job. He spent his time training for Iron Man races and other extreme sports. Although Shane was wealthy, running, cycling and swimming are low-cost activities and he often earned prize money for winning. Was he retired?
Whatever it’s named, the definition has changed. Retirement used to define a time when people were too old to contribute to the world, so they collected a pension and lived the final years of their life without the pressure of the factory. Perhaps they spent time with the grandkids or pottering around the garden.
Retirement used to mean stopping work completely after a long career and now it doesn’t. Retirement means someone doesn’t need to work, but it doesn’t mean they don’t. The concept has evolved from stepping down from work and collecting a pension to having the freedom to choose how you spend your time.
Financially free, financially independent, recreational athlete, amateur artist, traveller, homebuilder. Then there’s volunteer, dabbler, investor, life enthusiast or just someone who isn’t reliant on the money they earn.
Doing work that doesn’t feel like work is what these people do. Put that way, you might already be there.