You may have noticed:
There are banks and investment companies to help us to save for it.
There are real estate companies that help us relocate once it happens.
And there are lifestyle guides and influencers who build a model of what retirement looks like.
No question, getting to the point of financial freedom is an exciting thing. With our income taken care of, we feel free to explore what our ideal life could be. It’s fun to dream!
And with dreaming comes planning. Following the principle of ‘begin with the end in mind,’ retirement planning has extended all the way to the earliest phases of our career. We’re encouraged to start saving for retirement from our first paycheck on.
There’s wisdom in planning and preparing. Yet as our focus on retirement grows, we enter risky territory. All the planning, saving, and expectation can change our thinking. We can start to build up life in retirement as an ideal. In our minds, it can become heaven on earth!
When retirement is seen this way, it casts our career in a different light. We begin to develop myths about the purpose of our work and the meaning of retirement life afterward.
Myths are traditional stories meant as guidelines for our life journey. They interpret life’s meaning, and they are helpful or harmful to the extent that they agree with reality.
When it comes to career, unfortunately a gap has developed between the story we may hear and the reality of our situation. Here are five career myths and the realities that argue against them:
Myth #1: You Must Choose Your Career from ‘What’s on the Menu.’ Whether at our high school’s career office or on a job search website, there’s a list of jobs out there and our task is to pick from that list.
Reality: There are many options for our work outside the jobs listed in our school’s placement office or on the Labor Department’s list.
The roots of this myth of limited options can go back to our earliest memories. Growing up, we all live in an environment that influences how we think about the world.
Expectations others may have for the work we’ll do can become ingrained early on. By the time we finish school, how many of us have the impression that the best work a person can do is as a doctor or a lawyer?
Well-intentioned desires for our work can become barriers blocking us from jobs that would fit us well and help others.
Here’s a test: as you think about the kinds of work you could do, does a sense of wonder emerge at all the possibility?
A friend of mine served overseas in the army, came home and worked in accounting for ten years, then quit and within seven months found his current full-time job as a graphic designer.
It really is amazing the path we can follow when we know ourselves well and have the courage to pursue the work we’re meant to do.
Myth #2: Success in Work is the Same for Everyone. The best, most legitimate type of work a person can have is white-collar, office-based, and management and technology — oriented.
Reality: Not long ago I saw a billboard ad for an MBA program. The ad showed a 30ish man in a suit, standing in what looked like a spacious, tech-enabled office with a good view out the all-glass wall. The notion behind the ad was ‘if you take our program, this is who you’ll be afterward.’
I don’t think any of the elements of that scene were there by accident. Advertisers know that in our minds, we have a picture of what success is, and they know what that picture looks like.
The trouble with a broadly agreed-on image of success is that it can’t capture the diversity of ways we were made to work and excel.
Is the farmer who loves to fiddle in a square-dance band less successful than a corporate manager? Is the stay-at-home mom who loves creating baked goods less successful than someone who wears an ID badge to their secure office building?
A one-size-fits-all definition of success in work exerts pressure on people to fit that mold. Under this pressure, it’s easy to discount our unique gifts and try to force ourselves into jobs that don’t fit.
Because so many career choices and changes are affected by our narrow success-picture, it’s helpful to take specific steps not to buy in to this view:
1. Spend time with people outside your work, group, or normal circles. These folks will be different, and over time will affect how you think about work.
2. When you see an ad or article that holds out this specific success definition, recognize it for what it is — the point of view of some people, which is not the be-all end-all of how to live.
3. Become aware of your own gifts, and encourage those talents that don’t fit the work success picture you’ve seen.
Our gifts and talents are like seeds. With the right soil and nutrients, they can grow up into something beautiful and fruitful.
Don’t let a world that only wants one type of tree discourage your seeds of a different kind. You will love growing and enjoying them, and we’ll all benefit when you do!
Myth #3: Wait for Financial Independence to Pursue the Life You Want. Before trying a route you feel called to explore, be sure to save up enough money so you’re not taking a risk.
Reality: Now is the best time to step toward the work you are made for. When a work direction is truly a fit, that means that as we do it our expenses will be taken care of.
This isn’t to discourage responsible financial planning. It’s to encourage a mindset willing to take a risk, based on the belief that the work you are meant to do will provide what you need to live.
The myth that we should wait until there’s no financial risk to step toward the life we want is one that’s affected me personally. I’ve stayed in jobs that did not fit my values with that idea that after X number of years, I’d be able to pursue the projects I really found meaningful.
My perspective was missing at least two things:
1. Everything has an opportunity cost. When we choose to invest time in something, we’re choosing to not do all the other things we could be doing in that time.
By filling my time with work that was not aligned with my values, I was missing the gains I could have been making in knowledge, experience, and skill in the direction I wanted to go. Clarity on future direction took longer to emerge.
2. When pursuing our calling, it’s not possible to completely eliminate risk. That’s what I was trying to do. I wanted a smooth glidepath from where I was to where I wanted to be.
Anything uncertain has some risk in it. We could spend our entire lives trying to hack away at it until there’s no uncertainty left, but we can’t know everything, so there will always be some risk involved.
The psychologist Carl Jung said that ‘neurosis is the avoidance of legitimate suffering,’ and some element of risk is the ‘legitimate suffering’ we go through in changing the work we do.
So, not being impatient but at the right time, expose yourself to the risk of having financial needs to meet while also finding out the work you are meant to do.
Myth #4: Don’t Expect to Enjoy Your Work. Work is not meant to be something we enjoy; its purpose is to pay for the parts of life we like.
Reality: Work that uses our natural gifts and aligns with our values will bring us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Ultimately the reward we receive from our work is not a paycheck but the work itself.
Have you ever met someone with a great attitude about their work? They have found what they were called to do. In all likelihood they do top-quality work and treat it as the meaningful task that it is.
Surround yourself with people who love what they do and you will see work in a new light.
The myth that work must be miserable is easy to exploit for profit. By making work sound awful, an advertiser has created a problem they can solve — with their restaurant, or weekend getaway, or product. Beware of messages you hear that make you discontent.
It’s possible to take pleasure in our work even when we have difficult jobs with difficult people. The key is doing the work we were called to do — that’s what gives us purpose.
With a sense of purpose and meaning, obstacles take on a different form. They cannot become the most important thing about our work. They won’t be the thing that comes to mind when someone asks what we do.
Instead, we see past the challenges to what our work is creating in the world, in other people, and in us. That’s the vision that will sustain us in our work when we’re working in the right area.
Work can be and is meant to be enjoyable — it’s all about the fit.
Myth #5: Life In Retirement Will Be Perfect. After all the challenges we went through to get there, once we finally reach retirement, we can forget about facing troubles anymore.
Reality: The myth of a perfect retirement is based on the belief that the biggest problems in our life come from our need for income. It’s that need that makes us get up when we’d rather sleep in, sit in traffic on a beautiful day, work with people we don’t like, follow orders we don’t agree with, and give up time we would rather spend differently.
While retirement can change what we do, with whom, and how we do it, there are certain basic needs we have as humans that don’t change.
We have a need for an aim or a purpose. Without one, our life becomes trivialized and gets smaller and smaller.
Productive work has been called a ‘psychological glue’ that helps hold our life together. Living a life of limitless leisure without it, we can quickly go from ‘well-rested’ to bored and unengaged.
As challenging as work can be, overall it is still a good thing. It gives us an outlet for our gifts and a sense of meaning. It gives us a goal to walk toward and progress to enjoy.
If we believe that life after financial independence will be perfect, we only need to look at the stories of people who have won the lottery to see how different the story can be!
Life without the challenges of a career will not be perfect, and neither is our life now. But regardless of whether we’re in a career or finished one, we can make choices to pursue the things that make work good.
We can step toward learning about our natural gifts, and start putting them into practice in a new way. We can understand our values and what is really important to us. And we can pursue work (part-time or full-time, paying or volunteer, at home or outside or in an office or a school) that brings those two pieces together.
This is the kind of work we would love to do now and wouldn’t want to stop doing if we could.
When it comes to your work, is there a certain myth that’s been attractive to believe? Who is someone who could help restore balance in this area?
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