(photo: Habrda on Shutterstock)

Save Your Life

How to live the life you want now. Don’t wait until retirement.

“I hate my job,” admits Dave, “but if I stick at it for the next thirty years, I’ll get a really good pension. I started worked for a big insurance company when I left university, and I’ve been there ten years already. I’m good at what I do, but I dread Monday mornings, knowing I’ve got to drag myself into the office for another week. The only thing that keeps me going is the thought of a comfortable retirement at the end of it.”

What a depressing thought. Spending the majority of your adult life doing something you don’t enjoy just so you can have some money for your final years when, let’s face it, you may not be active enough to do all you want to. Indeed, you may not even be alive at all.

“My father worked hard all his life in banking and built up a fabulous pension pot, then he died of a heart attack at 64, just before he retired,” says Elizabeth. “My mum and I were devastated, not just because we’d lost such a wonderful man but also because he’d always talked the things he was going to do ‘when he retired’. He had lots of plans, including travelling to South America, walking from England’s coast to coast, and going on a cruise. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.”

Unlucky cases? Maybe; but unfortunately, not uncommon ones. Do you ever chat with people who moan about having to go to work on a Monday morning and say they can’t wait for retirement? In fact, there’s an excellent chance that you are one of those people, which is why you’re reading this book. What’s more, spending your life doing a stressful job you don’t enjoy will be detrimental to your health and could just lead to an early death (in fact, the Japanese even have a word for this — Karōshi, death from overwork) or, if not, at least poor health in old age. Most people have at least a 40-year working life; that equates to 1920 weeks. 9600 working days or — wait for it — 76,800 hours on the money-making treadmill. That’s an awfully long time to spend doing something you don’t enjoy, especially when you’re only likely to be awake for 233,600 hours in those 40 years.

Life is short, and you only get one stab at it, so surely it makes sense to enjoy every day, not just the ones from age 65 onwards. After all, one of those days will be your last and, thankfully perhaps, most of us don’t know when that one will be. There’s something inherently wrong with a system whereby we defer living the life we want until we’ve reached the final years of our existence. Work has become something we do so we can stop doing it — there must be a better way.

Timothy Ferris, in his excellent book, The Four Hour Work Week, suggests having a series of mini-retirements throughout life, which is an inspired idea. However, I suggest taking it one stage further and living an entire life of retirement. How does that grab you?

Impossible? Well, if your idea of retirement is having a lot of disposable income and spending your days lazing about on luxury cruise liners drinking champagne, then maybe it is impossible unless you have built up an extremely fat pension pot.

Let’s have a reality check here; if you continue on your present trajectory through life, how good a pension will you end up receiving? In recent years most pension plans haven’t performed as well as expected, and people are, on average, living longer than ever, so that means pension funds have to pay out for more years. Years when you’ll have plenty of time on your hands to spend money. Assuming, that is, you’ll have enough cash for anything more than the basics in life. The fact is, retirement is a dream that people look forward to with rose-tinted spectacles. When you finally arrive at it, you may not have the cash or the health (or even a life, for that matter) to make the most of it.

The alternative dream for many people is to win the lottery next Saturday evening, hand in their notice and live a life of leisure, starting the moment those magic numbers are drawn. There are, though, two inherent problems here. First, it’s very unlikely to happen; the lottery isn’t called a tax on the stupid for nothing. In the UK, you have a one in 14-million chance of winning (which means, incidentally, that buying several tickets each week is going to have little effect of increasing your chances, so if you do like a flutter, one ticket per draw is enough). Second, assuming you do pick the golden ticket, suddenly receiving an enormous amount of money can mess up your life. No, really; think about it for a moment — if you never had to work again, what would you do with your life? Seriously, once you’ve bought the big house, the flash cars, been on a few exotic holidays and cleared out the local jewellers, the novelty is likely to wear off. Your life will lack meaning and, well, you’ll get bored. Look at the many young actors and pop stars who have struggled to cope with sudden fame and fortune, and turned to drugs or alcohol as a way to get their kicks. Furthermore, the popular press delights in telling the stories of hapless lottery winners whose lives have fallen apart because of jealous friends and families, overindulgence and the overall stress of suddenly having a massive life change thrust upon them.

Human beings have a primaeval need to strive. Once upon a time it was hunting and gathering; now it’s earning money to support ourselves and our families. Take that away that motivation completely and what is the meaning of life? Whether you win the lottery or retire at 65, you run a very real risk of struggling to fill your days and be happy and fulfilled.

So maybe retirement — in the traditional stop work at 65, wear slacks and spend your days playing bowls way — isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. What’s the alternative then? Well, how about if you could enjoy every day of your life, starting now, combining earning a living with doing what you enjoy? Or even better, making a living doing what you enjoy? If you manage to cram four times as much as most people into an 80-year lifespan, then it’s like living to 320 — that’s the secret of longevity right there. All you need to do is join the growing number of people who have decided to become lifesavers.

Ask people what their ideal life would be, and most would say something along the lines of “Being able to do what I want when I want.” Some talk about a ‘work/life balance’ but I don’t like that term. If ‘work’ isn’t part of your ’life’, then what the heck is it? Death maybe? The term ‘work/leisure balance’ makes more sense and this book shows you how to achieve this. It does, though, go even further and blur the boundaries between ‘work’ (earning money in other words) and ‘leisure’ (having a good time) which will allow you to enjoy almost every moment of your life. The ultimate aim is to blur the boundaries so much that work and leisure combine into one happy entity. Remember the old hippy ideals of rebelling and living an alternative lifestyle? Well, this book is all about doing just that, being a 21st-century hippy but without the loons and sandals (unless you really feel the need…). Drop out without dropping out!

You may be reading this thinking that it’s too late for you because you’re too old and have already spent too many years in a job you dislike. It’s better to start off your adult life enjoying it to the full, but it’s never too late. In fact the, older you are, the more important it is to make the most of the years you have left. Whether you’re 20, 50, or even beyond the traditional age of retirement, there are ideas in this book that you can embrace today to enhance your life. Don’t feel that you need to use all the ideas I suggest; some just may not appeal to you or work for you. No matter; if you just go away inspired by one chapter or even by one suggestion from these pages, then my job is done. And, unlike some self-help books, I’ve kept this one refreshingly short and to the point, so you don’t have to spend too much time reading it. And remember; if you want it enough, you can make freedom work for you.

©2017 Philip Raby

This is an excerpt from the new book Save Your Life by Philip Raby. Phil was our guest on The WorkNotWork Show in December of 2016. Hear his comments on the book, or listen the the entire interview. Turns out that Phil actually lives the life he talks about in his book! Save Your Life is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. — Editor