Bill sat in my office, his knuckles white from grasping the arms of his chair.
“I only have to make it through twelve more years, and then I am eligible for early retirement,” he said. Bill worked for a government agency and hated it. He was forty-three years old.
“Twelve years!” I said, “That’s a lot of time. Are you going to make it?”
“I think so,” he said. “I’ll have my retirement income then.”
We did an analysis on Bill’s retirement plan and his future financial needs at age fifty-five. They didn’t add up. The plan was not going to provide him enough money for the lifestyle he desired when he left the work world. To provide for his wife and himself at retirement, Bill was going to have to work more than the twelve years he had planned. Not surprisingly, this news was about as welcome as a storm cloud at a picnic.
“What can I do?” he asked.
“Look,” I said. “Twelve years is a long time, and it’s going to take even longer than that before you can realistically retire. For you, it’s going to feel like an especially long time because you hate your job. I’m guessing that it’s not the length of time you dread, it’s the prospect of spending the next twelve years doing something you do not want to do.”
“I don’t have any choice,” he said.
“What about doing work that you like?” I asked. “Since it’s going to take you longer to get to retirement than you hoped, you might as well do something you enjoy.”
Bill’s situation is true for many people—their retirement funding is not going to be adequate. Pension plans are no longer guaranteed, benefits are continuously being scaled back, and people are losing their jobs to corporate outsourcing. What our parents took as a given—namely, that the company would take care of us—is rarely even in the realm of possibility today.
Add the fact that the cost of living continues to rise, and it becomes clear that most of us will have to work longer than we thought before we can retire. The time will not seem as long, however, if you spend it doing something you really like to do or work with people you enjoy.
I am not just saying “follow your bliss, the money will follow.” While this might happen, to go blindly in pursuit of a business or career scheme based on unrealistic expectations can be financially disastrous and cause as much—if not more—stress than staying at a job you dislike. Most of us have other people in our lives who are at least partially, if not wholly, dependent upon us to take care of them financially.
You will be more likely to find an alternative to a crummy job if you are open and receptive to the possibility. The discovering of a job that you enjoy doing may take some time. It may require some soul searching and some research. Then when you have an idea of what that job might be, you have to do something. You have to take some actions to make that new job a reality.
In Bill’s case I asked him, “Okay, what are you really passionate about? What do you think about most? What excites you?”
“Chess,” he replied. “It’s what I love to do most. I read about it. I play it. I go to tournaments.”
We explored ways that Bill might turn his passion into real income. Obviously, we were not going to replace his entire salary with income from chess activities—at least not right away. But we played with a number of ideas. Could he author a book about chess? How about a DVD? Could he organize chess tournaments and invite big name players?
Bill didn’t waste time. Since our meeting, he has organized a number of local chess tournaments and is even beginning to see a little income flow from this activity. Who knows where it might lead him from here? And even if his income from these activities is never substantial, by doing what he loves, the time until he can retire will not seem so much like a prison sentence.
Even if your search for a better work situation doesn’t lead to the job of your dreams, it can help you find people with whom you like to work and like to be around.