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Is "Retirement" a Dirty Word?

The word "retirement" has a regrettable but pervasive association in our society. Most people, of course, use it to refer to those days after the conclusion of formal full-time work: "Congratulations to Bob, who is retiring today following 37 years of postal delivery" -- or "To Susan, who is retiring after two decades of leading this august organization."

Here's the way it comes out: "So long, Susan," we think -- bye-bye, Bob. "Retirement" carries heavy baggage, with its implications of departure and resignation. Standing there with a drink in your hand lifted for a retirement toast, it's hard not to think, "Their worthwhile days, their recorded life and times, are over." Do Susan and Bob want to be written off this way?

Bob and Susan are probably subconsciously falling into the same thinking, which is what happens when you're constantly exposed to a given word and its underlying concept without questioning its claims on you.

Listen, retirement is exactly what we should be trying to avoid in our lives. Up until the Ultimate Retirement, we should focus on the present and the future, asking what more we can learn, who else to help, how better to live day to day, all the questions that have always been asked and answered by human beings looking to improve their lots.

So let's please agree not to refer to any period of our lives as "retirement." We should almost always shoot for its exact opposite: engagement. Engagement will make you forget to ask yourself, "What are you retiring from?" Engagement asks the much more relevant and interesting question: "What are you living for?"

This is a fine question for so many people to ask at (more) frequent intervals of their lives; your harried authors are again reminded of this even as we write and suggest it. The great thing about heading toward the second half of your life is that not only are you old enough to recognize the importance of asking "What am I living for?" but you're also young enough to fully exploit all of the opportunities wrapped up in the answers. (For a closer look at these opportunities, take a 30-day free trial of the Fool's newsletter service, Rule Your Retirement. We wanted to call it Rule Your Reengagement, but we were overruled by editor Robert Brokamp.)

If you've been traversing space these past few decades asking yourself when you will retire, replace any fantasies of escape with something much better: the answers to that key question. Because another synonym for "retire" is "withdraw" -- which provides the perfect play on words when we recognize that withdrawal is exactly the condition so often faced by those who leave the working world only to discover that disengaging from society can be a hollow experience.

Why retire? We intentionally take a radical view to make as strong a case we can for not retiring, since most of the treatment this topic gets assumes that retirement is the Ultimate Goal of All Your Working Years. We hasten to add that some people truly wish to stop taking any salary of any kind and just rest, relax, relax some more, rest again, etc. Occasionally, when we're wearied by work, this sounds really good to us, too. We don't mean to suggest that aspiring to couchpotatodom is bad or wrong. We do mean to challenge you to look deeper when we ask the questions "Why retire?" and "What are you living for?"

The preceding is an excerpt from Tomand David Gardner's recent best-seller Money After 40: Building Wealth for a Better Life. Click hereforthe rest of book; for a very limited time, it's yours FREE when you take a 30-day free trial of theMotley Fool Rule Your Retirementnewsletter. Hurry! Supplies are limited. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.


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Tom Gardner
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Fed up with Wall Street's notion that everyday people couldn't comprehend the stock market, Tom Gardner co-founded The Motley Fool in 1993 with a simple obsession: "To help the world invest, better."

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