November 17, 2021

Early Retirement

On April 1st, 2016, my father turned 68 years old.

On that day, he went to the hospital with my mom because of intense pain in his abdomen. Within a few days, we’d receive news that it was stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Exactly six months after his diagnosis, on December 6, 2016, our family was standing by a hospice bedside while Magdi Mikhail Saad crossed from this life into the next.

Robbed Retirement

During the impossibly intense eight months of treatments, my dad and I shared a few conversations about the deep sadness he felt about the potential of dying so young. He and I had our rough years, but I loved him. And I knew he’d always dreamt of road tripping around America, a country where he immigrated and worked tirelessly to build a family, but never quite fully experienced. Because of that his password for his tech devices was something along the lines of “MakeItTo70” with the hopes of making that dream come true. And despite his treatments, he wanted to make plans for every possible trip, vacation, and special experience he could squeeze in.

During one of our walks around his favorite park in Springfield, Missouri, we sat as he gazed at the landscape. At one point he whispered, “Only a few years of retirement...that’s it...”

I couldn’t tell if he was asking a question or simply acknowledging what was happening. But to me, his words were a charge — retirement isn’t the goal. Living is the goal.

The Great Resignation & The Everyday Battle

There’s been a lot of talk about what’s happening in the world of work today. On one side, people are leaving their jobs in record numbers. It’s been coined as “The Great Resignation.” This group is in need of a life/career reset and many have the resources and privilege to even leave their jobs without having their next one lined up. On the other, many individuals are fighting for higher wages and better working conditions everyday — all while they try to keep up with historic levels of inflation.

In both cases, we’re seeing that the way we’ve been working isn’t working. Many of us are reevaluating what really matters. And during this holiday season, after two years of upheaval, the conversation will be more prevalent than ever.

Rethinking Retirement

What if retirement wasn't an end-of-life activity? What if it could be spread across our lives as periodic pauses and resets? I once wrote about taking every other Leap Year off for an entire year (one of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written) — an idea inspired by Stefan Sagmeister regularly shutting down his design studio. My life hasn’t quite worked out for that plan, but I’ve been thinking about ways to recalibrate throughout my busy years of building Ei while helping our team, clients, and students consider the same.

From Retirement to Resets

The idea of retirement dates back to the Roman Empire and then became commonplace during the Industrial Revolution. Aging workers couldn’t keep up with manual labor, so programs were created for them to be freed from the need to work.

And though there is still a great need for those programs, careers have drastically changed. One blanket concept for how we handle our work and rest no longer serves us.

Instead, retirement can be replaced with creating space to reset more regularly. A few resets to consider:

  • Short | Monthly: Weekends, or an extra half-day or day off. These are great reminders that we rest because we’re human, not just to be more productive.
  • Mid-length | Yearly: 2-4 weeks peppered in throughout the year. Nothing to produce. Explore, play, eat, create for fun.
  • Long | Twice/Decade: 1-6 months. Enough time to really pay attention to the discomfort of not being “productive” and reset your mind and heart to what matters.

None of these are new. Many have written about the idea of mini-retirements. But if we really designed and respected these resets, we might remain mentally and physically healthy for longer — contributing to society with greater contributions and joy.

How about you?

What is working for you today? What is fueling you? And how can you add pauses and resets into your life so that you get to the end with a sense of gladness and appreciation?

Call it early retirement or call it a reset. Or maybe just call it being alive.

Really alive.

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