Ask a thousand different people what retirement is to them and you will get a thousand different answers. Many associate retirement with a particular age (sixty-five) or work status (not working). Many define it with certain activities (travel). In reality, all those things can be used to describe certain individual’s retirements, but they don’t define retirement.
Retirement is about control
I define retirement with one word: control. Think about it. When people talk about retirement, what do they usually say? “When I retire, I’m going to…” Retirement is a transition from doing what you have to do to doing what you want to do. Age and work status really have nothing to do with it. There are plenty of people who make it big early in life and decide to quit working. Likewise, there are people in their seventies and eighties who are still mentally sharp and derive a great deal of meaning and pleasure from their jobs. In this scenario, the person working is just as retired as the person not working. Work is optional. It is a personal preference. It has little or nothing to do with an arbitrary date set by a government social insurance program.
Retirement, therefore, is all about control. Don’t think of life as a timeline where youth equals zero to twenty, working years equal twenty to sixty-five, and retirement equals sixty-five plus. Instead, think of life as a pie chart that is divided into time you control and time controlled by others. The goal is to gradually shrink the piece of the pie that is controlled by others. The smaller that becomes, the closer you are to retirement.