16 February 2014

Tire or retire?

Here is a question that has been vexing me for some time. I have come to the question watching my dad’s condition – physically, getting up from bed is a chore and he is completely devoid of any desire to live. On those long flights to India once every 90 days to see him for two days and back, I get a lot of time to reflect on. After all, there is precious little you can do at 30,000 feet in the air in a pressurized aluminum chamber once the iPad battery runs out πŸ™‚

The question is : Is it time to retire the traditional idea of retirement? For at least most people who do not do physically intensive work?

My research indicates that the concept of retirement came from the agricultural and then the industrial days when people primarily did physically intensive work. You know, like tilling land, pushing the lathe machine, shoving coal in the blast furnace and all that. It stands to reason that after a while, time took its toll on your physical abilities. It was desirable both for you as well as your employer that you call it quits. So, the model was you work very hard, save a lot of money and then call it a day. Then you enjoy your hard earned money and time off.

And that was the way it was supposed to be for my dad. He certainly pushed himself hard thru his working life, gave an unbelievably great running start to his children and then retired. With his life savings in his hand. With the life savings, he bought a house, built a garden – ready to enjoy life as it were.

Except he didn’t. He suddenly realized that he was in his mid-sixties. There was no way he could enjoy the stuff that he would have enjoyed in his thirties. Or forties. Or fifties. He had the money. And the time. But not the physical condition. Or like minded friends, to be honest. He could not travel as much as he would have liked to. He cannot kick a ball anymore (he loved playing soccer)..

That house? His kids visited his great abode once a year. Till we moved him and my mom next to our sister last year, the grand kids saw him once a year. My mom has grown her own interests in life and certainly much more physical issues.

All this makes me wonder – “That was not the plan. Could this happen to me too?”

Like most of my friends – and a large segment of today’s population – I also have become an “intelligent” worker. We do not till land, do not throw coal at anything but use our brains and intellectual faculty – invariably with a computer – to do whatever it is that we do at office. (That, and we do a lot of meetings πŸ˜‰ ).

Theoretically speaking, I should be able to work as long as I live – as long as I am not crippled by Alzheimer’s and such ailments that fundamentally impair by ability to be an “intelligent” worker. There is no need to retire. I can work till eighty, if I wanted to. In fact, two of my peers at work are over seventy and they are doing a fantastic job at a C level post in a medium size very successful public company!!!

I assume I will not necessarily earn then as much as I do now. But really do I need to earn as much? Most of my financial responsibilities will be over – kids’ education will be done, spousal welfare would span over a far shorter time frame, and I certainly will outgrow the fascination of “owning” stuff (I am relying on maturity that comes with old age on that last one).

If I put all this together, is the logical conclusion somewhat like this – work till you die or cannot work; spread your retirement time from now on? Which means work for a few years, retire for a couple. Come back and work again for a few years and take again a year or two off. Enjoy the things I can enjoy when I am in my forties. In my fifties. In my sixties.

Maybe I should have started this in my thirties? (Heaven knows, I cannot break the six minute running mile barrier any more now!!)

Have any of you had such thoughts? I would be very interested in understanding your opinions or points of view. I would gladly call you if you wanted to spend some time on this topic.

Posted February 16, 2014 by Rajib Roy in category "Musings


  1. By Rahul Guha on

    Rajib Roy interesting thoughts Rajib. I’ll take you up on your offer to chat on this topic — related thoughts have crossed my mind from time to time. Are you in NYC anytime soon? give me a shout 617-457-7195 or email/FB message me.

  2. By Rajib Roy on

    Roger and Narayan , as two of the most thoughtful guys I know, I am going to call you out to see if you have any opinions….

  3. By Arthur Altman on

    This is a phone call, I simply cannot write the equivalent of a book chapter in a FB post… πŸ˜‰ I will tell you that my 87-year-old Dad the salesman is still calling on customers and wouldn’t have it any other way.

  4. By Al Blake on

    Better not plan on this maturity of old age thing to change your desire to own stuff…not if my experience is any guide…I still buy cool stuff on a fairly regular basis πŸ™‚

  5. By Antara Choudhuri on

    Rajib da, you stirred some deep thoughts with this post. I thought of the Hindu ways of living in the olden days, with brahmacharya, garhastha, banprastha and sanyas. Each spanned roughly around 25 years, assuming in those days men lived till 100. By that logic, a person used to go to banprastha at around 50, which was considered to be the the end of his “work life”. This was true for the people who did physical work, like kshatriyas, sudra and the vaisyas, as well as who did the “intellectual” work, like the Brahmins, who taught and wrote etc. now in today’s world, I completely concur with you, with the idea of the intermittent retirement is a great idea of one can afford it. But then, the way I personally see it (and please don’t make fun of me for having retirement thoughts in my thirties πŸ™‚ ) I do want to retire from the kind of work I am doing now by the time I reach the “banprastha” age. That doesn’t mean I would stop working completely, or for that matter earning. But I want to invest a part of my time in “what I want to do” and not just “what I have to do”. So far it sounds exactly like how Jethu had probably thought… Isn’t it? I just have one slight modification to the whole idea. I want to do all the stuff that I love that will need physical fitness before I reach banprastha, like traveling, or such. As you know I have creative hobbies, like writing or painting etc. I invest some time of my “work life” time to pursue them as hobbies. But once I retire, I want to take them up as full time activities. I dunno what you will think of my retirement plan, and as I have roughly another 20 years to reach there, it may change and veer, but just wanted to share, after reading your post!

  6. By Sumit Rao on

    While in college, I got these two lessons. 1. There are three variables – time, money and energy. At any stage of our lives, we will find one lacking. Optimizing the three is how we can live a life. When I asked how, I got the second lesson. There are 3 8hr blocks in a day. One is for your body- sleep etc., the other is for you to earn for its upkeep – job. It’s what you do with the third block that defines your life.

  7. By Antara Choudhuri on

    BTW, just to clarify, I drew the inferences from “Hindu” ways from living completely from a sociological context, I should have used the terms the “aaryan” ways of living. But then it wouldn’t have spoken about the concept I wanted to refer. I have no religious message here!

  8. By Debyani Dasan on

    I think at this point of our lives many of us are having similar thoughts. But how many can really do something concrete about it will remain to be seen. Very well written indeed

  9. By Bob Hart on

    Per Steve Jobs and a bunch of other people .. do what you love. If you don’t love it anymore, then don’t do it. Do it as long as you can and as long as you love it. That’s the easy philosophical answer for running and for your job. Understand it’s not so easy in the real world because we have to prioritize and balance all the different things we love ( family, friends, hobbies, work ). If you don’t love your work anymore, then you should flat out retire or, if finances dictate, find work that you do love. If you do still love your work, then maybe it needs to be less of a priority in your life so you can do other things you love. So, short answer .. I dunno πŸ™‚

  10. By Antara Choudhuri on

    Bob, I am sorry, I never met you, but have to ask you this on the Steve Jobs comment. What if a person have many interests? Many loves? Does it make sense to split time for each of his/her loves?

  11. By Kang Lu on

    We all expire. Time is THE asset. Spend every second wisely (simple definition – whatever makes you happier without too much at the expense of others).

  12. By Baishali Chakraborty on

    Khub sundor likhechen,Rajibda. Amadero main priority daughters’ establishment in life. tobe tar modhyeo amra try kori nijeder moto kore life enjoy korte,seta hoy to annyoder kache khube ordinary.Ar kajer majhe break niye kitchu din pore abar back kora ; enough money, confidence,& back korar por o sob thik thakbe ei biswas thakle kora jetei pare. Tobe amader sei chance ei moment te impossible,’coz we ‘ve so many commitments. Ar life e struggle kore jokhon jite jai setar experience tao to really encouraging.Physically,mentally fit thakle kaj korejao uchit. My dad-in-law above 80,ekhono uni familyr sob kaj,investment er kaj,sob nije koren.Uni kintu ekta accident e pa e fatal injury te almost 6months bedridden chilen,jar jonnyo onar pa 2inch short hoye geche,tar modhyeo uni sob kaj kore cholechen.

  13. By Marianne Koolhaas Petty on

    My dad retired in 2009 in his late 60’s. My parents moved from Ontario to Georgia to be closer to us (mostly hoping for grandchildren I think!) and for about 6 months he was retired and busy getting settled after the move. My mom says he was “moping around”. It wasn’t very long before he found a part time job, then several volunteer jobs, got involved with the community, his church, volunteer on call Chaplin at the hospital…and now 5 years later he is busier –and happier, and more fulfilled– than ever. He’ll be 74 next month and literally works around the clock, but doing what he enjoys and helping people. He now says he doesn’t believe in retirement. πŸ˜‰ Honestly, my dad works so hard now that I hope it doesn’t kill him… But if it does, he will go happy. I think being so busy and doing what he loves keeps him young.

  14. By Melania Domene on

    There’s no time like the present. Live life fully every day because it could be over any moment. We’ve been given a life, love, friends, health: Let’s fully appreciate them, now. Don’t delay a visit to a friend, that trip with your spouse or doing what you would love to do to “after retirement” as you might not be able to do it then.

  15. By Moniruddin SK on

    Bachchu, you have writen an interesting topic. I know your dad and also he had done a labourious job in a factory. And that time ( when he was young) the salary of that factory is not so good. So he cannon live like now a days a faxtory worker can live. I think he had done a great job to make childtens carear. Because his salary at that timr was not good. In India, the retirement age of a government employee is 60. and so the the workers(physical) of a factory is not so good health to do any job. Though there are some exceptional cases but as usual the workers health not so good in a hot weather like India. But in a non government company there are some jobs for the retired persons. And the retired persons do those jobs if they were physically sound. And Antara, I agree with you. In ancient days the Brambhins do ther jobs after 50. The total life circle is about 100 years while the average age of human is about 55 to 65 ( In our modern era). So 60 is enough to take retire from a job. Again the time should not split because we take retire from our professional job. The other works( hobbies etc.) can be carry on. This is completel my opinion about retirement. Any body may differ about that.

  16. By Kondal Ajjarapu on

    For my dad, retirement from service meant retirement from a job. For him, it was actually the beginning of a new Life that wherein he cherishes each and every day.

  17. By Somnath Daripa on

    As someone said, the measure of success is how much time you created for yourself. Either interspersed or in bigger blocks or in one shot. And when it elapses, do you still have the desired level of control that you are comfortable with. Or at the end of it, a process of self actualization makes such assessments meaningless. Great thought, but Rajib da, you are your best and only judge.

  18. By Bob Hart on

    Antara – my wife would say yes .. because if I spend all my time with her, oddly she gets tired of me πŸ™‚ Many of my current and former co-workers would attest to a similar effect πŸ™‚ I would submit that you need to split your time both for yourself and for the things you love.

  19. By Narayan Venkatasubramanyan on

    when an “A or B” type question draws such a diverse range of responses, you have to wonder if the original question was properly framed. all i can do is add my discordant voice to the babble of responses by sharing with you something a wise friend of mine said. “think back x years”, he said, “and ask yourself if x years ago you could have known you are where you are today”. his rule of thumb was simple: x was, at most, 3. beyond that, anybody’s guess is as good as yours. i’m inclined to agree. our planning horizons are much more limited than we think but the consequences of our actions live beyond our imagination. so i guess i fall in that wide range between Melania who says “live for the moment” and Sumit who suggests that we can know the entire arc of our lives and plan accordingly (ok, i may be interpreting what he said rather generously). so … it’s not an either-or. you can plan for retirement but don’t count on things turning out quite the way you planned.

  20. By Bob Hart on

    Knowing where you want to go and finding out you didn’t end up there are two different things. Knowing where I think I’d like to be 20 years from now effects the decisions I make today because I make them with that goal in mind. My actual planning horizon is rarely more than a few weeks and I’m downright giddy when something I planned 24hours in advance actually works out. That doesn’t negate the utility of looking farther down the road than is reliably predictable. Of course, all of that may also be my fundamental mis-understanding of probability that I’ve demonstrated on other threads πŸ™‚

  21. By Bill Hubbard on

    Wise sir, my thoughts run toward redefine retirement. Retirement to me is simply, I choose which projects I will work . The projects may or may not be for income. Intellectual property worker, you can select when to become ” independent” and then prioritize your schedule accordingly.

  22. By Reagan Lancaster on

    Rajib, Finding your path is a common dilemma for us all. Finding true happiness is not about the money, it is leaving your teachings that were given to you and passing them on. This is how you will be remembered forever. After a loss of first wife, i2 situation , stock market crash etc.. I thought my biggest value was getting to know my kids and pursue something that was taught to me by my granddad that I throughly enjoyed. Now in the horse business and investor it allows me to spend a lot of time with my family, use my competitive juices, and work extremely hard. Hardest work I have ever done. I feel like a great dad, loving husband and hard worker. Just trying to make the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

  23. By Sandeep Sachdeva on

    I am experimenting with this as we speak. Going through it is entirely different from thinking and planning about it and I have realised that I am not wise enough to learn enough from others’ experiences. One thing I am sure of is that its worth an experiment sooner rather than later…but balance is key! and thats so personal…would love to chat when you are in London next or over phone…best

  24. By Subramanian Subramanian on

    At the recent facilitation Raghuram Rajan, Dr Ashish Nanda and Jageswar Saharia, IAS Chief Secretary Maharastra ( GP76) talked about listening to their heart and traveling roads less traveled etc. It all sounds fine in hindsight ! Rajib Roy All that I can say is it is tough decision at this stage.

  25. By Manoranjan Tayal on

    Social involvement (face to face, volunteering) often goes by the wayside in the competitive world of today. It is strange that with so many more options available to people to get out, do more, these problems still exist. Cultivate and maintain social interests throughout your life. Things will never give you the fulfillment that people will.

  26. By Milind Mehere on

    I am sharing an interesting article that talks about work culture across generations & societies and how it has changed. And why it changes from generation to generation as the next generation becomes financially more prosperous. This is an important context as it may apply to people on this thread and more broadly to last 2-3 generations that have entered or in the workforce let’s say in the last 20-25 years.
    Now connecting it to Rajib’s post, I was surprised that there weren’t many comments on how to practically implement Rajib’s plan (based on the comments it seems that most people like the concept in their own flavors). Hence I am raising 2 points: 1. Is this applicable to people who have enough to live on i.e to be able to afford intermittent retirements or do projects your care about or pursue passions you love (aka FU money) if yes is this applicable only to a very small lucky group and it is a relatively easier choice 2.If you don’t have the financial means (FU money) but are still professionally very successful (two incomes, decent savings etc) then do you have the guts to replete it, mental capability to disengage (w.o getting stressed) and then get back in the game again to make it practically possible. Not to mention family, societal commitments etc. I would love to hear how many of us are willing to make that trade off for enjoying a more full filling life experience (of course assuming that doing this would mean that to you). http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/fed205dc-9379-11e3-b07c-00144feab7de.html#axzz2tWyxtViC

  27. By Sibapriya Dasgupta on

    After all things said & done, I feel that the world increasingly needs you! The concept of periodically going to “Banprastha” sounds good but practiclly very very difficult. It will only generate IRE from all quarters!

  28. By Vijay Ramchandran on

    Glad you brought that up Milind – because I do think your second point is something many people can do, but very few actually try. I know a couple of people who have tried it – for very different reasons – and in both cases I found myself truly envying their lives during their mini-retirement but I also saw how they struggled to get back in the game – at least at the level they wanted. The one book I tried to read on the subject was awful (The 4 hour work week). There’s more questions than answers for me. Our kids’ generation will probably have the answers πŸ™‚

  29. By Rajib Roy on

    Wow! The response to my “would be very interested in understanding your opinions or points of view” has been overwhelming. There are some great insights and even better points of view expressed. I am re-reading some of these and will respond.

  30. By Rajib Roy on

    Rahul , looks like I will miss you. I am in NJ for a few hours. I will call you. It will be worth discussing this. BTW, the phone number you gave me in the Comment is different from the one I have in my records my one digit. Is the one here correct?

  31. By Rajib Roy on

    Arthur , I will call you. BTW, where does your father live? Seems like a guy I would like to spend an hour and some beer with. I would be very very interested in some of his perspectives…

  32. By Rajib Roy on

    Al Blake, I am sure the propensity dies down. I still am not sure of why I have bought or continue to buy stuff that I hardly use, need or will ever enjoy. I have to believe that with age one tends to get some perspective on the essential fallacy of instant gratification. If not anything else, it perhaps becomes focused on smaller set of interests / items?

  33. By Rajib Roy on

    Antara , is your assumption that your skills, passion, energy, creativity around writing and painting going to be the same 20 years from now. If no, do you miss a chance of trying out those things in your prime by giving them your full attention and time – for some time , say six months, one year???

  34. By Rajib Roy on

    Sumit , I think that is a great way to think. It still begs one question. While the three 8 hour blocks is a good framework to lead a balanced life, would you not agree that for you to follow some passion, try out a few things, it requires sustained amount of time and energy spent on it? Maybe six months or a year of continuously working on it. Most such things cannot be fit in daily 8 hour chunks – if not for anything else the logistics of time when others are involved e.g. If you want to try out stand up comedy…

  35. By Rajib Roy on

    Kang , wiser words were never spoken. Given your personal history, you probably have a far better appreciation for this than I can ever get myself to. But TIME is it. That is the one and perhaps only asset we have that we cannot replenish or regenerate. We all have a finite amount of it. And as Randy Pausch mused, even that is, often, not how much we believe it is.

  36. By Arthur Altman on

    Rajib Roy my Dad lives in Montreal so my suggestion would be to defer that visit and beer until at least May! Meanwhile we can chat! πŸ™‚

  37. By Rajib Roy on

    Marianne , that is a fascinating story. I would be very interested in meeting your dad – if you set that up. Here is one question I am surely going to ask. Knowing everything he knows now, would he have rather spent a few years before retiring – perhaps spread throughout his forties, fifties etc doing what he does not

  38. By Rajib Roy on

    Hiren , any day sir, any day! Come over one weekend and we can sit in the forest in our property with some good wine and delve into this. I also need to pick your brains on meditation and yoga….

  39. By Rajib Roy on

    Moniruddin ! You continue to amaze me on how much you remember about our family details from those few years absolutely in the beginning of our lives we spent together. Hats off to you!!

  40. By Rajib Roy on

    Kondal , one question for you. Does your dad have friends who are as healthy and high spirited as him. Or does he find himself in the minority – so to speak?

  41. By Rajib Roy on

    Trust Narayan to blame the question when he cannot answer πŸ™‚ what do you mean wide range of answers? That was the purpose – to get a wide diversity of thought πŸ™‚ Your thought excluded, of course πŸ™‚ Kidding…

  42. By Rajib Roy on

    Debyani , I am hoping by questioning myself, I might be taking the first step to doing it. Once I figured out what “it” is…

  43. By Kondal Ajjarapu on

    Good question. Now that he is in Vizag(after 40 yrs in Bombay) he is amongst relatives who have been keeping excellent health and so he is in majority (safety in numbers!!) and that company is morale boosting. Relatives around you (more than friends) is better past retirement!!!

  44. By Rajib Roy on

    Bob , a few questions arise. Is it just about doing what you love. Most likely there are a few more things you would reflect on life at your deathbed and wish you had done even if you worked on what you love, is it not? Relationship is a good example. I also think Steve Jobs misses an essential point. Or rather gives an incomplete story. It is not just about what you are working on. It is also how much you can control what you are doing. When he was running apple, he was miserable. He became happy when he was running it. Put another way, you may like your job and have great ideas on what do to do – but when you work in a company, there are many other constraints thrown your way – processes, meetings, managers like me πŸ˜‰ i think eventually you get to working on something you love only if it is your company or you have tremendous amount of latitude and independence….

  45. By Rahul Guha on

    Rajib Roy Rajib, really sorry about the goof-up with the phone number. What I have above is INCORRECT. 617-459-7195. My apologies. No worries, I suspect you’ll be in NYC sometime in the near future — look forward to catching up in person soon. In the meatime phone and FB will suffice. Best.

  46. By Rajib Roy on

    Malavika , got it. But what would be something I can do different? I got Melania ‘s framework and I like it. Any other tips?

  47. By Rajib Roy on

    Bill question: how does one know when one has become “independent”? I assume financial independence is one part of it. But that seems to be the most elusive goalpost. Certainly this is a self created problem but I constantly find myself convinced that when I have reached a goal I had set for myself ten years back, the goal actually is much larger. And I can always come up with excuse codes…. Oh! I did not know wp how much kids would cost when I was thinking of my plans ten years back blah blah blah… I assume this is a core fallacy of many. I am sure it is for me…

  48. By Rajib Roy on

    Scott , my knees are getting there… At least one of them. Do not be too surprised if I start biking or even swimming soon. Presently, I suck at them…

  49. By Marianne Koolhaas Petty on

    Rajib, my dad did take a sabbatical about age 60 for a year and a half. My parents left there jobs and sold their house and a lot of their stuff and put the rest in storage and then travelled all through the States visiting sites, almost all our extended family all over, and lots of scenic routes. So yes, I think my dad would be a big advocate of taking time off while still young enough to travel, etc. πŸ™‚

  50. By Antara Choudhuri on

    Rajib da, not just because my zeal or creativity will fade away with time, but I actually expect the life experience to enrich it, nevertheless, I agree with you one more time, it does make sense to allocate time in the prime for those. I have a plan to take a break for a year or so one and half years from now to focus on those. I hope I am able to stick to my plan…

  51. By Sumit Rao on

    Rajib – the 8 hr block is a way to (a) prevent work from consuming our life. As much as I try, my work invades a part of my 3rd block which I would want to spend with my family and people around me. More importantly, it helps me determine how I use my 8 hrs of work. If the 3rd 8hr is not enough to pursue your passion of standup comedy, make that your work. Finding work that pays decently but helps facilitate your passion is an answer to what Milind and Vijay were talking about in this thread. For example, I love flying. If I were to rechart my last 20 years, I would have chosen to be a pilot. That way, I don’t have to make a lot of money at work to pursue my passion during my spare time. Or, I want to be close to my parents and do something in India. Since I couldn’t afford the fares, I moved closer. The “how are you using your 3rd 8 hr block?” help determine a lot of what I do in my waking hours.

  52. By Debasish Chakraborty on

    Rajib, I don’t want to take a break,because my work gives me satisfaction as I’m directly linked with the development of society & needy people.I find my time for my love to read books & stock market.Other way of my relaxations are to play with daughters, to take care of their studies,do household chores,sometime I do cooking also(I’m a great cook).Actually my wife takes all the responsibilities of the family so whenever I get time I try to help her.

  53. By Gaurav Deshpande on

    The only luxury we truly have is the luxury of time – everything else is fungible :-). By that logic, I will recommend that you scale back on the crazy schedule, enjoy life’s little rewards everyday – At the end of the day, moments / memories make up your life, not possessions or accomplishments. Latter are mainly artifacts for your ego, which should be plenty satisfied by now :-). Try to unplug (Facebook included) for a day every week or a week every 3-4 months: I thoroughly enjoy that :-)!

  54. By John Adams on

    Great post. Hoping I can track you down next time I am in Atlanta to discuss, or perhaps we can connect by phone sooner.


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