It seems that everywhere you turn today, you hear social leaders and lifestyle coaches proclaiming how you, too, can begin to lead the life you’ve always dreamed of by working hard, investing your funds and practicing frugal habits. All of this is geared towards the goal of retiring at a previously unheard of age.
Examples of young, happy families in their late-twenties and mid-thirties are shown, and the bright image that is projected is enough to make us stop and listen. Of course, we want that. These images are designed to speak to us on an emotional level, but they may be promising the impossible at great cost to our personal lives and individual health while not advancing our professional lives or financial standing.
The Dream of Retirement vs. The Reality
When we see these ads or hear the seemingly incredible stories of young people who have managed to retire at a young age, it fills us with envy. This is especially true if we are currently embodying the average American worker, of which 25 million work nearly 50 hours a week and another 11 million reaching a workweek strain of almost 60 hours. The freedom and release from our grinding daily jobs and responsibilities sound lovely, but we can’t seem to stop working incredibly long hours in the hopes of reaching the financial goals that would allow early retirement.
In many cases, even with those long hours, many Americans fall short of the financial solubility they are seeking. Over half of working Americans do not have a private pension, while 33 percent of retirees rely solely on government pensions for financial security in retirement.
What Are We Really Seeking?
If this is the reality of retirement, why are Americans working so hard to attain a dream that seems unattainable? The truth is we aren’t seeking freedom from working. What we are trying to discover is how to live a life that resonates with our personal desires, interests, and passions. The irony is that by expanding so many of our waking hours into labor in an attempt to reach a place where we feel we can pursue a life we truly want to live, we are sacrificing our opportunities to live that life.
This trend is apparent in many of the statistics that reflect American working habits. While the average corporation in America offers a full two weeks of vacation annually to their employees, less than half of American workers report taking advantage of the time off.
To add to the lessened available time that American workers are allotted to pursue their interests as a result of increasing working hours, any time that we have free from work is often spent catching up on daily chores and tasks that we have had to put off while we worked overtime.
Stopping the Cycle
When our lives become a treadmill of working for someone else or working to maintain our homes, cars and other possessions, our work-life balance suffers. The real cost of this is apparent in 2018’s World Happiness Report, where America ranked number 14 on the world’s happiest countries. This report ranked nations by their freedom to pursue leisure activities, social support systems, the health of the members of the society as well as financial standing. With the documented longer-than-average work weeks, it’s no surprise that America’s ranking fell from 2017-2018.
Given that Americans work more hours in a given year than other countries, according to a news report by ABC, it’s a given that our overall happiness as a society would begin to dip. The trend in working more extended hours has been documented since the late 1990s, yet, there has been no corresponding increase in the financial solubility or ability to retire at an earlier age for the average American worker.
In short, Americans are overworked with little time to invest in their families, social engagements and personal health. The effects of this on our emotional well-being are precisely what makes the dream sold by the idea of early retirement, or FIER ( Financially Independent Early Retirement) dangerous.
In our effort to achieve wealth and happiness, it’s entirely possible that we are overworking ourselves to the point that the object we are working for becomes unattainable.
The True Cost of Overworking
It’s time for Americans to realize that by working themselves to exhaustion, they are damaging not only their interpersonal relationships and depriving themselves of leisure activities, but they also are not increasing their productivity at work.
A study conducted by Boston University, Questrom School of Business, found no benefit to productivity or creativity that correlated to more extended working hours. What was discovered, through a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, was that employee performance suffered. Overworked employees were more likely to experience memory loss, lack of focus and increasingly miss deadlines for critical work.
Interpersonal relationships and leisure time aren’t the only things suffering from this increase. As we work longer, experience greater stress and have less time to participate in physical activity, our health as a community is declining. In the years between 1970 and 2016, national health expenses for individuals has increased from $350 a person to an incredible $10,348 annually.
The United States ranks number nine on the list of the countries who have the most obesity among its residents, with a correspondingly higher rate of stroke, heart attack and type 2 diabetes recorded among its workers.
When you add to these considerations the fact that of the American workers who do manage to retire before the average age of 63, a full 15 percent retire early not because they’ve managed to become financially independent, but because of health issues, job loss or family-related concerns, it becomes even more apparent that Americans genuinely are overworked.
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Finding a Balance in Your Life
It’s interesting to note that almost every country that out-ranked the U.S. concerning citizen happiness, health and finances actually retire at a later age than the average American citizen, in some cases a full two years later.
The difference is that while they retire later, they take more time to live their lives in their youth, as they work to be able to retire as they grow older. With average work weeks of 40 or fewer hours, the members of those countries have the allotted time and freedom to enjoy extracurricular activities, participate in sports and leisure pursuits and develop strong bonds within their community.
While most of those countries also have companies that allow this freedom through the offering of more vacation time and more significant periods of paid leave for live events such as childbirth, Americans can still learn from the lessons being taught and format their own work lives and financial goals in order to reap similar benefits in their personal lives.
More Work Doesn’t Necessarily Mean More Productivity
Since, as we’ve seen, overworking does not benefit your career, finances or health, what if there was a way in which you could plan your financial goals that would allow you the freedom to live your retirement dream as you work to achieve true, complete retirement? Proper financial management can help you achieve the work-life balance you seek when you dream of early retirement, without sacrificing your income, creativity or missing your child’s little league game.
If this sounds like the ideal solution, it’s time to be honest with yourself. The place to start is to make a list of the things that are truly important to you, and the goals that you want to achieve in your personal, professional and financial life.
Disengaging At Home
Of utmost importance: when the work day is done, you have to disengage. The constant availability of the internet and the ease in which we use these devices to send emails, check on work status and conduct other business-related tasks during the time in which we should be concentrating on our personal lives is harmful. It leads to not only a scattered, less-efficient work result, but it divides our time and attention away from achieving fully immersed social interaction, and may even leave our loved ones feeling less than significant.
The first step to finding a proper, healthy work-life balance is to learn to separate your work and your life. It sounds much easier than it is. A recent article by Forbes showed that a full 36 percent of American workers don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break, (perhaps because 22 percent of bosses reported they view workers who do take a lunch break as less effective). However, in that study, almost 90 percent of respondents said that taking a break during the day made them feel more focused, creative and improved the quality of their work.
Obviously, we need our breaks, and we need the freedom to be able to focus on our lives and desires outside of the demands of our workplace. By taking the time to give ourselves a rest, we increase our work quality. Take advantage of the time that your workplace offers, either during breaks or in vacations, and commit to turning off the phone while you’re off work.
Working to Your Goals While Living Your Dream Life
While your increase in productivity at work might impress your boss, it’s not likely to get you any closer to realizing your dream of early retirement. This doesn’t mean that you should just give up on your retirement planning; however, you might have to change the way in which you view retirement.
What if you decided not to retire early, or even, if you have the financial ability, to retire a year or so later than the average worker?
Provided that your financial ability to pay into your retirement accounts stays the same through your working life, arranging your priorities away from racing to a goal and instead, planning for an eventual date will allow you the freedom to live the life you envision when you dream about early retirement.
You can stop living and working in a manner that leaves you little time for true enjoyment. Through learning how to manage your work obligations and finances with a different set of goals: engaging in vacations and family time, being active in maintaining your health and enjoying the spare time to participate in hobbies that you find enjoyable now, you can begin to live the life you’re working towards, but not achieving.
Enjoying Your Time Now
You can achieve this lifestyle, without having millions in the bank to retire on. Even better, you can do it now, while your children are young, and while you are young enough to be adventurous and active. Learn to say no to work. Engage fully in your off-duty hours. Look after your health, and you’ll be doing what you previously felt was unattainable. If you stop thinking of life as something that starts at retirement, you can start living it today.
The truth is, when we are tempted by early retirement, we are tempted by the idea of being able to do as we please. The irony of the situation is that we are losing all of our personal freedom in our overwhelmed and overworked lives as we struggle to attain an impossible goal. All too often, as a result of taking on extra work hours, when we can retire, we suffer a myriad of adverse health effects from our years of pushing too hard.
Signature Wealth Strategies has a team of qualified financial advisors and planners that can help you achieve your personal financial goals while living a life that you love. Contact us if you’d like to know more about our services and programs.