Vogel: When It Comes To Retirement, Focus On The Next 2 Years, Not 40

Nov 13, 2017

When my father turned 35, the average life expectancy for a white male in the United States was approximately 66 and a half years. His own father never retired because he worked up until he died.

To the extent that my father thought about his retirement, he probably imagined spending a couple of relaxing years recuperating from a life of work.

I think he was surprised that at age 65, he felt like a middle-aged person, retaining most of the physical strength and mental energy that he'd possessed in his 40s and 50s. So retirement for him meant finding a volunteer job as a business consultant for companies in Peru, Bangladesh and other developing countries. Until he died, a month before his 92nd birthday he was still auditing college courses and planning trips to broaden his knowledge.

In planning my own retirement, I start with the latest statistics which say that for those of us who make it to 65, the average life expectancy is another 15 years. I also have my father’s experience as a model.

Like him, I am fortunate to be blessed with good health, lots of energy and sufficient financial resources. And like him, I hope to do some meaningful things over the next few decades.

For me, an important insight about retirement came from thinking about the advice that I used to give my MBA students at Tuck. Some of my favorite conversations involved students who received multiple job offers and were trying to decide which one to take. My advice was that rather than try to predict the next 40 years, just focus on the next two to five years.

And this means that, unlike my father, I’m not looking for a next job or a next career. Instead, I’ve put in place a number of things that I believe will enable me to learn and grow and do something meaningful during the next two years like help to build a house with Habitat for Humanity and devote a day a week to my granddaughter.

Hopefully these will put me on the path toward a successful retirement.

Aging Well is an ongoing special series from VPR exploring how the baby boom generation is viewing retirement and changing the future makeup of Vermont.