Your career goal should be present happiness, not early retirement

Ken met with me in relation to Career Counseling Connecticut’s work with his college-age daughter who was finishing up at UCONN and figuring out a career path.  Ken wasn’t the client but I found his career story instructive.

“Just five more years.” Ken said.  He and his wife had worked for 30 years in careers that neither liked.  But they were closing in on 60 which was their target retirement age.  They had done all the right things from a frugality perspective.  They were diligent savers.  They did not spend on any luxuries.  They also worked really hard.  8-6 pm was roughly their work day and 7:30-6:30 the full day with their commutes added into the mix.  Sometimes they worked on weekends.

All of the above is fine.  Hard work is good. Saving money is good.  Having a financial freedom target is good.

Doing work that made them unhappy was not good.  And doing so for such a long time, just so they could retire early seemed unwise or at least not optimal.  They were also about to discover what many early retirees learn: retiring early rarely leads to happiness unless the retiree has purposeful work, be it volunteer or immersion with grandchildren, or paid work, which, of course, means that most happy retirees are semi-retired.

The happiest people I know have happy work.  They are not looking for early retirement, although like anyone most would be happy to have financial freedom.

As for Ken, he detected something in my expression and I suppose because he’s used to others feeling envious, he said, “didn’t mean to create envy.”  I politely refrained from saying that what he saw was my inadvertent expression of sympathy.