I am writing these words at my family’s beach house in Tusa, on the Northern coast of Sicily. It’s a small town, mostly inhabited by retirees, and it feels as if it’s frozen in the 1950s or 60s, but in a good way.
The pace of life here is very slow, and there is none of the background hum that typically accompanies city life. You only hear seagulls, pigeons, and the waves from the oceans. I find that this is the ideal place to contemplate, and it feels like a preview of retirement.
Alain de Botton makes an interesting point about the word retirement: it momentarily anaesthetizes all those who hear it into forgetting society’s founding pressures and most ingrained competitive values. It renders deeply desirable states of inaction that could otherwise appear simply contemptible or downright lazy.
I have often considered that all the stress that I have had over the years with building my businesses and career has been self-caused. I only find things stressful because I have certain expectations of how things go, and inevitably these are never met. Or, rather, as they are met, I set new and higher expectations. I make more in a month now than I did in a year ten years ago, and yet I still manage to worry about money at times.
So what if we can apply the concept of retirement to things other than work? I like to joke that I retired from stepping foot in a club when I was 28. I have really enjoyed my life since then because I never end up in situations where I drink too much and feel like crap the next day. Sometimes when I am out, people make ask me if I want to go to a club, and I simply explain that this is something that I have retired from. They take this as a joke but fully understand what I mean. It is not that I don’t want to go with them, but rather that I have experienced everything that there is to experience from this particular type of evening out, and there is no reason to continue doing it.
A lot of our personal problems are caused by the fact that we never know when to stop. Or perhaps we know, but we simply cannot apply the discipline to stop. When do we stop trying to improve our careers? When do we stop trying to be slimmer? When do we stop trying to chase after new partners? When have we had enough?
I find that not much in the world is as pathetic as older men trying to act young. You see fifty-something-year-old men wearing clothes that should be worn be men thirty years younger and trying to recover a youth that is long gone. I felt the same way when I was walking in the streets of Istanbul, where it appeared that every other foreign man was there for a hair transplant.
Instead of trying to regain youth, we should be more focused on accepting the fact that we need to act our age.
So retirement is perhaps not something that is just related to work and happens when you are older, but a continuous process of stopping doing things that are no longer conducive to living a good life. That is a life that represents who we truly are.