A Full Pension But Half a Life?
What is of more value to you: Your money or your time?
I had an interesting, offhand discussion about this with a classmate in my counseling graduate program. She is in the engineering field, working for a power company, is probably in her mid- to late-50s, and has three grown children. So she is aiming to be a career-changer later in life, similar to my path, going from journalism to public relations to counseling.
The difference between us is that, after grinding through the counseling program at a slow pace for four years, I am now trying to make a stronger commitment to serving my internships, completing my degree and making the transition. My classmate, also proceeding slowly at one course per semester, said she is considering working for five more years at her company so she can get a full pension instead of two-thirds or more of the pension’s value if she leaves sooner.
We talked only briefly, but since we are in a counseling program, we are accustomed to talking about life issues that really matter. Essentially, I asked her whether, if counseling truly was a passion for her, was it worth trading five more years of her life doing something she was not passionate about to have a somewhat higher income in retirement or old age? Or could she figure out how to make do with a smaller pension as a tradeoff for making a complete transition sooner and bringing more joy and inspiration to her life?
She studied my line of questioning for a moment and seemed to re-evaluate her priorities. She offered that she knew a man at her company who stayed long enough to collect a full pension. Problem was, within a year of retiring, he died.
None of us know how much time we have. It would seem a shame to have a full pension but half a life.
In the few moments we had before class, I suggested an option that might reduce my classmates’ perceived need for a larger pension: minimalism. I had just read a book, Everything That Remains, by Joshua Fields Millburn, espousing the benefits of living a minimalist life. Essentially, that means getting rid of everything that in your life that does not have real value, does not improve your life and is not needed, which could mean material possessions, unnecessary living space, services, relationships, jobs and other things we imagine we cannot live without, when we really can, and better. Instead of arranging your finances to fit your lifestyle – the one you think you need – you imagine and create the lifestyle that will make you happy, and adapt your finances to fit that.
How many of us could live a downscaled lifestyle and fill it with things that really make us happy and inspired, if we only really examined what that would mean and took actions to make it happen? How many of us live with more stress and anxiety because of all the things we need to maintain and hold onto even when we don’t really want them, much of the time out of fear, and then compound the stress by feeling the need to make enough money to maintain the things that don’t really make us happy and free?
I don’t know what my classmate will decide to do. But I’m at the point in my life where I would gladly exchange some degree of financial security for the risk and reward of pursuing a passion – or at least something close to it – and creating a life that I can truly say that I want, not one I feel obligated to soldier through out of some sense of being secure or safe, or doing what I believe society expects me to do.