On Friday I got carried away with selling you beachfront property in Nicaragua. I meant to introduce my Big Idea to solve your Big Retirement Problem (i.e., you can’t have one). The Big Idea that will solve your Big Problem with retirement…. The idea of retirement is a recent one. It was invented after WWII to keep the Silent Generation working away in the factories, warehouses, steel mills, and automobile plants.

The promise was basically this: Work hard now, save your pennies, and retire in Florida. It worked for some. The few who made a lot of money and saved are now enjoying leisurely, non-working retirements in special communities all over the country. For most, however, retirement proved to be a cruel joke. Most “retired” people live a very meager life – old home, old clothes, crummy food, and endless television.

If the world were right, retirement could work. You would be part of an extended family. When you got old and wanted to stop working, you could do so; your children would be running the family business. You would be consulted from time to time when important decisions had to be made. Your wisdom would be appreciated. Your instincts revered. You would be surrounded by your loved ones, enjoying the fruits of your combined labor. Everything would be lovely. In the fractionalized world we live in, you need money to retire well. A lot of money. And if you stick with ETR, you will make and save a lot of money.

But even if you do, I’m going to argue that you should banish any dreams you have about retirement. To understand what I’m about to say, you have to understand this: Happiness in life comes not from idleness but from working. Not working at a job you hate, but working at a task you love. Happiness comes when you are busy doing something you care about … such as teaching, taking care of your children, painting, fixing a faulty switch, or writing a helpful memo.

When you are doing something you care about, and paying attention to it (not you), happiness surprises you. The secret to a great retirement is to figure out how to get paid for doing work you would gladly do for free and to be able to do that work when and where you want to. Name your dream…pick your price Maybe you want to be a writer. Maybe your secret passion is food.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to get back into astronomy or archeology or gardening. Somewhere in your past is a buried profession – something you’ve long ago given up on. What if you could reprise that dream? I know a man whose dream was to be a professional pilot. After working 30 years in a wallpaper business, he took my advice and got himself a job flying part time for a small airline. A few years later, he became a part owner. He’s making more money now doing what he loves than he ever made selling wallpaper. And he only “works” 20 hours a week. My dad gave up a promising career in show business to become a teacher.

Fifty years later, he went back into the acting business and became a professional actor. He did all kinds of commercials and soap operas, had small, talking spots in some big movies, and did some big spots in some off-Broadway plays. He did it for 10 years, made some money, and had a great time. The Internet has opened up a world of possibilities for “retirees.” I met a guy who trades cigarette lighters on-line.

This happens to be something he always wanted to do and planned to do once he stopped working. But by taking advantage of Ebay and all the other Internet auction sites, he is already making more than $30,000 a year doing it just on weekends. Trading cigarette lighters! There are plenty of other examples. You can become an Internet copywriter, an Internet editor, an Internet travel agent, or an Internet teacher, for example. You can make money giving marriage or dating advice on the Internet, or even selling rubber underwear.

You can use the Internet to make a living from your interest in wild roses, say, or your up-until-now useless knowledge of 19th-Century swords. Start your retirement planning right now. Ask yourself the 3 Big Questions: “What work would I really enjoy doing?” “Who would be the best person to do it with?” “Where would I most want to do it?”

You may not be able to find a partner or relocate right away, but you can definitely start working on your new line of work. And don’t tell yourself you’re too old to make a big change now. Henry Flaggler was 70 when he fell in love with Florida. In the 15-year period of his retirement there, he built a railroad from Jacksonville to Key West, created three major cities, founded universities, and built world-class hotels…. Do I need to go on? MMF