The Secret to Enjoying a Great Retirement

“I live a day at a time. Each day I look for a kernel of excitement. In the morning I say: ‘What is my exciting thing for today?’ Then, I do the day. Don’t ask me about tomorrow.” – Barbara Jordan

Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself enjoying your ideal retirement. Perhaps you’re standing knee-deep in a Montana river, fishing for trout. Or strolling through the streets of Prague. Or reading Faulkner on the back porch, listening to the sounds of your grandchildren playing in the yard.

Chances are, your actual retirement will look quite different from the way you’re imagining it. For one thing, the kids playing in your backyard are more likely to be your great-grandchildren – because you’ll probably retire a lot later than you think. If, that is, you retire at all in the traditional sense of the word.

A Vanguard survey released this year found that over 60 percent of Americans (ages 40 to 69) indicated that they’ll include some form of work in their retirement. A study by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, had similar findings. As reported by CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes, “Nearly 80 percent [of the study’s participants] say they’ll work on a part-time basis well beyond [age 63].” And the massive University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (which surveys 22,000+ Americans over 50 every two years) also found that most Americans would prefer a “gradual retirement” – scaling back on their hours rather than quitting cold turkey – if they had the choice.

In a different sort of world – the kind of world that used to exist – retirement didn’t involve work. You were 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 world we live in today, that doesn’t happen. For one thing, you need money to retire well. A lot of money. So some baby boomers are going to be “forced” to delay their retirement because they simply won’t be able to afford to stop working.

But even if you reach retirement age with millions in the bank, I’m going to argue that there’s a more important reason for you to banish those dreams of an idyllic life of leisure.

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 tasks you care about.

Given that, 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.

Maybe you want to be a writer. Maybe your secret passion is cooking gourmet 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 the 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 acted in all kinds of commercials and soap operas, had small speaking roles in some big movies, and did some big spots in 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 online. 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 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. You can make money giving marriage or dating advice on the Internet, or even selling underwear. You can use the Internet to make a living from your interest in wild roses, say, or your up-until-now useless knowledge about 19th-century swords.

For the best retirement possible, give up on the idea of playing golf all day. Instead, enrich your life with pursuits that mean something to you… and make money at the same time.

You can start your retirement planning right now by asking yourself the three Big Questions:

1. “What would I really enjoy doing?”
2. “Who would be the best person to do it with?”
3. “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 mastering the skills you’re going to need for your new line of “work.”

[Ed. Note: Why wait until you’re ready to retire to get into a business you love? Learn how to turn your passion, background, or expertise into a profitable, Internet-based, information-publishing business at ETR’s upcoming 5 Days in July Internet Conference. You can walk in with nothing – no product, no marketing skills, no technical know-how – and walk out with your own online business.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]