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Retirement of the immortal

At a house party in my 20s, I told someone I worked in financial planning. To my dismay she responded with, “That’s okay, I have a boring job too.”

I get that retirement-related work might seem dreary. After all, you’re told to painstakingly save a portion of your income over a 40 year career. You hustle in your 20s and 30s, reach peak earnings in your 40s and 50s, then retire in your sixties to enjoy yourself a little before your health declines and you die.

With advances in longevity research, can more quality years add a little sparkle to the calculation?

A senior couple sits together, with one person's arm wrapped around the other, at the edge of a dock by a lake

Retire now, work later

A recent article in Bloomberg suggests that longer lives will come to restructure career and life trajectories. Perhaps instead of a race to the finish, we would have multiple careers punctuated by sabbaticals in which to enjoy non-remunerative pursuits.

To someone who dreams of living many lives, this idea is very attractive. Besides, having kids just as you are establishing your career is absurd; children have to be tended to around the clock, school ends in the middle of the afternoon, and it is normal for kids to be sick 168 days of the year.

A baby laying in bed, eyes closed, stretching both arms out with a smile on their face.

Collective and mathematical roadblocks to utopia

There’s much in the way of this large-scale shift. Programs like Medicare, 401(k)s, IRAs, and pensions revolve around 60-something retirement.

Planning to walk in and out of careers is rife with uncertainty about the future. It takes time to build momentum and relevant expertise as a professional. Ageism makes employment challenging even as soon as your 50s. Disability becomes more likely as you age, so while you may voluntarily set aside your work today, later on it may be difficult to return. It’s a risky trade.

The other problem is that of compound interest. Ten grand saved at 25 might be $150K by 65 if your portfolio returned 7% each year, but the same amount saved at 45 is less than $40K. At the Query Capital office, we amused ourselves by running tons of scenarios through planning software to see the dispersion of bankruptcies our futurist doppelgangers would face. The result is that you’d need to work many more years or spend much less to fit decades of sabbaticals into your younger years. This of course assumes that caring for the well-being of our elder selves remains primarily an individual and not a collective task.

A person in a light blue button-down shirt sits at a desk, holding a pen. They have a laptop and a stack of papers in front of them.

I still think it would be nice

But I’m still stuck on how I’d like to get a frivolous undergraduate degree in math or spend a year meticulously cleaning my house and also do this work I love until I’m 95.

And how much more motivated would a 20 year old be to save if they knew they were saving for a slice of paradise that people only slightly older than them were currently enjoying? And how much more invested in making work lives sustainable would we be if we knew we were immortal and could try again and again, resting as we go?

A group of six joyful young people walk with suitcases in hand and smiles on their faces.

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