Sunday Herald: The decision to be done

Retirement now dismisses a rigid age bracket. So, when is the right time to hang up one’s boots?

 Is ‘Retire@50’ a reality, a fad, or just a myth?
Highlights: 
Giving up a well-paying job has its downsides, but it is often compensated with non-tangible benefits.
The issue of early retirement also raises many questions: if a person is really enjoying his work, why would he think of retirement?
Queen Elizabeth is 92 years old. American pop singer Tony Bennett is 91. Philanthropist Warren Buffett is 87. Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan is 75. Yet,

none of them are showing any signs of fatigue or an inclination to retire in the near future. Even at their advanced age, they are rearing to go, just as they did at the prime of their youth.

Khushwant Singh, who died at 98, wrote almost till his last breath. Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for nearly 40 years until he was deposed at 92. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner did what he loved best till the final call came when he was 91. All of them lived a full life until the very end.

But many young people today are planning to hang up their boots by the time they mark half-a-century and retire into oblivion to lead a peaceful life. Is ‘Retire@50’ a reality, a fad, or just a myth? Will it catch the imagination of the youth in the days ahead, or will it remain the exclusive domain of a lucky few?

Retiring early is easier said than done as it requires several years of planning unless one can dip into huge savings from a high-paying job, or is a beneficiary of a large inheritance or some windfall gain. Often, this could mean a frugal lifestyle to save for the future by living in a modest house, giving up the second car, opting for a basic mobile phone, shunning fancy restaurants, or using public transport.

It’s got them thinking

Shashank Bharadwaj, who is only 21 years old, believes in starting early and retiring young through goal-based financial planning, a concept where savings are prioritised and tied to specific long and short-term milestones like buying a house, car, retirement fund or an international holiday. “While following your passion, it is also important to keep career goals and financial planning in mind if you intend to retire early or take it easy at some point,” he adds.

Financial stability is a must, agrees Meena Gupta, who quit her high-flying IT career in the US and returned to Bengaluru to work among deserving children. “In India, it is difficult to retire at 50 because most people do not reach their financial goals by this age. I was able to retire because I had established myself financially. Today, my interventions have impacted at least 10,000 children. Of course, I can no longer fly business class or go on frequent foreign trips, but the joy of giving more than makes up for it.”

However, Ravi Kumar, who left a comfortable corporate job without any retirement plans in place, disagrees. “You will never be able to take the plunge if you wait until you have amassed enough wealth. I might be living in a small rented house today, but I am happy because I am able to follow my passion for acting and writing scripts.”

Agrees sports journalist Joseph Hoover who retired at 48, without any fancy savings, to dedicate most of his time to wildlife conservation. “I run a cricket academy and do odd jobs to keep the kitchen running. Life has a way of taking care of itself,” he says.

Giving up a well-paying job has its downsides, but it is often compensated with non-tangible benefits. Preethi Nagaraj from Mysuru notes, “I retired at 37 and am loving every bit of it. This has allowed me to follow my passion and unfulfilled dreams like writing books, conducting theatre workshops, travelling, cooking, and above all, spending quality time with my kids. I am also able to save for a rainy day by pursuing my passion. I have a target for monthly earning and once I have achieved it, I do not take up any more work.”

But M A Deviah, an editor with a Washington-based bank, believes there is no connection between one’s job and passion. “I am 62 years now and do not intend to retire at least for the next 10 years. I have not allowed my jobs to come in the way of my other interests. It is all about work-life balance,” he argues.

Sometimes, retirement does not necessarily mean completely stopping work or even slowing down, but only a shift in gears. It could also mean that one would have to work harder to earn lesser. After working for 20 years for satellite news channels, Hyderabad-based Shailesh Reddy decided to call it a day when he was 40 because he realised he could not bring any qualitative change in the society through “commercial channels”.

Reddy now heads TSAT, the Education Television Division of Telangana Government, which runs two television channels to provide distance education to students. From an initial 5,000 government schools, the channels now reach an audience of seven million. Besides giving access to quality education to government school children from the comfort of their homes, the channels also conduct coaching classes for civil service aspirants.

“After my exit from an active media job, far from relaxing, my workload has actually doubled. But the happiness I get when somebody tells me that he was able to crack the public service examination after watching our channels is much bigger than breaking a story for news television,” notes Reddy.

When S N Praveen decided to call it a day after 30 years of sales and marketing experience to become what he calls a ‘sociapreneur’, his colleagues tried to dissuade him. But Praveen stood his ground and started a home for senior citizens. “A regular 9-to-5 job may give you a fat pay packet, but passion-driven work warms the cockles of your heart. When you go to bed, you have a deep sense of satisfaction,” he says.

To each his own

Different people have different ideas of retirement. Veenaa Raghu, an associate professor of law, is looking forward to settling down in Coorg to take care of her coffee plantation. “I will work till 50 like there is no tomorrow and then enjoy life on my terms. Perhaps, I may take up some freelancing work to keep the mind active,” says Shilpa Kalyan, also an assistant professor. “I plan to wind up my business by 50 and become a full-time homemaker,” adds entrepreneur Chaya Umesh.

Sometimes, the grass may appear greener on the other side, like Ujwala Balajee, a former teacher and customer service executive realised after she “fell into the trap” of early retirement. “I took a break from work about five years ago and regret it to date. Though I enjoyed the initial few years, I’m now bored to death and yearn to go back to work mode. Age is just a number and I feel we should not tie it to our retirement goals.”

Many others also feel the concept of early retirement is a whole lot of hogwash. Prithvi Kiran Setty, a practising lawyer from Mysuru says, “Eighty per cent of Indians do not retire. They work until death. Retirement in the Indian context means dependence on other family members. Retirement is a mirage as most people work until they are physically fit.”

“Retirement? I am scared of that word,” exclaims Samuel Shine, a business development manager living in Tanzania. “Life has been very tough on me. At the end of the day, I am the sole breadwinner of my family and I can never imagine hanging my sales kit on the wall and relaxing.” Prashanth B P, a finance and accounting professional concurs, “Yes, all of us want to retire early. But, have we earned enough to support ourselves for the rest of our lives?” Aiyanna Nellamakkada, a legal manager in a private firm explains, “Our retirement age is determined by our commitments in life — higher education and marriage of children, medical bills and so on.”

Mohan Katarki, an advocate, and Yeswanth Gangaiah, a nephrologist from Tumkur, argue that 50 is too early an age for lawyers and doctors to retire because they stabilise in their professions only when they are around 40 years. Sneha Putran, a school teacher, adds, “I began my career only at 40 due to certain family commitments. I am enjoying my job to the hilt. I would not want to retire as long as work is my passion and my passion is my work. For me, life has just begun.”

“Does retirement apply to homemakers too?” asks Roopamouli Mysore, Mrs Global International (Classic) and founder of an NGO. Replies Gurugram-based Rajeshwari Jagtap, “Women can never retire. It is a 24/7, 365-day job.”

The issue of early retirement also raises many questions: if a person is really enjoying his work, why would he think of retirement? Are only people in high-pressure jobs who are unable to have the right balance in life thinking of winding up early? Is quitting early really worth it? Because, on the one hand, you live a thrifty life saving for post-retirement, and then you try to make both ends meet without a steady income. Given the increased life expectancy, how does one decide how much of saving is enough?

So, what is the right age to retire? Krishnamurthy Srinath of Bengaluru sums it up perfectly when he says, “There is no right or wrong age. Retire only when you are tired, not only physically, but also emotionally.”

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Sunday Herald: The decision to be done

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