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Escape to What?

Mike Drak

A TIDAL WAVE OF workers quit the corporate world in recent years, starting an earlier-than-planned retirement. I can relate—because I did the same thing.

One reason these people left: Their psychological needs and values weren’t being met at work. We all want a sense that we’re accomplishing something important. We want to feel valued and respected by the company we work for, and we want a sense of autonomy and control.

What we don’t want is to work for bad bosses in a toxic environment. We don’t want to be micromanaged, and we don’t want to do work that isn’t interesting and meaningful.

Still, knowing we need to leave is one thing—and actually leaving is another. Believe me, leaving a well-paying job late in your career is hard, and you need a pretty big “why” to make the move.

Even though older workers may know they’re wasting their lives in unenjoyable dead-end jobs, most default to staying. They compromise their health and well-being, and grind it out to the bitter end, dying a little bit each day.

But sometimes, a trigger event like COVID-19 will occur, and that’s how we got the so-called Great Resignation. The pandemic made people realize how precious life is and how short it can be, and they didn’t want to waste any more time doing work they didn’t enjoy. Still, we can only hope that, for these folks, their retirement plan was financially feasible—and they knew what they were retiring to.

My own trigger event wasn’t the pandemic, but rather learning about the concept of financial independence. I happily discovered, after running the numbers, that I had achieved FIRE (financial independence-retire early) status.

Being financially free changed everything for me. It gave me back control over my life, and it made the decision to leave my stressful banking job—which was compromising my health and happiness—a no-brainer. But unlike others who use their financial independence to retire to a comfortable life of leisure, I felt the need to use it to do something significant with my life.

My own initial failure at retirement ignited a passion in me to help others with the transition to a meaningful retirement. I wanted to help them avoid suffering the sort of retirement shock that I suffered.

This led to my first book, Victory Lap Retirement, which isn’t for everyone, because it’s a retirement book about not retiring. My editor is still scratching her head over that one. The book challenges the idea of the traditional full-stop retirement, and it rejects the notion of retirement as an end goal in and of itself.

The book was written for growth-oriented people who are looking to escape doing bad work in a bad environment, but don’t want to slow down and take it easy. Rather, they want to do something significant with their lives now that they have the freedom to do so—folks who want to make a difference by doing work they’re proud of.

If you want a good example of folks living like this, look no further than all the people who write for HumbleDollar and offer their wisdom in the comments section. They’re doing it not for money, but for the sense of contribution and significance derived from doing work that matters. Contributing to this site gives folks respect, relevancy, visibility and a sense of identity, all fundamental needs that—when satisfied—lead to a joyous life.

For some people, retirement success is not about sitting around and taking it easy for the rest of their life. It’s about finding significance and connectedness through what they can give. It’s about finding fulfillment through some purposeful activity—though what that means will differ for each of us.

Mike Drak is a 38-year veteran of the financial services industry. He’s the co-author of Longevity Lifestyle by Design, Retirement Heaven or Hell and Victory Lap Retirement. Mike works with his wife, an investment advisor, to help clients design a fulfilling retirement. For more on Mike, head to BoomingEncore.com. Check out his earlier articles.

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