In this publication I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. Letter 19 is about retirement. He discusses how to enjoy and remain sharp when you no longer have to work.
What is Retirement?
Retirement is the withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from one’s active working life.
Many people choose to retire when they are elderly or incapable of doing their job due to health reasons. People may also retire when they are eligible for private or public pension benefits, although some are forced to retire when bodily conditions no longer allow the person to work any longer (by illness or accident) or because of legislation concerning their positions. In most countries, the idea of retirement is of recent origin, being introduced during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Previously, low life expectancy, lack of social security and the absence of pension arrangements meant that most workers continued to work until their death.
My advice is to try to retire early. Set an early retirement date and force yourself to prepare for this, both financially and mentally. It may sound unrealistic, but if you look at it this way, it forces you to make choices. For example, do you want to spend impulsively now or retire early? Live simply and frugally and invest the difference is my advice. Make more money in the short term so you don’t need to work as much later.
Now that you’re thinking of retiring then consider this. You’ve spent your whole life working in a career where the opinions of others influence your success. When you retire don’t exert any effort into attempting to manipulate the perception or judgement of others. It’s not important anymore. But you shouldn’t allow yourself to fall into unhealthy habits and practices, because you don’t have to work. Remember that while you may have retired, your brain hasn’t. You still have the ability and energy to make an impact, so much so that you may find that people seek you out to ask you for your advice and opinion. Don’t try to hide away from this, your reputation is too great.
Retirement & the hedonistic treadmill
Think of all the sacrifices you’ve made for the sake of your career. Of course, acknowledgement is something we all crave but the road to higher status is strewn with pitfalls. For one, we limit ourselves to doing the things that make other people appreciate us. We judge ourselves through the eyes of others, instead of pursuing what we want for ourselves. Once we’ve attained some status there is always another, more prestigious position above us, and there forever will be. And so, we lust after the next position, and then the next. Soon we are stuck on an endless, unfulfilling hedonistic treadmill of wanting something we don’t have.
So, be content with what you’ve already got. By freeing yourself from these desires a burden will be lifted from your shoulders. You can focus on the goal of self-improvement: your beliefs, decisions, and feelings. By doing this then success will depend on you alone, not on others, and so to repeat the point I made earlier, its immaterial what people think about you. And don’t worry about leaving behind these so-called friends. They are only interested in you for what you can give them.
Speaking of friends, you can’t get real comradeship by giving people things, in the hope of buying their acquaintance. They’ll feel that they owe you something, and in the case of a large debt they’ll end up hating you. Now, this isn’t the same as being kind. Kindness comes from having friends who like you for who you are and not what they can get from you. These sorts of people will always reciprocate what you give them, in one way or another.