My thinking about retirement leads me to explore alternative visions to my preconceived notion. Maybe it’s possible to retire without quitting work. I have not read Timothy Ferris’ The 4 Hour Work Week, and I won’t, because the author strikes me as someone who takes himself too seriously. So I picked up Stanley Bing’s Executricks. I am told he has a similar message to Tim Ferris, but he is prepared to laugh at himself. I started skimming through it with every intention of immediately returning it to the library. By the time I realized it, I was on chapter 3.
The subtitle of the book is: How to Retire While You’re Still Working. With a tongue-in-cheek manner, Stanley Bing proceeds to illustrate spending company time and money on the good things in life. The reason, he suggests, is that retirement isn’t a dream come true. He presents two alternatives: either the poor schmuck works all his life and drops dead within six months of retirement, or who putters lonely through the last 30 years of life without the resources or network to really enjoy it. In this way, there is no longer a choice between being rich with time or being rich with money; the cunning executive can have it all.
“Retiring” while working requires control. You must use people to do your work for you, as much as possible. You can then use email and cell phones to delegate and communicate while living life outside the office. The author encourages the reader to legitimately expand unproductive time such as breakfast meetings and business lunches to replace tedious working hours. Then, using the expense account and sound business reasoning, travel for business with the goal of personal enjoyment. The irony is that you must work hard to develop the environment in which to hardly work.
The humour is obvious, but this fits into the category of “It’s funny because it’s true.” And it’s not possible to tell if he isn’t being honestly sociopathic at some level. At one point, he cites Machiavelli, with the suggestion that he was a fun-loving and pragmatic thinker. As an investor, I don’t want to ever think that people are abusing company resources in this way in companies that I own. Realistically, it’s accepted practice, and explains why I prefer to own small companies or family businesses.
The book ends on a serious note. Perhaps the inspiration for the entire book was a piece of advice the author received from his father-in-law, who made just enough by age 50 to be able to retire to a golf community in Florida. After 20 years, at age 70, he said to Stanley, “Never retire. Never.” The alternative to retiring while you work, that the author suggests, is philanthropy. In reality, tutoring, mentoring, volunteering, organizing and other forms of philanthropy are ways of working in retirement.
I am reminded of the admonition: “Be careful what you wish for; you might get it.” By age 45, will I really know what I want to do with the next 45 years of my life? Do I really want to limit my options? My answer is “No.” I want to continue working, so that I can maintain my social network and continue to benefit from more-than-adequate financial resources. I only want to have no debt and enough assets in the bank to be beholden to no one. Then I can be retired while working and truly enjoy the good things in life.