Anecdotes about how to prepare for retirement are abundant. “Save 20% of your income for retirement.” “Save for retirement, but remember that you can’t take it to the grave so enjoy what you have now”. But what if we lived life in reverse of the current societal norm? What if we lived the life of a retiree, free to explore our interest, and then we worked until the end of our days? This is the philosophy of a friend of mine, who, in her late 50s, is now starting to see the impact of her age, the energy of her earlier years diminishing.

How would we subsidize such a societal reversal? This is a blog about career fulfillment, not politics; and though politics impacts career fulfillment in numerous ways – the benefits we’re provided, the lower limit of our wages, and representation under the law – let’s just meditate on how “retirement” before work would impact the choices we make about work.

I would imagine that retirement first and then years spent working would primarily impact our choices about work in two ways: 1) we’d pursue work based more on our interests than income and 2) life experiences would have left us better equipped to make choices about what type of work we’d most like to do. We’ve heard the theme in Steve Job’s famous Stanford commencement speech; it wasn’t until he dropped out of college that he felt the freedom to take the courses he thought looked interesting. “…much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on,” Jobs’ told students. Jobs’ experience is particularly relevant now that college has become geared more towards slotting us into a profession versus exploring the liberal arts.

With or without higher education, we begin work just as we enter our adult lives. And then the compulsory obligations of work bereave us of the time required for unbound exploration often necessary for discovery of self. We enter professions based on ideals versus realities and an image of who we’d like to become before figuring out who we would be most suited to become. Until society’s timeline changes, we must make time for not just escapism, but exploration. Fulfillment often doesn’t fit in a readymade standard. And we must often look beyond the routine of our work to find it.