Full transcript of keynote speaker and executive coach Carl Seidman’s TEDx Talk: Why I Retired at 32 at TEDxIIT conference.
Notable quote from the talk:
“We need to reinvent and redefine what retirement means, as well as the path to get there. Instead of waiting until the final chapter of life to retire, we should take small interim retirements throughout our life, allowing ourselves the chance to refresh, re-energize and reinvent ourselves and our careers.”
Carl Seidman – Keynote speaker and executive coach
To paraphrase Edward Rooney, the principal in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” we give good kids bad ideas. We tell them to go to school, study hard and get good grades.
And if you do, you will get out into the workforce and get a good, secure job.
Then, after about 40 or 50 years, you’ll have enough savings and benefits to retire and live out the golden years of your life.
It’s a quaint idea, really, because, today, nearly half of the people in this country have zero savings. The majority of Americans have no pension coverage from their employers, and, just this past January, the Social Security Administration said that the average monthly benefit was just about $1,300, which isn’t going to get you very far in a city like Chicago.
On top of that, we’re living longer. A couple of years ago, Prudential unveiled a billboard that said that the first person was born who will live to be 150 years old. Can you imagine that? Living to be that old?
Under that scenario, you could still be an intern when you’re 50, and, when you reach the age of 70, learn that you’re only halfway to retirement.
Then, you’ll go to your financial planner, and they’ll say, “Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The bad news is you don’t have nearly enough money to retire, but the good news is you still have 30 more years to get there.”
In all seriousness, we are entering an era where most people in this country will no longer be able to retire by choice and, instead, will be forced to work well into their 70s, 80s, and potentially even beyond.
If this is the new reality, how can you ensure that you’ll be able to live out the golden years of your life rather than dedicate the entirety of your life to your work?
We need to reinvent and redefine what retirement means, as well as the path to get there. Instead of waiting until the final chapter of life to retire, we should take small interim retirements throughout our life, allowing ourselves the chance to refresh, re-energize and reinvent ourselves and our careers.
I fear that, if something doesn’t change, we are on track to the worst socioeconomic crisis this country has ever seen. One of the most fundamental principles of financial economics is portfolio diversification, which most simply means: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Spread your risk around.
So, for example, instead of spending all of your money on a house, you should spend some of your money on a house, leave some money in cash and invest some money in other investments. That way, if the housing market goes bust, the way that it did several years ago, your loss is limited by your diversification in other areas.
Ironically, when it comes to our education and our careers, we do the exact opposite. When you’re 18, we tell you to go think about the one thing that you want to do, seemingly for the rest of your life. And at this age, it’s also illegal for you to drink a beer.
Then when you start working, you’re going to be told to get really good at this one particular job function. It won’t be expected that you diversify yourself, and you probably won’t be expected to pursue other interests, because the general belief is that, if you follow this one path, you’ll be successful. And, if you don’t or if you move from one path to another, you’re increasing your risk and you’re more likely to fail.
But neither of those assumptions is true.
Our world is changing so rapidly today, by the time young people graduate from school, they’re entering a world different than the one their education prepared them for. The skills and the value that you and I bring to our jobs in a short period of time may be replaced by technology or be irrelevant altogether.
If portfolio diversification is so important in financial economics, doesn’t it make sense that we do the same thing in our work and our lives?
Several years ago, at the age of 32, I took what I called my first retirement. While I had been saving some money for my ultimate retirement, I had also been putting money aside for this interim leave. I left my job as director of a business consulting firm, to go overseas, build my skills, my experience and pursue several entrepreneurial ideas.
This was not an impulsive decision, nor was it one with a definitive plan. My goal was to refresh, re-energize and redirect my life and my career so that when I re-entered the workforce, I would have a new path to embark upon.
I imagined in my head a surge of people telling me that what I was doing was crazy, that I was completely ruining my consulting career, that if I stayed just a few more years, I’d make partner, more money, the gap on my resume would be insurmountable and I would never find work ever again.
On the contrary, those sentiments were not communicated by one single person. Instead, they said, “I wish I had done what you’re doing. You’re fortunate that you’re not locked in. Take the chance to do it while you can. You have the skills and the experience to do whatever you want later.”
Even more surprisingly, these words were not communicated to me by my millennial peers. They were communicated to me by people in their 60s. Today, these same people are delaying their retirement, not because they want to continue working, but because they can’t afford not to. They’re beginning to reinvent themselves in their 60s, just to have a shot at their golden years.
There is an increasing number of people in this country who are losing faith in traditional employment and retirement, so much so that there is an explosion of people desiring to escape the nine-to-five.
Intuit, the software company, estimates that, over the next four years, 40% of our workforce will become freelance. Today, that is where much of my income comes from. We, millennials, are utilizing technology and connectivity among people to have a better shot at achieving the economics that we need and the flexibility that we want.
This is happening because, as we are having much longer work lives than that of our elders, we’re going to have several different careers, not just that one that we decided on when we were 18.
We will have diverse portfolios of education and experience, allowing ourselves to shift in ways that our parents and grandparents never imagined. Companies that are leading the fight for young talent are investing in their people. They’re giving them the freedom and the flexibility to improve and build their skills and build that diverse portfolio of their career.
Some wonderful companies are even giving paid sabbaticals, allowing people to refresh and re-energize their careers. Companies must understand that, if they don’t invest in the future of their people, their people’s futures won’t be with them.
Now, I am not suggesting that you stop saving for your ultimate retirement. Don’t do that. And I’m not suggesting that you quit your job and hop on a plane to Thailand, although that’s a pretty great idea.