A long time ago, I met a wonderful older woman in South Carolina and asked her that most American of ice-breaker questions, “What do you do?” She replied gently, “My time is my own.” Not being from the South, I had never heard that before. It was thoroughly charming—and enlightening. In just five words, she said it all.
To me, “my time is my own” means freedom to choose how to spend it, which usually comes after a lifetime of working for The Man (or Woman). One person may babysit the grandchildren. Another plays golf (I’ve never understood how much you can actually do that, but whatever) or another sport or devotes time to a hobby. Some may volunteer at a church, homeless shelter, food bank, or other community setting, or enter local politics. Others will travel. Most people will combine some of these.
The key is that someday, most of us probably want to decide how we spend our time, not have it dictated by our employers. It is a fact that despite the industry of “follow your dream” and “do what you love,” which are definitely good pieces of advice, these are for the most part first-world luxuries, and even then, rare (which makes them luxuries). And ask anyone who has done either of those what is entailed, and the answer will include many falls and picking oneself back up again.
Plus, for those who have children, they become the focus of parents’ lives. Jobs become jobs, all about making enough money to feed, clothe and educate children, not some kind of magic path to self-fulfillment. Most jobs are not exciting, spiritually enhancing, or full of challenge and opportunity. Some are, sure, but what I’ve seen is that if we can do them with enjoyable people and provide a useful good or service, that’s pretty darned great. Those aren’t easy to find, either, but they make any old job into a pretty good job.
I’m not arguing for settling or telling young people the “hard truth,” far from it. (What do I know, anyway?) It’s more that work isn’t everything, and family (or any other non-work pursuit) often is. They are often the dream and what one loves, though truly hard work, but not a paid job. Thus, retirement, when “our time—including what we used to spend at work—is our own,” is when the kids are gone, the job is (or more likely, jobs are) done, and eldercare is likely complete. For most people, this may be the time to pursue things that were not possible before. We may not need to work but decide to do so. Our time is our own.
How much time will we have? Not being God (surprise, I know), I can’t say. Life expectancy from birth isn’t a great indicator because of all the things along the way. However, if we make it to the traditional retirement age of 65, there is going to be a lot more time than people used to have. When Social Security came into being the 1930s, most people had physically demanding jobs, and their bodies just didn’t last much more than 65—if that. But today’s 65-year old woman will on average live to 89 and man 87 (women are of stronger stock, no surprise there). People didn’t expect retirement, or for long. It’s concept that has come with longer lives. And with so much time on average ahead of us, much more money is needed. This requires planning long in advance, when money can have a long time to grow. To have one’s time be one’s own is not free, but the sooner one starts preparing for it, the cheaper it becomes.
Tom Jacobs is a partner with Huckleberry Capital Management, a boutique investment advisory firm serving clients in 25 states and 3 foreign countries from offices in Marfa, TX, Silicon Valley, CA, and Asheville, NC. You may contact him at 432-386-0488 and email@example.com.