How to Retire at 35 in the Era of Discontent

Social Commentary

How to Retire at 35 in the Era of Discontent

Illustration: Akshita Monga

I

grew up watching my parents treat their jobs like they were meant to be treated – as jobs. They left home and returned at the same time every day, and working weekends were as rare as sensible statements from ministers. My mother opted for voluntary retirement because, as a child, my health was as stable as Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, while dad retired a few days after he turned 60.

From what I could see, my parents never lost sleep over their retirement plans. Maybe they were beset by countless other worries that kept them from planning their retirements. But it was a default setting, something inevitable that happened by itself.

What differentiates my parents’ stress-free retirement with the daunting prospect facing today’s generation are two things that millennials don’t have and secretly crave – job security and a pension.

The millennial blueprint for retirement is based off the one that we see our parents living. It consists of reading the newspaper from back to front, arguing with your significant other about the headlines, waxing eloquent about the good old days, waiting for a wedding invitation to arrive so that lunch or dinner can be knocked off the chore list, and going on back-to-back religious pilgrimages until salvation is attained. Our parents have gained another unexpected perk of retirement by getting schooled in social media so they can spend all their days sending us meaningless forwards on WhatsApp and asking their children to be friends with them on Facebook.

For every serial entrepreneur, there are vast swathes of millenials, who in Henry Thoreau’s words, are “leading lives of quiet desperation”.

While it seems like the previous generation has cruised into retirement while on auto-pilot, millennials are desperately scanning the financial advice section in newspapers for expert advice on how to save for retirement. Without pensions and pay commissions to sustain us during our sunset years, and the added lure of those blue jeans on discount in the fifth “For the Fuck of It Sale” in as many months, we need to ponder over how we’re going to live once work ends.

Planning for retirement.

What a daunting, fearsome phrase. I bet no millennial has even remotely given a thought to it. How can a generation which can’t sit still for 30 seconds without checking their Instagram feeds responsibly plan for life after the next 30 years?

In fact, for most of us the problem isn’t what comes after 30 years. It’s the thought of working for the next 30 years. By the time most millennials entered the workforce, they’d decided that most jobs were soul-suckers – and work was an avenue to express your talents and change the world. In this heady daze of optimism, we thought every day would be a challenge, every challenge would lend itself to a motivational tweet. And eventually it would all add up to a TED talk that would inspire the fuck out of everyone.

Then, reality struck like lightning.

For every serial entrepreneur, there are vast swathes of millenials, who in Henry Thoreau’s words, are “leading lives of quiet desperation”. For every start-up whiz, there are countless other millennials who spend their days at work scrolling through their Facebook feeds, wondering if their passion is hidden somewhere in between that fascinating cat video and their friends Ibiza vacation (which is still being covertly paid off via EMIs). Of course, this becomes boring sooner rather than later.

In a quest to shake things up, staid job titles are turned in and the word social became the default setting for all designations. Even then, despite the newfound riches measured in foosball tables, breakout areas, and flexi-hours, we’ve realised that most of the jobs didn’t offer meaning. Bosses weren’t cool, like Steve Carrell on The Office, and the world of work painted by TED talks was largely a mirage.

As they never fail to remind us, our parents’ generation was marked by real struggles. They began working when liberalisation was a distant dream and “following your passion” was a non-existent phrase. They took jobs mostly out of necessity, hoping to one day give their children an education and life they couldn’t themselves enjoy. Decades away from smartphones, the Internet, Uber, and Swiggy, they found succour in small joys. Money was never in abundance, eating out was a luxury, and buying new clothes was reserved for really special occasions. They were content with one house and one car. It was as if they had modelled their slow and steady personal development on a Rahul Dravid innings.

As they inched towards the end of their work lives, retirement made sense. They had finally earned the rest that they worked so hard and sacrificed for. Government jobs came with pensions and every few years, the government sets up pay commissions to keep the retirees happy and gives them generous raises, long after they’ve retired.

Then along came interlopers in this quaint paradise, the millennials, eternal seekers of meaning and serial job-hoppers. A demographic that marketers spend millions of dollars in research to understand. They’re labelled selfish and self-centred, and companies are rewriting rule books to accommodate their whims and fancies.

Funnily enough, while the world struggles to adapt to the influx of millennials in the workforce, most of them wake up every morning wanting to retire.

How did a generation bred on inspiring blog posts about ditching your day job to change the world end up in this listless state? The problem with our generation is that we think we are constantly behind.

If you haven’t made it by 35 as a multi-millionaire who has sold off their start-up, you’re a loser. If your job doesn’t get you out of bed with a raging hard-on for the morning meeting, you go into a depression. So the next best option is to retire. Not at 60, but at 40 and if possible, even earlier. The only question is, retire to what?

Scrolling through social media all day? That’s what we do in meetings, in discussions, in the loo, at work, in the cab, at parties, in bed. Travel the world? Lovely thought that also costs a lot of money. Spoil your grandchildren stupid? Nice, if only you had children to bear you some grandchildren. Go on religious pilgrimages? God save us.

Allow me let you in on a secret – I always dreamt of having a stable job like my parents. Unlike social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk, hustle never appealed to me. While making a billion dollars and putting a car on Mars are all things I admire greatly, I could never see myself pulling something like that off. So I’ve decided to stop crying about the rat race and just look forward to a peaceful retirement.

Unless Donald Trump gets so worked up and wants to show the world that his dick is yuge by pressing the nuclear button, the world is going to be around for at least a few decades more. You don’t need to retire tomorrow to truly start living life. Jobs aren’t necessarily meant to suck, but neither are they supposed to be utopias where you gorge on free pizza and use every second to change the world. So grovel through that job that sucks. When it gets to you, grovel through that business you want to start.

Because retirement is great. All we millennials have to realise is that we need to earn it.

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