The Great Retirement Con Game

many water bottles on blue backgroundBy Michael Drak

I don’t like to admit it, but over the years and due to circumstances largely beyond my control, I have turned into a skeptic.

I wasn’t born that way, but who here can blame me for turning into one with all the crazy stuff going on in this world? Today people seem to say anything they want. They just make stuff up. If you want proof of this, just watch the race for the presidency in the US. Enough said.

I discovered I was a skeptic one day while drinking bottled water. I used to get clean drinking water at several places in or outside my house. I just had to pick up the hose and there it was, as much as I wanted and best of all, it was free. I think we can all agree that when healthy things are free that’s a pretty rare and good thing, especially these days.

But things changed after I married the Contessa and became “sophisticated.” Water was no longer free and I began a new routine of driving to the grocery store to buy bottled water. It didn’t stop there, because I now drink a particular brand of water called “Smart Water,” probably not a very smart thing to do as it costs more than regular bottled water.

Have you read about what’s inside your bottle of water? The nutrition label is all zeros, because there’s nothing in it besides water.

It’s incredible how advertisers have been able to convince us to start drinking bottled water when we all have free clean water to drink at home. I would love to meet the person who came up with the idea that we need to drink eight 8-ounce bottles of water a day in order to stay healthy.

In North America bottled water is a $170 billion dollar industry. I don’t know where all this bottled water is coming from, but I can’t get this image out of my head of a couple of people sitting in a bathtub somewhere filling up water bottles. That’s what being skeptical does to you.

Beware The Spin Doctors

All joking aside, it’s important to understand advertisers have over the years developed the ability to put a spell over us. They can make us believe something is good for us when it really isn’t, as with bottled water, or even when that thing is harmful. A good example is how they used to manipulated us into accepting cigarette smoking was safe, cool and even sexy. Even now I cringe when I think about it.

Back in the day, cigarette companies were worried about how the growing health concerns over smoking would negatively affect sales. How they duped the public into thinking cigarette smoking was safe is just incredible, if not criminal. The spin doctors knew people trusted their doctors and would follow their advice. They began to use medical research and physicians to convince the public that cigarette smoking was not harmful. They advertised that cigarettes were “physician tested” and “approved.”

One of the most famous campaigns was the “more doctors” campaign for Camel cigarettes. It stated that more doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette. It made cigarette smoking seem safe, which it wasn’t. The reason they could truthfully say that most doctors smoked Camels is that the company was giving away free camels to all the doctors who smoked.

You see more and more examples of this type of manipulation every day. Is fracking really safe for the environment? Weapons of mass destruction anyone?

Remember, everything is created for a reason

Advertisers are biased in that they want us to accept what they are telling us as the truth, but they never tell us the other side of the story. They don’t have to and the truth doesn’t sell stuff. Your job is to figure out the other side, the real story they are not telling you. Try to figure out who is benefiting because more often than not, you’ll find out it isn’t you! Follow the money and you’ll find the truth.

What’s Retirement got to do with bottled water?

Being skeptical made me check out retirement carefully before I took the plunge and followed the status quo. I started reading as many books as I could on retirement and discovered, to my surprise, that retirement is not the happy ending it was made out to be. Far from it!

Over the years, like many of you, I was lulled into believing retirement was the natural conclusion of things, the final step so to speak. I bought into the deal that my role was to work for thirty-plus years, pay off the mortgage and help the kids get through school and off to a good start in life. Once that was all done, and my major responsibilities were behind me, I would be allowed to retire. But retire to what?

Nobody really talked about that part of the deal, which was the part I was really interested in. Something started to smell funny. I started to dig deeper into this retirement thing and was surprised when I discovered retirement is a relatively recent 20th century phenomenon. Prior to industrialization, retirement didn’t exist at all!

Most people back then either lived or worked on farms and farmers by definition didn’t retire. People worked as long as they physically could do so. Working was natural and instinctive and served to deliver the social needs of the worker.

This all changed with the creation of factories and people moved from farms to cities. They were no longer working for themselves but for their employers and this was when the concept of retirement was created. It’s important to understand retirement is not a natural act. It was created by factory owners to solve a problem: how to remove older, less efficient workers without much fuss from the assembly line.

Back then people were used to hanging around until they were physically incapable of working. They might become slower as they aged but still felt the need to work. Work made them feel part of something and that they mattered. Work is what they did until they couldn’t work any longer, because that how they were raised.

But that work ethic created a problem for the factory owners, who wanted to replace the older slower workers with faster, cheaper, more efficient models. The challenge was the older workers didn’t want to quit. Someone came up with the bright idea of speeding up the assembly line at one of the car companies to entice older workers into quitting. But that didn’t work out so well and all they ended up with was a bunch of cars at the end of the day missing a wheel or two.

I can picture some industry titans of the day, secretly meeting in an attempt to come up with a solution to their problem. Voila, they came up with the concept of retirement.

It worked for a while, but …

So began the tradition of celebrating the exit of retired workers from the workplace. Retirees were made to feel special; after all they were winners (maybe survivors is a better word?) who had made it to the finish line. However, as soon as they walked through the retirement door they were on their own and lost all the social interaction and other benefits (such as purpose and structure) that they enjoyed while at work.

Things seemed to work out well for awhile, as the retired workers didn’t usually live long after retiring anyway. It worked because life expectancies back then were low. If you did retire you were lucky to spend a couple of years on the porch in the good old rocking chair. This was because most people at the time were worn out from physical labour and active leisure was just not an option.

Retirement may be hazardous to your health

depositphotos_82405470_s-2015Now, people are living longer. They are more vibrant than ever. So we are faced with a situation where we could spend more time in retirement than we spent in our working lives. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the numbers for most of us just won’t work anymore.

So why do advertisers continue to seduce us with their old version of retirement if it doesn’t reflect the current reality? You know the images: a seemingly care-free, happy couple sitting on a beach in the Caribbean while sipping on a strawberry daiquiri, or the happy couple playing golf on a picturesque golf course beside the ocean. You can almost hear the sound of the putt going into the hole for a birdie.

Why don’t advertisers show us the other side of retiring: the loss of socialization, loss of income, loss of purpose, loss of mattering? Because telling the truth doesn’t sell stuff!

But that’s ok, because we know the real story and most of us don’t really want to retire anyway. We don’t consider ourselves old, we still have lots of gas left in the tank but we are tired of doing what we been doing for so many years. It’s human nature to want to try something new, something fresh something that will give us a good reason to get out of bed in the morning and we have an opportunity to do so, in our Victory Laps.

That’s why you should not blindly follow the retirement status quo. Your Victory Lap could and should be the most fulfilling period of your life. You earned it, go have some fun!

Drak-2014Mike Drak is an author, blogger and speaker based in Toronto. He can be reached at michael.drak@yahoo.ca. Victory Lap Retirement, co-authored with Hub CFO Jonathan Chevreau, is now available for orders online and on Kindle and Kobo ebooks. At Kobo, it is already a bestseller in three categories. The paperback edition will be available in bookstores early in October. This blog originally ran on two parts on Mike’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.

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Comments

One Response to “The Great Retirement Con Game”
  1. Mark Benkovic says:

    This is an excellent article, Mike Drak. “The Great Retirement Con Game” hilights several lifestyle and psychological issues that many financial advisers never discuss. Before I took on temporary retirement after acting as a Financial Adviser for 22 years and teaching a part-time continuing education course at Conestoga College, I remember having great conversations with clients about these kinds of issues. And, since most of my clients were old enough to be my parents I learned much from their real life retirement experiences.

    The social interaction aspect of retirement is an important consideration because being isolated comes with potential negative psychological consequences. It was pleasant for me to learn that many of my clients did volunteer work in retirement and several of them said they were busier and happier than they ever had been in their working lives.

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