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Make your retirement years count

Two weeks ago, I heard a statistic that won’t leave my brain. This statistic makes me feel sad, scared and slightly hopeless.

I had the chance to interview one of the country’s foremost retirement experts on my radio show, and his use of this statistic created my introspection. Dan Veto, president of RetirementSpark, told me that the average retiree watches more than 43 hours of television per week. Forty-three hours of television per week! How could this be? You’re telling me people work for four decades so they can waste away in front of a television?

The culprit, according to Veto, is that retirement has changed so much in the past 80 years, that no one truly understands today’s modern retirement. Once we hit retirement age, we expect to deal with retirement the way our parents dealt with retirement, but our retirement is nothing like theirs.

There are several causes for this, including a crumbling pension system, increased longevity and significant anthropological shifts. And while quality financial planning attempts to address one of the finite resources involved with this conundrum, money, the other limited resource, time, is mostly ignored and/or devalued. How else could you explain 43 hours of television per week?

Time always seems like it’s the resource that’s taken the most for granted. While you’re in the workforce, your time is leveraged to create the other resource, money. But when you retire, your time is freed up. All of your time is freed up. This overabundance of time leads some retirees to the conclusion that their time isn’t valuable. So invaluable, in fact, that 43 hours per week of television viewing seems reasonable.

I don’t know why I feel emboldened to tell someone how they should spend their retirement, but I do. Your retirement isn’t a waiting room. It’s a significant part of life. And it’s really hard, because your access to time shifts so dramatically. This is exactly why I think retirement is the perfect opportunity for a renaissance.

I’m sure you remember this question: “What would you do for a living, if money didn’t matter?” This particular question is used by high school guidance counselors, career specialists and thoughtful parents to help adolescents and young adults craft a career path. A question of this magnitude, when taken seriously, can be life-changing.

I can’t think of a better time to ask and answer this life-changing question than retirement. Retirement brings financial independence. And retirement brings a plethora of time. Arguably, 60-year-olds are in the best position to pursue their passions and interests. Work income may not be necessary for someone in retirement, and if it is, it may be an insignificant requirement. Why not use this as an opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do? I want to contribute to society when I’m 60, 70, 80 and 90. There’s no way that’s possible if I’m watching “Matlock” reruns.

Veto went on to tell me that our views on retirement have evolved over the past eight decades. At first, retirement was rest, and it lasted only a couple of years. Then, it was a reward for decades of hard work. Retirement then became a right, filled with a plump pension. And next it turned into a race to see who could retire the fastest.

But now, it’s a renaissance. It’s our chance to let our financial stability mix with our overabundance of time — and create something magical. You, of course, are welcome to hold onto your own personal view of retirement — perhaps as some form of rest, reward, right or a race — but I encourage you to not sell yourself short.

If you are going to be retired for 20 years, why watch 44,720 hours of television? If living the retirement dream meant doing nothing, I wouldn’t want to ever retire. Would you?