Earlier this summer, I joined the launch team for Jeff Haanen’s An Uncommon Guide to Retirement with the goal of getting a review out to you all on this blog as part of the book’s launch. Unfortunately I then broke my nose, which is not a recommended productivity technique – so now I am late to the party. Sorry, Jeff! If you haven’t already encountered the book, I definitely recommend you take a look.
Jeff’s book picks up on an aspect of our culture that’s starting to get more press: we don’t have a good road map for retirement. Some of us have an image of retirement as one long stretch of sitting on the beach watching the sun set. Others may think we will never have enough money to retire at all and will just have to keep on working no matter what. Our thoughts about retirement are deeply tied up in our culture’s thoughts about leisure, the work ethic, the nature of time, social class, and aging. All of these things contribute to giving us an unhealthy picture of what lies ahead as we get older.
What I found most helpful about Jeff’s book is that it addresses our misconceptions head-on. In each chapter he takes a look at a concept – sabbath, calling, time, health, family, etc. and probes our common cultural myth about that concept, replacing it with an “uncommon” (but more biblical and holistic) attitude towards the concept.
For example, Jeff’s chapter on sabbath asks us to move from viewing rest solely as leisure and vacation into viewing it as re-creation to renew us for whatever God has planned for us; his chapter on work asks us to shift from viewing work simply as what we do to make money into viewing it as a way we reflect the image of God. Ultimately, Jeff argues, we need to hope in the fact that the Christian story is true, and let that guide the choices we make as we prepare to retire. The Bible is clear that age brings wisdom, and the book serves as a helpful reminder of this against a lot of prevailing cultural trends.
While the book could very fruitfully be read by people who are already retired, the main audience is clearly those who have not yet retired. As Jeff himself admits, he is nowhere near retirement age (I think he’s at least ten years younger than me, and I’m not fifty yet) and was inspired to write the book through talking with people entering retirement, not because he himself is yet facing these questions directly.
But the younger we are when we begin to shift our thinking, the more progress we can make in combating cultural myths in ourselves and others. I noted that the afterword to the book is written by a financial planner and immediately thought about what a great idea it would be for Christian financial planners to hand out copies of this book along with the more technical material they give to clients. (I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it was commissioned for that very purpose.)
My one quibble with the book remains my quibble with the movement as a whole (although we have made a lot of progress in this area): although I admire Jeff for noting the class issues and social structures that force some people into making choices about their retirement which they would rather not, the vast majority of his advice in this particular book seems directed to people who have the time and money to plan for their economic and social future. To complement the book, I’d like to see another one – by Jeff (following up on this great article!) or one of you – aimed squarely at the demographic who has neither, but who still needs hope.