The Why of Retirement

HUNT VALLEY, Md. (TheStreet) -- Before you retire ask yourself why.

First and foremost, if you're unhappy, burned out, frustrated ... figure out a plan to retire even if you don't think you have the funds to retire fully in the lifestyle you desire. These negative emotions will leave you disabled or worse if left unchecked, so you likely need at least a sabbatical to regroup. (A sabbatical is like a mini-retirement to refresh, which will provide time to develop a plan to start anew.) A great book that will help you decide if a sabbatical is right for you, and more importantly how to do it, is Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break (Beaufort Books, 2011).

Don't just entertain yourself until you die. Thinking about true joy, fulfillment and a legacy.

If you like your career, or you just enjoy working, you need to ask yourself, "Do I plan to continue working full time at my current job, do I plan to slow down and work part time in some job or do I plan to just stop working?"

Financial Independence is a worthy goal, but some define retirement as cruising, golfing or traveling. I like to think of that definition of retirement as entertaining yourself until you die. True joy and fulfillment in life comes from relationship and giving of your life to the well-being of others. Most people accomplish that through work, because it does not just happen. Work does not have to be an income-producing career, but can certainly be fulfilling in other ways -- charity, volunteer work or time with family and friends.

Have you ever considered your epitaph? If not, it will likely be the best time of reflection you will ever experience. Here is what Apple's Steve jobs said to college students in 2006 when he thought he had only a year to live:

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Steve Jobs lived six more years (not one, like he was told), but he did not go accomplish a bucket list and he did not sit back and relax. He kept going when he physically could and in that time changed the way people live and interact in this world with the development of the iPhone and iPad. He loved what he did, and he had a passion to make products that enhance other's lives. He did not need to work and he reportledy didn't even know his net worth because he was so focused on fulfillment -- not retirement.

If you believe we are all just blobs of flesh destined to rot in the earth, then eat, drink and be merry. If you believe we are something far more, then it is through our aspiration to inspire that we leave behind to the next generation for the good of all mankind. Mother Theresa, John Templeton, Warren Buffett, Ronald Reagan, Jobs and many other great people of history understood this principle. Financial Independence, for sake of searching for fulfillment, is the highest form of retirement planning.

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Andrew Tignanelli, CFP, CPA, is president of Financial Consulate, based in Hunt Valley, Md., and a member of NAPFA, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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