By Gary Randall
A few days ago I was sitting with my mom talking about life when she said to me, “You know that you can start taking full Social Security next January.” I looked at her with a blank stare and thought for a moment before saying, “Huh?”
My career choice and dismal attempts at financial planning coupled with failed personal relationships in my life have left little in the form of retirement savings. After further unfortunate life-changing situations, what I did manage to accumulate has slowly trickled away. I am doing fine, and this is not a story of a life spent irresponsibly or unhappily. If it is about anything at all it is about the success, failure, perseverance, tenacity, ambition, stress, and success of an artist following a dream. This is about someone who renounced materialism to live an authentic life as an artist.
I have proven that it is certainly possible to make a living as an artist. There’s money to be made in commercial installations, art shows or teaching, but I’m not going to lie, it takes a lot of work, most of it foreign to those who have an artist’s sensibilities. An artist, to be commercially successful, needs to be a businessperson as well as a creative. To be a commercially successful artist one needs to fill a lot of different shoes – most of them have nothing to do with art. Much of it has to do with spending an inordinate amount of time on the internet, advertising, marketing and promoting their business. These things are incongruous with the artist’s mind. I have been able to find my way through it all, but in a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to.
As an artist, I have done well making a living strictly from my work over the last twenty years. As for being a businessperson, I have been adequate.
I don’t want to sound cliché about time passing too quickly, but I think when someone is living a life they love it is easy to just ignore the passage of time. I have not thought a lot about my age, the concept of retirement or what I would do when that time comes. Retirement, to me, means you work until you are 65, when you can finally call your time your own. You buy a motorhome, spend your summers at a cool place and winters at a warm one, both with the one you love. Perhaps you pursue a hobby that you haven’t had time for and hope you haven’t sacrificed your health to your career. If you are lucky, you spend time bouncing grandbabies on your knee and growing old surrounded by family.
After all the challenges I have experienced that negated the typical retirement dream, I decided to simplify my life and live doing what I want to do. I felt I had sacrificed my happiness and failed within the confines of the system. Since then, I have tried to design a life that I could live with until death. With this attitude in hand, I have not thought much about the passing of the years. I have not thought of myself being at retirement age. I have wrestled with a few medical situations but emerged healthy enough to keep going: none shook my ability, my ambition, or my denial with regard to the passing of time.
So since my mom reminded me of my age, and hers by extension, I have been thinking about what my retirement looks like and have concluded that not much will change. I will still be living my less than luxurious but comfortable lifestyle. I will still be the artist that I have been for the last twenty years. I will still do everything I have been doing but will worry less about how to pay the monthly bills. I can finally fire my internal businessperson and be an artist completely undistracted.
When I really stop to think about it, I have been retired for the last twenty years.