Dedicated to the analysis of complex systems
Ironically, thinking about retirement first sent me back to my youth. When I was young, I was obsessed with finding the undisputedly most difficult branch of mathematics. For some reason, the idea that each year I would move up an additional rung on the ladder of mathematical expertise filled me with extreme excitement. Perhaps it was the sense of direction or my insatiable drive to learn. Whatever the cause, I distinctly remember sitting at my computer for hours, continually entering some variation of most difficult branch of math into the Google search bar. My quest brought me to an interesting concept called chaos theory. Chaos theory is essentially a branch of mathematics dedicated to the analysis of complex systems whose behaviors are inextricably tied to minute changes in environmental conditions. These changes build in ways that can give rise to staggering end consequences. The most commonly used analogy scientists have used to capture this idea is the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect posits that the flap of a butterfly’s wings could impact the atmosphere in such a way as to give rise to a tornado weeks later. I didn’t quite understand the significance of this to me at the time, but as I have grown older, the butterfly effect has increasingly resonated in my life.
One decision, one small change in behavior can alter the course of events forever. This concept can be applied to any choice made in life, especially retirement. For someone my age, retirement is not an issue thought of very often. In fact it hardly registers on our consciences at all. Why worry about something that won’t become an issue for decades. But there is a good reason why planning early is fundamentally important: the butterfly effect. Small financial decisions now can accumulate and have truly enormous effects down the road. I, for one, do not wish to leave my life to chance.
To visualize my own retirement, it is best to first draw from what I have seen my family go through. My grandparents both retired in their sixties. My parents are on roughly the same track, although the cost of tuition might be changing the equation for them. Of course the reality of my future could be very different from today. Life expectancy will likely be longer and social security structurally different if not replaced entirely just to name a couple of variables. Ceteris paribus, I would like to retire at a similar age to my parents. Retiring in my late sixties to early seventies would give me decades of retirement and enough income to adequately support my desired lifestyle.