“The Matrix” released in 1999 to a $463,000,000 worldwide box-office. The premise, “What if the world as we know it is just a computer simulation?” The idea stuck, and to this day people still find themselves wondering how they should behave if none of our actions truly matter. If we live in a computer program, why work hard to save money? Shouldn’t life be about fun?
Are you Neo or Cypher?
Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, is the star of the film, he’s “The ONE.” Neo works relentlessly throughout the film to free his mind from the constraints of The Matrix. Cypher, however, has been out of The Matrix for years but decides to go back in and live life surrounded by money and women. Which of these characters did you relate to most watching the film?
If you are Neo.
Neo’s true goal was independence. Neo wanted the freedom to make decisions and have those decisions impact the world around him. Before leaving the Matrix he felt stuck, powerless to a world that he had little influence in. Neo worked at his passionless desk job, but found meaning in his computer hacking. At the end of the movie Neo gains freedom inside the Matrix. (And, as we all know, the best way to symbolize freedom is being able to fly.)
Retirement is all about independence! Retirement is not about quitting your job, it’s about being able to make decisions that are not based on money. Financial independence and the freedom to spend your time how you wish is the goal for anyone planning for retirement. In a sense, having a retirement fund is equivalent to breaking yourself out of The Matrix.
What we can learn from Neo: Neo did not find meaning in his office work, but through his computer hacking skills. His hacking ability later led him out of the Matrix. But Neo was not able to leave the Matrix on his own, he needed the help of others who had been free. When saving for retirement, find things that you are passionate about to make your income. You may have to work a boring desk job, but there are plenty of other ways to make money on the side. You need a balance of work and fulfillment. And don’t forget about your friends and family, because they can help encourage you along the way.
If you are Cypher.
If you are like Cypher, then your goal is not independence, but comfort. Cypher was tired of the squalid conditions of the Nebuchadnezzar. Eating mushy oats , being chased by murderous AI robots, and watching Trinity and Neo ogle each other day in and day out wore Cypher down emotionally. Cypher sold his friends to Mr. Smith so that he could re-enter the Matrix and live comfortably.
Retirement is also about comfort. You reach a point where you are comfortable with the things you have and are now looking for new experiences. Cypher was looking for the experience of fame, but your experience could be something as simple as going on a walk everyday, or taking a trip you have always dreamed of.
What we can learn from Cypher: Cypher betraying his friends for personal gain was bad, obviously. But if we look at what drove him to do it, it is more understandable if not forgivable. If saving for retirement means you have to live like you are a passenger on the Nebuchadnezzar, then perhaps you need to rethink your financial goals and happiness. When saving for retirement means betraying your friends, you need to rethink what you stand to gain. Is retiring a few years early worth it if you lose people you love along the way?
What does over-preparing for retirement look like?
Over preparing for retirement is not allowing yourself to have any fun. You never go to the party in search of the White Rabbit. If you save too much you can miss out on the small things that make you happy. For example, a long-leather trench coat is definitely a luxury item. Sunglasses, although they have practical uses, are expensive when you opt for style over usability. BUT, would Morpheus have been as cool without those things? Morpheus knew how to treat himself, and you should too.
What does not saving for retirement look like?
Not saving for retirement is the worst of both worlds. It is like living in the Matrix, without any freedoms, combined with the standard of living of the Nebuchadnezzar passengers. You may have money now, but if you don’t save you could be eating Tastee Wheat that tastes like chicken when you could be living some of the most comfortable and free years of your life.
What other allusions can we take from The Matrix and apply to our finances? Comment below if you relate more to Cypher or Neo!