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IS THE NEW NORMAL OVER? 

….it depends on how you define The New Normal and what your discontinuous future holds in store for you.

“The road that we’ve been on for such a long time, the so-called ‘new normal,’ is coming to an end, because it’s being eaten up by its own contradictions,” said Mohamed El-Erian, during an interview on Bloomberg TV.  Mr. El-Erian is the chief economic advisor of Allianz SE.  He was describing global political economy attempts to wrestle itself (at least somewhat) from the hands of central banks.

That may work for Mr. El-Erian and economics, but how about for those of us 50 plus who are planning (or not) and living professional and personal lives amidst the current uncertainties?

How about for those of us who are professional advisors (financial, legal, health, career, education) to people After 50?

Joe and Ellen, both 67, are adept at living in the Old Normal. Joe works in sales for a small, specialty pharmaceutical firm. Ellen, a nurse, stopped working when their children were toddlers and never got around to going back to work because she was always so busy. Now they have grown children, Joe’s long term employment, a house, preferences for their retirement, and about 1/3 of what they will need for retirement already saved (plus Social Security).

Of the several Old Normal life tools, their favorite is problem solving:

  1. define the problem
  2. create solution action steps
  3. execute the action steps
  4. get to the solution
  5. move beyond it forever

Among Joe’s and Ellen’s professional advisors is their Financial Advisor, Phil, age 52.   Over the past 15 years, Joe and Phil have done a good job of managing their money.    Ellen has been advised but didn’t get very involved. Phil, a hardworking and trustworthy professional, also loves problem solving:

  1. How old are you now?
  2. At what age do you want to retire?
  3. How long can we expect you to live?
  4. How much money will you need each year after work ends and before the end of your life?
  5. After Social Security and current savings/equities, how much remains to be saved per year until you retire so that you have the retirement money you need?
  6. Which investment products/programs best meet your need for safety, growth, and return?

Framed this way, it all seems manageable and quantifiable, although the dollar amount remaining to be saved for age 75 retirement is daunting. If they just execute on the investment plan everything will be fine.

What Joe, Ellen, and Phil don’t know is:

  1. Joe will be diagnosed with an aggressive, terminal cancer in 4 years and be gone in 7 months, leaving substantial hospital bills after health insurance pays the majority of the costs.
  2. Joe’s and Ellen’s divorced daughter and her children will come to live with Ellen for a transition time. The daughter will be working on earning a college degree that will qualify her for better employment.
  3. Phil will have a major job educating Ellen about where her money is and how to work with him to manage it well. Ellen will need to be financially literate.
  4. Ellen will have to go back to work but will require substantial retraining first, even to do home health care for the elderly.
  5. Joe’s shares in his employer/company will be worth far less than expected due to litigation over pricing and efficacy issues.
  6. Ellen and three widowed, long-time friends will buy a home together and form an intentional community for support and expense sharing.
  7. Ellen will live to be 102. She will outlive her daughter.

What makes this much more New Normal than Old Normal?  The Answer: Little in life can be defined as a problem with a solution that actually results in a permanent resolution. Instead, Ellen, Phil, Joe’s and Ellen’s daughter, and the other members of Ellen’s intentional living community will have to:

  1. Regularly stop and substantially rethink their situations and the next smart steps.
  2. Remember that each day and week will require proactive effort on their parts.   Anything akin to being on retirement cruise control won’t work.
  3. Make ongoing course corrections and small to large decisions without knowing what the future holds.
  4. Adjust their thinking to include a big emerging reality: the increased likelihood that they are going to live longer, requiring up to date professional skills, extended work-for-pay that might or might not be configured as a job, and the ability to finance and enjoy a longer life.

How much of the New Normal is emerging in your life? How is it showing up? What are ways you have found to adjust to it?

Net Worth vs Self Worth – Guest Blog by John Trauth

This week we have a guest blog from my friend, colleague and author of “Your Retirement, Your Way”, John Trauth

Net Worth vs Self Worth: Anxieties in Spending Your Retirement Paycheck

Congratulations!  You saved diligently for your retirement for the last umpteen years.  Whereas there were ups and downs in the markets and also in your investments, overall your money grew as you grew in your job. Everything was slowly getting better and better.  It was a virtuous cycle.

You retire.

Whoops!  Tilt.  Freeze.  Are you absolutely sure you have enough money to last for the rest of your life?  Your financial advisor told you the numbers worked, but that was before this recent financial meltdown.  But it’s more than just about money, isn’t it?  You will start withdrawing funds from your retirement account(s).  Your contributions will stop and your retirement savings will no longer grow like before.  You will now be depleting your resources.  And for many people that is a place where they get stuck–can I let myself be a spender rather than a saver?

And what about you?  Are you no longer growing either? Or worse? Do people not value your opinion like they used to? Do your buddies at the office not call you anymore?  Is your spouse getting sick and tired of having you around the house all the time?

At a time when you should feel good about reaping the rewards of all your labor, instead you feel frustrated, off balance, stuck. As you deplete your net worth, are you also depleting your self worth?

Has the virtuous cycle turned into a vicious cycle?

Some people literally freeze at this juncture. They spend practically nothing, reduce their lifestyle to minimum levels, and worry constantly.  This is not what retirement was supposed to be like!!!  What’s going on here?

If you are getting stuck, there is a lot going on here that you probably don’t fully understand. For many people, the act of replacing saving with spending is connected, at a preconscious level with depletion. Have I started a downhill descent—the bottom of the hill being death—by taking my resources and spending them? We call this an “anxiety” because it a non-rational thought that we cannot fully make conscious. So, instead we replace it with worry.  Do I really have enough money? Were my financial advisers really correct in their calculations? Rather than express the connection to our underlying fears of mortality, and that starting to spend our retirement funds, at an amount based on actuarial projections of our future longevity relates directly to our mortality, we allow ourselves endless worry about our net worth, never touching the deeper concern about entering into a phase of gradual physical demise.

Not resolving these conflicts can have dire results. Take the example of Dr. Phillips of North Carolina.  A successful gynecologist, he retired from a highly successful career with a bundle of money from his savings augmented by the buyout of his share of the practice by his partners.  It looked to all the world like he had it made.  Three weeks later, he was found dead with a bullet in this head.  He left a note which read, “Three weeks ago, I was Dr. Phillips.  Today I am nobody!”

Dr. Phillips is an extreme case, but why is retirement such a difficult transition for so many people?  Here’s why. Work gives you three important things.  It gives you structure:  when to get up in the morning, where to go, how long to stay there, when to come home.  It gives you community:  a group of like-minded people with whom to relate to during the day.  And it gives you purpose: things to accomplish, and a sense of direction.  These three things, structure, community and purpose, contribute to your sense if identity.  When you retire, you are in danger of losing your identity if you don’t take action to recreate structure, community and purpose in your life.  And you will want to do it in a way that will make you satisfied and fulfilled.

Retirement is not a perpetual vacation.  Vacations are great, but as a counterbalance to a set routine.  If you think you will be forever happy on a permanent vacation, think again.

It is better to think about all this before you retire.  But if you haven’t, it is not too late.  Regardless, begin by thinking about the times that you were happiest when you were working, when you were in a state of “flow” and lost all sense of clock time.  What were you doing?  Who were you with?  What were the circumstances?  What was the environment?  Then think about how you might be able to recreate these experiences in your retirement life.  Many people start a new career, or their own business. Others get involved with nonprofit organizations or otherwise help improve their local community.  As a result, they continue to grow, learn, contribute and prosper personally if not financially.

So now let’s get back to the money part.  Once you have rediscovered your passion(s) and created a meaningful life for yourself in retirement, you may or may not be earning an income from what you are doing.  If you are, that’s great, because money is one way of valuing your efforts, and the more you earn, the less you will need to withdraw from your retirement savings.  Merrill Lynch did a study which found that if you work only 30% of the time in the first five years of your retirement, your portfolio will be 40% larger at the end of that period than if you didn’t work, and it will need to cover five fewer years.  Therefore, it will sustain a considerably higher lifestyle.  The Center for Retirement Research has estimated that 45% of Americans will not be able to sustain their current lifestyle in retirement based on the amount they have saved.  So this is a possible solution for these folks.

But regardless of whether or not you earn money in retirement, you need to change your mindset about spending your retirement funds.  Before, you invested for your retirement.  But now, as you spend those funds, you are investing in yourself.  You are giving yourself the opportunity to grow and develop other aspects of your interests and personality that you previously never had time for.  You are creating a wonderful “new life” for yourself.  What better return on investment than that? Think of it this way. Any declines in your net worth will be more than offset by significant increases in your self worth!

 

Please Think Before Hitting The Forward Key

Maybe it’s the position of the moon or the condition of Presidential and Local Politics. Maybe it’s the polarized distribution of wealth and resources or the clarifying of social hierarchies we have known were there but often pretended were not. Maybe it’s something in the air or in the water. Maybe it’s because I write these blogs and am known to have wide range of interests and friends.

 

Whatever the cause, I am lately the recipient of a growing number of email Forwards and Forward to All.

And I’m not very happy about it.

This week alone I have received:

1. A scathing, one-sided article about Secretary Clinton with a note at the top from the forwarder saying only “Isn’t it awful what we’ve come to?” I happen to know from experience that the sender’s primary approach to life is Ain’t It Awful?. It’s as if he had studied under Eric Berne and practices doing everything Berne suggested not to do. His standard opening, in-person gambit is usually a recitation of all the things that disappointed him or he didn’t like. Eventually, much later, he gets around to what was OK. Maybe.

2. A link to an article about how much money best-selling authors make. No message from the sender at all. This came from a devoted friend who lives large and has great ambitions for the person and professional he thinks I can and should become. He’s a dear man and I really appreciate his loyalty if not his clinging to hopes for me that I don’t share. For my part, as someone whose wings have often been lamed by hope, I’ve long since discovered the corollary to hope isn’t hopelessness. It’s faith, intention, and adaptability.

3. An article quoting Christian Clergymen positing how good Mr. Trump is for Christianity overall and for the American churches specifically because he is naming and calling out the very devils the bible warns us against. This came from a friend whose very conservative Christian values and practices I respect because they are so important to him. No note from the sender accompanied the forwarded article. Was the sender hoping to nail down my vote?

4. A supposedly funny photograph of a large bosomed woman accompanied by a tag line. This came from a man now in his 70s, who unbeknownst to me must still belong in his heart to his 7th Grade “Hubba Hubba Did You See Those?” Club – that club of clueless and pimply adolescent boys who spend a lot of time alone in the bathroom with the door locked. All of the recipients of this forwarding were men. I don’t know whether to be more shocked at the email itself or at the realization of how little the sender knows me. I do know I don’t want to belong to that group of recipients.

5. A link to a deck of photographs, embedded in an email from a friend. The color and black and white images were of interesting, relatively un-photographed but historic places around the globe. Each image had a short title explaining what it was. At the top of the email was a note saying “I thought of you and your love of both photography and world travel when I saw these. They pleased me and I hope they will please you also.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one receiving a barrage of forwards. And I don’t want my friends and colleagues to stop forwarding emails and information that is of real value. What I want – and firmly request – are these four things:

1. Always put a note at the top of your forward explaining what you found of value in the content, why you think it should be important to me, and how I could use the information.

2. Take thoughtful, personal responsibility for the quality and impact of what you are putting out into the internet.

3. Consider what you are attempting to contribute to the receiver (whether it’s me or anyone else) and whether or not the receiver is likely to somehow benefit from receiving the material.

4. Before you hit Send or Forward make a clear distinction between information that could improve the conversation and understanding versus information that fans the flames from a single perspective and in doing so exacerbates the muddiness all around us.

What are you receiving you wish you hadn’t and what are you doing about it?

What are you not receiving you wish you could and what are you doing about it?

 

For more on what sparked my interest with this topic check out: Eric Berne and Games People Play


A Scandalous Request Of The Media And Ourselves

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at these words. What do they have in common?

  • Scandal
  • Crooked
  • Discredited
  • Narcissism
  • Harassment
  • Weapon
  • Lie
  • Defeat
  • Abuse
  • Hate
  • Witchcraft
  • Steaming Mess
  • Satan
  • Crackdown
  • Helpless
  • Farce
  • Seduce
  • Murder

They are all part of recent media hyped headlines in print, broadcast and all forms of internet/social media. I started counting and keeping track a couple of weeks ago out of desperation.

Of course the media is to blame for showing little restraint in using inflammatory, high load, pedantic language in headlines and articles. Undoubtedly it boosts subscriptions and followers but does it help our nation?

Our elected leaders contribute to this too. Just watch members of Congress grandstanding in public view with their righteous indignation and blame outweighing a search for solutions.

But we consumers are to blame too, aren’t we? Nearly all of us I suspect (including me) fall into the hype trap fairly regularly. We are the ones who are paying good retail money for hyped goods. Whether we’ve A. been conditioned to do so by our highly manipulated environment or B. been too titillated and lazy to redirect our attention or C. think it’s kind of fun as long as it doesn’t directly involve us and we don’t have to actually look at the hidden costs. The fact is that this level of highly hyped sewage doesn’t seem to phase many of us. We may roll our eyes and then move on. The fact is we’re still paying with our wallet share and with our attention. I think that’s regrettable.

I’m not objecting to the use of any of the words above. I am objecting to how they are often used AND how gratuitously these words (and others; this is certainly an incomplete list) are flung at us in inflammatory headlines and text.

As someone After 50 I believe in the power and grace of civility. And in the power of language. I know that I can’t shoulder the blame alone for where we are but I do bear some kind of responsibility for what is presented to all of us, including my grandchildren. If I’m hooked in all of this it’s how appalled I am at where this could lead them, much less us.

Here is my scandalous request of all of us consumers:

  1. Let’s all pick a specific week in which we are paying attention to the gratuitous use of hype from all the governmental and news sources we see. We would announce it in advance as a movement. Will someone please come up with a clever movement name?
  2. During that week whenever we see gratuitous and inflammatory hype we cancel our subscriptions, withhold our purchases and turn off everything from our tablets to our TVs.  Money, ratings, circulation, profit and shareholder returns are powerful tools for change and they are at our disposal if we do this right.
  3. We begin locally as an experiment. If it succeeds we go regional. If that has an impact we go national.

Mr. Trump has won the election.

May we now, all of us, begin to take greater responsibility for the language we employ/consume and the power it has to unify or polarize?   We don’t have anything to lose but the quality of our grandchildren’s futures and the tenuousness of our success at refocusing ourselves together.  Can we become a cohesive nation without the unifying catalyst we have historically relied on: a common enemy within or without, offered up on a bed of flaming hype?

What do you think?

A Manifesto for The New Year

My older grandchildren (ages 10-16) continually intrigue me. They’re in the process of (re)discovering and (re)defining themselves. They’re trying on different roles and interests. They’re full of goals and ambitions and firsts as independent people. I think they are assembling a drawer full of options and preferences they can open and tap into or leave alone for the rest of their lives.

My friends and colleagues (ages 50 to far beyond it) are intriguing me, too. Many are in the process of (re)discovering and (re)defining themselves, just as the youngsters are. But they’re facing vastly different pressures: a greater awareness of time, a more mature appreciation of what a productive and meaningful life means, recognition of the need to be flexible and realistic about plans, and the ability to manage paradoxes and irony. Here’s where their situations differ from the younger ones:

  1. They still have ambitions but nothing (or little) left to prove. This dramatically changes the reasons they make selections and decisions.
  2. They still want goals and realize that a life after 50 built exclusively on goals and goal achievement yields little opportunity for contentment.
  3. They know that at 50 they could have 50 more years to live and that the second half of their lives cannot be a duplication of the first.
  4. They are still seekers and also must stay open for what may be coming their way. This doubles their chance of success and surprise (the good kind).
  5. They are making important and often difficult life choices and also know that their choices may be impermanent. They are slowly coming to the realization (not necessarily welcome) that there is no “there” at which one arrives and permanently remains.
  6. They want their voices to be heard and clearly see that the baton has passed to younger generations. For people used to exerting power, this can be a life-changing realization. If they don’t have control, what do they have?
  7. They still have lots of energy but not so much that they can squander it the way they used to unthinkingly do. This brings into focus the need to invest energy more wisely than ever in people, activities and self.
  8. They need plans and recognize that long-term planning is only a direction, not a guarantee, and that success is as much about skillful adaptability as plan achievement.
  9. They admire change in the abstract and are often uncomfortable with it face to face.

Which brings me to An After 50 Manifesto I’d like to propose.

  • Our lives will be longer, with a greater need for engagement, creativity, and funding than any other generation in history.
  • We know our previous experience is important but that it cannot predict, nor dictate, our futures.
  • We know our futures are primarily up to us, that no one else can be more responsible for them than we ourselves.
  • We know we all need plans and will still have to be increasingly adaptable.
  • We know we live in increasingly polarized society yet acknowledge that this should not stop us from creating and maintaining diverse personal networks from which to draw awareness, strength and insight.
  • We vow to find satisfaction and opportunity each day.
  • We commit to leaving a better place for those who will follow us into this very interesting phase of life.

And with that, I wish all of you a happy, fulfilling and healthy year.

Who Knows?

Seth Godin, the interesting and prolific blogger, recently wrote that no one knows the right answer, no one knows precisely what will happen, no one can produce the desired future . . . and you’re mistaken if you think there’s someone who does.  But that’s immaterial anyway.  It’s not about a gap between people who know and those who don’t, he suggests. The gap “is about the people who show up with their best work, and those that hold back.”

Happily, Mr. Godin’s blog coincided with some informal field research I’ve been doing.  I’m wondering:

  1. What positions are people 50+ taking about life rules in today’s world?
  2. What do people 50+ really believe about their futures?

At parties, in elevators and in my neighborhood I’ve been asking people these questions.  I’ve had to be careful because I fervently believe that some of our greatest and most interesting contributions are likely to happen well beyond 50, so it would be easy for me to distort the research.  Also, I don’t want neighbors to hide behind trees or cars, or walk their dogs in the opposite direction when they see me coming.

Shirley G., age 67, best represented those who aren’t disturbed either by not knowing or not having access to someone who does.  “I never thought any one person had all the answers. Of course, it’s a lot more work being responsible for my life AND not knowing for sure that I’m making the right choices.  Sometimes I wish I could be one of those absolute black and white, right and wrong people with no doubts, because I wouldn’t have to work so hard.  Still, I think I was given a mind and part of my pride in my life involves consistently using it well.” How does Shirley cope with uncertainty?  “By limiting the amount of media coverage I consume, doing pleasant things with interesting people in my free time, and devoting myself to the notion that I have lots of good years ahead.”

Tom S, age 70, best represented those who believe life is about finding and implementing the answers. “The answers are right there in front of us.  We all know the difference between right and wrong.  My parents taught me the commandments and rules of the traditions I grew up in.  So I’ve devoted my life to studying the rules and implementing the answers AND to hanging out with like-minded people.  I regularly wish others could have the comfort of answers and not make life so complicated for themselves in needless searching.” How does Tom cope with uncertainty?  “I keep my life at a manageable scale—living in a smaller town, devoting myself to my business, supporting my community, and devoting myself to my wife, kids and grandkids.  I watch TV news, read a lot and decide whose approach is closest to the rules.  Then I vote. I don’t know how long I’ll live and don’t care. The real value is in what I do today.”

What do you think? Are you closer to Shirley’s approach, or Tom’s?

Read Seth Godin’s full post here:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/09/no-one-knows.html

 

Announcing the Best Worst Email Message Line Contest

As someone who’s tired of Internet pop-up ads and huckster emails, I occasionally find myself getting cranky while reading between the fingers I’ve placed in front of my face.  I get especially annoyed when I’m reading my news feed and see that there are photos of women’s underwear malfunctions or belly-fat warnings next to articles on Mr. Putin’s strategies and the future of Social Security.  It takes online advertising to a new, crass level.

george2So, to my great surprise I have recently begun to actually read the subject line for local-deal emails before I hit delete. More often than not I burst out laughing.

A whole new world of humor has opened up to me.  This morning’s email deal subject line was Online Singing Course, Garage Door Tune-Up, and A Chinese Dinner for 16.

More examples from the last week or so were equally off-putting (and unintentionally hilarious):

  • Queen of Sheba, Financial Trading Course, and Tidy Garages
  • Knee, Ankle, and Elbow Braces, Folding Dog Stairs, and Camping Mystery Box
  • Powdered Peanut Butter, Deluxe Orthopedic Dog Bed, and Monkey-Feeding Experience
  • Skinny Noodles and Rice, 95% Off an Online Photography Course, and Salt Cave Session

My wife, Brown Eyes, has always maintained that when it comes to humor I live at the intersection of Words Boulevard and Whimsy Avenue.  So she’s not surprised that I’ve now begun to make up my own ludicrous headline triads.  What fun!  Home Lobotomy Kit, Taffy Maker, and Conversational Urdu In 30 Days. Operatic Training, 100% off on Pet Squids (give these cuties a home!) and Open Air Luxury Cruise—Deeply Discounted During Hurricane Season.  I could go on and on.

Seldom one to leave well enough alone as long as it fits within the Do No Harm rule, I am launching a Worst Email Message Line Contest.  The person who posts the funniest response to this blog will win dinner for two chez Brown Eyes and me.  If the contest winner is local (in the Sarasota/Bradenton area), I’ll cook the dinner and my wife will choose the wines.  An alternate prize is a $100 gift certificate to the restaurant of your choice.  The contest entry deadline is 12 p.m. on January 15th. My editor and my PR consultant will be the judges, two women who know about humor and then some.

In these days of scary headlines and trashy content, it’s exciting to not only sponsor a humor contest but to invite all my readers to join me on the corner at Words Boulevard and Whimsy Avenue.  If you’ve never met me, you’ll recognize me.  I’ll be the guy laughing out loud.

The Lowdown on Downsizing

george2More than four million retirees moved to a new home last year, and for many of them, that move involved downsizing—part of a process that necessarily involves getting rid of stuff.  Often a lot of stuff.

The New York Times recently ran an interesting piece about the joys and traumas involved with deciding what to do with a lifetime of possessions.  That purging “typically triggers a range of emotions,” the author wrote, ranging from joy to pain.

“The earlier you do it the better, physically, socially and financially,” Steven Sass, a research economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College was quoted as saying.

In my view, downsizing is about so much more than jettisoning stuff.   It’s also about habits, relationships, identities and old expectations.  The secret is to release MORE than you think you need to—things that will no longer serve you well regardless of how well they served you in the past—so that you have some OPEN space for new things to come in.   Releasing “just enough” is like draining the bathtub to just below the rim.   As soon as you get in it overflows AND there still isn’t room for anything new.

Read the full article here.

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