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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?

You’re A Failure If You Aren’t Doing What You Absolutely Love. Or Are You?

Author Brianna West recently wrote in Medium Daily Digest “We’re doing people an incredible disservice by telling them they should seek, and pursue, what they love. People usually can’t differentiate between what they really love and what they love “the idea of”.

In doing so, she reminded me of the diversity of purposes for work among my clients and the courage it takes to pursue the right fit whether it’s what they love or not.

Doing, of course, can be a huge, sort of collective verb. It can mean anything from professional activity to avocational experiences to caring for others to stealing time for yourself and doing absolutely nothing with it if that’s your intention. Having to love what you do as a condition of validation can be such a burden!

For purposes of this blog, I’m going to confine myself to Professional Activity as the designated form of doing. And I’m going to tell three short stories.

Bella is 59 and involuntarily retired 6 years ago when her job was eliminated. Her husband, Bob, died last year and when he did she lost the medical insurance benefits that went with his employment. She qualified for Cobra, but it was nearly beyond her means. Her solution: take a lower paying, ¾ time job that would be accompanied by health care benefits until she qualifies at 65 for Medicare. She had already had a high pressure retail career. She didn’t want that again. In the years since her involuntary retirement Bella had grown used to having discretionary time and was loathe to return to having none. She had interests but was leery of passions because every earlier time in her life she had pursued them they ended up owning her instead of the other way around. Instead, she wanted to sell what she wanted to offer: experience, maturity, reliability, good critical thinking skills, and the ability to get along with all kinds of people.

As Bella and I created her vocational search action plan together, we were both clear that she wanted “Right Fit Employment” that would meet her needs but NOT look or feel like her next, all consuming career. This meant her story would be different, her networking would be different, and her resume(s) would have to be tailored to the opportunities she discovered. In the end she discovered 3 job opportunities that met all of her needs and she knew she could have a fine time at any of them. She chose the best one, free of the burden of failing or having made a bad choice if she didn’t absolutely LOVE her work. She – and her new employer – had made a fine, best-fit-work job.

Kevin, 47, was the “survivor” of several different high tech jobs. His wife, Lisa, was too. Between them they had amassed a fair amount of savings. They were both hard working professionals with absolutely no expectation of permanent employment. And they thought they needed to take a year off regularly, maybe not the same year for both of them. In our work together to create a dual vocational plan, we discovered that they both wanted “shorter term” jobs of 2 years max followed by a year off followed by another couple of years of work. They weren’t worried about not being able to re-enter the workplace and they also weren’t worried about whether or not they totally loved their work. Their network was full of younger people not confined by the old employment rules. Instead they were, frankly, motivated by money and the opportunity to participate in something that could be built and sold. Their passion was focused on the end, transition state of the game, not the 2 years it would take to get there. In fact, they were incredulous about the notion that they should LOVE their work. Being good at it plus the financial end state were what motivated them. And they really liked the idea that they would have different years off so that whoever wasn’t working could be home with the kids, maintaining their home, and being supportive of the working one.

In the end we developed a model of “right fit” employment that rotated, allowing each of them to work and then take time off from work. And they weren’t driven by the total love of their work. This was true for their friends and colleagues, too, one of the possible freedoms of high tech and entrepreneurial lives.

Rhia, 60, is a family law attorney. She thought making Partner in a big firm would be the epitome of success and she could coast from there. She would love her life. That was 18 years ago. What she knows now is that loving her work isn’t the primary metric.   Instead the primary metrics are 1. Building/being in control of her own calendar and work load, 2. Having her clients write her performance review through referrals rather than the Managing Partner doing it, and 3. Finding some greater work/life balance than she was experiencing.

When we did the vocational work together, we were not particularly surprised to discover that she had lost her need to love or dislike her work, as if those were the only two categories. Instead she wanted “best fit” work that matched her primary metrics. She was tired of other attorneys asking her if she was burned out.  She no longer needed  to love or hate it. Instead she wanted it to be a match for her now.

In the end Rhia chose to leave the partnership and join a national online law firm.    Kind of like a private practice with colleagues and referral systems. It has turned out to be a great solution for her.

If you LOVE your work that’s great. We are all happy for you. If you like it but don’t want to measure that part of your life by the LOVE Standard, you won’t be alone. You have lots of options.

What role does LOVE serve in your professional life and how is it a benefit or a burden?     If it isn’t love, what are the best metrics for you now in your work life?

 

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH LIFE PLANNING? 8 QUESTIONS TO FIND OUT

Two Personal Consulting clients of mine – let’s call them Rene and Phil – are both in their late fifties. They are working with me to do their joint 18-month immediate life plan and their 18 to 48-month mid-range life plan. In their 30 years of marriage they have never had so many exciting aspirations or such concern for the uncertainties of our current era.

Rene is by nature a planner. Across the years she has planned and tightly scheduled and organized everything from having babies to getting the house painted to finishing her law degree to grocery shopping. Their now-grown kids jokingly say in her presence “Punctuality is next to godliness.”  She hates surprises and has never wanted one for her birthday or any other occasion.

A very successful salesman, Phil is by nature a highly spontaneous individual. Across the years he has suddenly come home with a Corvette, a puppy, a signed contract for the installation of a swimming pool in their back yard, two kittens, and the opportunity for a promotion at his company that would require a cross country move.  Their now-grown kids lovingly say in his presence “We never, ever know what Dad will do next!” Phil is a bit of a claustrophobe and resists all attempts to schedule and organize him to the point he has no options left. He thinks a great day is one that includes one or more happy surprises.

Through the years Rene and Phil have found ways to appreciate and balance each other’s strong preferences rather than turning them into subjects to fight about. It hasn’t always been easy, but they have stuck to it and with humor and affection, they usually know how to arrive at a joint decision. This recently broke down when it came to life planning, so they came to me for some professional assistance.

When they arrived at my office the first time, they were suffering from a very common life planning malady: they were trying to build one, immense, rather rigid 40-year life plan. They both thought that, if life didn’t evolve according to their plan, they would have failed. Talk about pressure!

I rapidly helped them move into a much more sound and phased planning approach for today’s discontinuous world:

1. A fairly controllable, specific 18-month planning horizon focused on targeting, simplifying and eliminating the fifty kinds of clutter they had accumulated over time

2. A mid-range 18 to 48-month planning horizon focused on exploring options/preferences and making the best decisions they could based on the then-available information

3. A 48 month planning horizon which was really a list of imagined intentions and preferences – and ways to make them happen – since they couldn’t sit in my office and reasonably make final decisions for 10 or 18 or 30 years out into the future.

They had some sacrifices to make in working with each other and with me. They had to give up the notion that there is a singular “right” way to do perfect life planning.    Rene struggled with this. They had to let go of the idea that if the plan were “good enough” the outcomes would be guaranteed. This made Phil especially anxious because Mr. Spontaneous was suddenly so nervous about their (and the nation’s) future that he desperately wanted guaranties. The biggest sacrifice of all for them was letting go of the notion that there could be such a plan, ensuring the predicted outcome.  The completion of this plan would signal that they could pretty much coast through their future years without regularly monitoring their environment for new information. And this would trigger an updating of the plan and the need for them to adapt yet again.  The second biggest sacrifice was jettisoning their cherished illusion that a permanent arrival point, a “there” to get to, is a possibility in today’s world.

The planning conversation had begun with the rigid and fight-prone language of long term life plan, right, wrong and absolutes. Together we turned it into the more manageable and sane bites of short range, mid-term, and long range plans and intentions. We also moved the success metric from “perfect and almost guaranteed” plan to the exploration of “How much is enough?”.

In the end, we developed together some “how much is enough” type of questions that, if answered “Yes!”, would be the tipping point for them to move from planning to action. These included:

  1. Do we feel comfortable enough to suspend research for now on each of our three planning horizon plans?
  2. Are we prepared to do enough smart scanning of our environment regularly that we can see when and how to update the plan and adapt ourselves?
  3. Are we clear enough on what initial action would look like for each life plan segment?
  4. Have we surrounded ourselves with enough of the right professional consultants – life planning, financial, health care, legal, and career/vocational?
  5. Have we communicated clearly enough with our loved ones and friends that they know how to help us?
  6. Are we having enough regular, clear conversations together about our plans to know when we are on the same page, when we’re not, and how to work our way through any difficulties?
  7. Are we willing enough in these times of discontinuous change, to work with both change we have chosen and change that is imposed on us?
  8. Do we continue to have enough faith in ourselves and in each other to live a great life one planning phase at a time?

Rene, Phil, and I completed the 3 planning horizon life plans and built clear action plans for each, especially the Up To 18 Month segment. They will be back to see me when they run into a major problem and for periodic reality checks. They don’t need to see me all the time. They will need to see me enough, and they are the only ones who can determine what and when that is.

I’m looking forward to getting an update from them eventually.

How are you proceeding with your own life planning? How do you know what enough looks like for any life planning component?

 

HEARING LOSS IS A FAMILY MALADY

In a recent Washington Post article by Marlene Cimons, former President Jimmy Carter, 91, said that 90% of the arguments he has with his wife of 70 years, Rosalyn Carter, 88, are about hearing. Mr. Carter said that having to repeat things “drives him up the wall”.

According to the article 25% of people 60-69 have some degree of hearing loss. That grows to over 50% for those 70 to 79 and to almost 80% for those over 80.   Curious isn’t it, that this is such a prevalent health care problem, yet most insurance coverage totally omits hearing loss?

Provoked by the article about President Carter and Mrs. Carter’s candor about hearing loss and its impact on their lives I decided to interview a friend that I knew had recently gotten hearing aids. Call him Eric. He’s 57 and otherwise in excellent health. His wife Nancy had been complaining about his hearing for the past 2 years. When he went to the audiologist for testing, sure enough he found that he had a gradual, early form of slow hearing loss. Hearing devices were required prescribed and delivered to him, along with education about how to use and maintain them.

Eric and Nancy, both attended a new-hearing-aid-device-wearer lecture. They continued to cling to the false notion that once the hearing aids were in place and Eric was accustomed to them; life could and would go on as before.

Some things did change, of course. Wearing his new hearing devices at home, Eric’s first question was “Who turned the tv up so loud?” Nancy was quick to point out that it wasn’t turned up. This was the volume level he had needed pre-aids. Also, Eric was much more aware of Nancy speaking to him from another room. He just couldn’t understand what she had said, which left him having to go find her and ask “What did you say?”.

Eric was the first to realize that even with hearing devices life wouldn’t return to exactly what it had been before hearing loss. While he was getting increasingly real about what he could hear and what he could not, Nancy continued in the opinion that hearing aids should fix everything.

He realized the devices really helped but he wouldn’t ever have the hearing of a 30-year-old again. This meant that he and Nancy needed to begin to look at home environmental factors that affected his hearing; ambient noise, proximity, volume and pitch, and a much greater moment by moment awareness of each other.

Thus began the real hearing arguments between them.

Paying close attention to his environment, Eric noticed 4 key factors:

  1. Nancy frequently begins conversations with Eric just AFTER he has left the room
  2. Nancy frequently speaks to him facing away from him (he jokes that it’s common for her to talk with him with her head in the dishwasher as she works)
  3. Nancy, at 57, no longer projects her voice the way she did when she was younger. Her voice is simultaneously softer, quieter, and airier.
  4. While it’s easy for Nancy to notice, comment on, and even complain about Eric’s hearing before and after hearing aids, it seems almost impossible for her to admit to her part in the environmental factors and make a commitment to do something about them.

Earlier they had almost gone to a counselor to air the friction over Eric’s hearing loss.   Now, because they have begun to fight about it, he is asking her to go to a counselor with him discuss the environmental factors in their communication and her part in them. So far she is resisting.

We’ll see what happens. Hearing loss as it turns out, can indeed be a family malady.

What is the condition of your hearing, and what have you been able to do about it that really worked in your daily life?

 

TWO OF THE IMPORTANT AFTER 50 LESSONS MR. TRUMP CAN TEACH US

I don’t know Mr. Trump. I see an experienced showman on television, read his speeches, and listen to the pronouncements of his staff. Arguing crowd size isn’t what it’s about for me. I’m not a therapist. Analyses aren’t going to happen here. I’m not an Ethicist, so you won’t find words like “lie” and my reactions to it in this blog.    I’m not a politician. You’ll need to go elsewhere for political analyses.

I am, however, a Developmental Psychologist and can speak my opinion with some authority here about life After 50. What’s the connection?

More often than not, when we say “Developmental Psychology” we’re studying and talking about children. How does a good 3-year-old get to be a great 6-year-old?    What do we need to understand and do to support this happening?

What far too few of us understand about After 50 is that human development is lifelong. We need to learn new skills and ways of thinking across our entire life spans.   If we don’t, our personal, decreased relevancy is guaranteed. Not only are we not fully “cooked” by the time we’re in our forties, some of our greatest opportunities and best work can happen in our 60s, 70s, and 80s. How does a good 50-year-old get to be a great 75-year-old? That’s the important question to me, the one to which I’ve dedicated years of research, writing, and observation.

Enter Mr. Trump. We all need to learn from each other through observation and conversation. Who is the most visible After 50 person in the world? You guessed it.    With all due respect, he leaves Queen Elizabeth (90), George Clooney (56), Sarah Palin (52), Clint Eastwood (81), Sonia Sotomayor (62), and Bruce Springsteen (67) in the After 50 dust when it comes to constantly holding our attention. I think we’re only beginning to learn from him and, as we all know, After 50 isn’t a time to stop learning.

Lesson #1: In the process of our own After 50 development, at some point it’s crucial that we each move from 51% or more externally validated to 51% or more self-validated. Later in our lives opportunities for external validation will decrease and so will our quality of life if we fail to learn this lesson.

I recently did some retirement work with a couple in their late 50s. The husband, a top national salesman, was terrified of retirement. His entire identity and self-esteem were built around his job performance each month. During the months he exceeded his sales target numbers, his self-esteem was through the roof. During the months he failed to meet his sales goals, his self-esteem was somewhere below the basement.    If he were retired, who would he be? He and I took opposite views on what to do. He wanted in retirement to find the next thing at which he could be a champion. I thought he was going to have to find a way to give up his addiction to ongoing “proof” because as he aged that external proof would become less and less likely in the long run. He wanted to know what would be satisfying and a guarantee to go with it before he made the leap. His wife, after many years on the proof rollercoaster with him, sided with me. Did he have the courage to give up being so dependent upon repeated external validation that ranked high on the “never enough” scale? Was he willing to do the work to get really comfortable and happy in his own skin? On a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), where do you rank Mr. Trump’s ongoing comfort in his own skin without dependence on validation hits? On the same scale where do you rank your own?

Lesson #2 In the process of our own After 50 development, at some point it’s crucial to allow  disagreements without creating enemies and opponents. Living a life of constantly seeing only opposites (self and opponents) and being at war is unlikely to create an After 50 life of any reasonable quality for you and your loved ones.

A couple came to me to do some life planning work. Money wasn’t an issue. The husband had lots of interests and looked forward to exploring them. The wife, however, was so dependent on the adulation of her children and grandchildren that they had begun to avoid family holidays with her. Why? She demanded their attendance at each and every holiday, birthday, celebration, and anniversary.  She was pugilistic. Anyone who wasn’t totally with her was considered to be against her.    She could be verbally abusive and a bully. She was tenacious, a veritable bulldog.   And this pattern – if you aren’t fully with me you must be against me – extended to friends, colleagues at work, staff, and, especially, her husband. Given time, she could recite long lists of opponents including her son in law, his family, and neighbors. Was she willing to go into a retirement that was less dependent upon war and opponents? What was reasonable to demand of retirement, and what was she willing to do to make it work?    On a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), where do you rank Mr. Trump’s ongoing preference for having opponents and conducting interpersonal wars? On the same scale where do you rank your own?

In my own case, I’ve assumed some of my best work and greatest opportunities will happen After 50. I’ve written a book about retirement and life planning in times of increasingly unplannable, discontinuous change. “How Do I Get There From Here?” will be released by AMACOM (publishing division of the American Management Association) in July. For me it’s a bold expression of what experience and expertise tell me will work for most of us in the coming years. Some days it also feels like a huge risk to put myself and my ideas so far out there in public. My own, personal developmental job is to rely more on my independent sense of myself than I am on the book’s success. Usually I’m OK with it.  Some days are a bit of a push. How could I possibly write about After 50 ideas if I’m not willing to take them head on myself?

I don’t know Mr. Trump but I’d like to thank him for the lessons he makes available to me. We are all – or should be – mirrors for each other. We After 50 will do well to pay attention. I hope he is intensely successful as President for all our sakes. We certainly stand – if we’re available for it – to learn a lot about how to build or injure our collective future.

Quality of Life? Start the New Year with this easy survey!

There she stood just inside our front door with her hands on her hips. “You keep writing about other people’s After 50 stories.”, she said, “Mine is different and it deserves telling, too”.  Pushing past me she settled into a chair in our living room, said, “OK. Help me.”

“OK. I’ll play.”, I said sitting down opposite Coleen. “Who are you?”  Her answer: “I’m Coleen White.  I recently met you and your wife, Linda, at one of our fundraising parties for childrens’ charities.  I’m 67, recently divorced, a retired nurse, not very connected to my grandchildren, far from wealthy but ok, not religious, still like men and romance, smart, funny, and a bit bored.  I like where I’m living. I’m finding it difficult to get my thoughts organized enough around my Quality of Life.”

“What does Quality of Life mean to you?” I asked.  Her answer: “Your writing provoked my interest in Becoming After 50.  Most people don’t seem to get that After 50 is a prime time for personal becoming.  I get it.  I was married to a physician for years.  When he left he liberated both of us – I can see now – from a terrible inertia.  I’m a new kind of free. I like it. Quality of Life is suddenly the key for me.  I don’t want just more of the same.  I don’t need to solve problems from my past.  I don’t need therapy.  I want Quality of Life to be an everyday thing, not some place I visit on special trips and vacations. I need a way to evaluate and prioritize. I want to create myself and my future. So here I am.”

I sat back in my chair.  “Quality of Life”, I said, “is a very personal thing.  It changes periodically, being made up of moving components.  If it were easily measured it would be called Quantity of Life but that’s not what you’re talking about is it?”  “No”, she said, “I’m talking about Quality of Life that I can create and adjust as my life progresses.  I want clarity.  I’ll need to be adaptable, too.”

“Would it help if I gave you a Quality of Life Survey as a starting place?”, I asked.  “Are you kidding?  Of course!”, she replied.

So I gave her the following survey.

survey1

survey2

As she left I reminded Coleen that not every component can or should be a 10 all the time.   “Don’t worry.  I’ll remember”, she said, “and I’ll be back soon.  Finally, a framework I can work with for my Quality of Life.  World, get out of my way!”

Coleen went on to do the work of exploring her answers to the questionnaire and building a very successful action plan as a result.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to give the questionnaire to you as a New Years gift. So I am doing just that.

What are you most interested in exploring about yourself and your life today?

 

 

If You Are Going To Ask My Granddaughter A Question, Please Make It A Smart One

 

There was a time, actually not so long ago, when we made choices and they stayed made.  We chose among a menu of options and decided on  just one.  We chose an employer, spouse, educational path, profession, home and community. We decided what our primary assumptions, preferences and loyalties were.   Once our choices were made it took a business earthquake or a personal cataclysm of some sort to change things.  Today not only do decisions often refuse to stay made, but most of us think of change as one ingredient of life not requiring a direct nuclear hit to get us to reconsider.

In the process, one of the outstanding changes in precedent is that we are no longer required to choose one single thing and wear its name around like a sign hung from our necks. We can have a job AND freelance. We can operate from our car, office, and home all within an hour or two. We can hold opposing ideas at the same time and see the wisdom in both.  We can belong to more than one diverse group simultaneously.  I consider this to be a part of the new normal.   

As a long time Career Professional, I discourage my clients from building a plan or a search on a single piece of work (form and content) for the rest of their lives.   

As an Organizational Psychologist I regularly coach employers to understand that smart retention has become as important as smart hiring.     

As a Developmental Psychologist I observe people at 50 thinking they are already fully formed and that their future should and will be automatically an extension of their past.    

As a Grandfather, I recently observed as one of my friends asked my granddaughter what she wanted to be when she grew up.    She knew from my face that I would see the question as a Bozo (think clown) Question.   

Why was it a Bozo Question? Because it assumed: 

  1. she will (and is expected to) choose one near permanent thing for the rest of her life
  2. there is such an end state as grown up, a place at which she will finally arrive
  3. by the time she gets “there” her intended outcomes will all be waiting for her, mostly unchanged and still quite stable.    

A much smarter questions would have been: “Of your various longer term interests and possibilities, which most appeal to you at the moment?”

The original question didn’t allow for her development to be ongoing and intentional for the rest of her life.

When does a great 6-year-old start working on being a great 10-year-old?  Hint: Not at 9.  

When does a 38-year-old start working on being a great 50-year-old? Hint: Not at 49.   

When does a 74-year-old start working on being a great 80-year-old?  Hint: Not at 79.   

What forms is your own development taking at this point in your life?   What are your own intentions for your future, immediate and long term?

 

SOME OF THE MANY FACES OF RETIREMENT

There was a time when you said the word “Retirement” and everyone knew what it meant.

There was a consensual definition and set of expectations that looked like this: You had worked for years, probably at the same company, reasonably assured that you could move “up the ladder” as the people above you retired or transferred and made room for you. It was a stable company in which the organizational structure, job titles/descriptions, and experience/skills tended to have long shelf lives. Retirement was something to look forward to; a new and discrete stage of life. The time came at 65 when, after years of service, you were entitled to a parting gift, a recognition party, a pension check (large or small), and the final reward of entering your golden years of endless leisure. Some younger person stepped into your job and overnight you were free of responsibility for the first time in your adult life. You could be and do anything you wanted. It sounded like the ideal situation, although it often didn’t play out that way in practice in the lives of retirees.

Fast forward to Retirement today:

Bill and Doris Green both worked for the same company straight out of college beginning in 1975. When the kids came along, Doris left to be a stay at home mom. Bill changed employers twice, both times for significant promotions in manufacturing management. Pensions and defined benefit plans had, of course, gone away. In their place the Greens made it a priority to put money into 401Ks and employer matching plans as well as building a significant equity in their home over time. When he was 54, with two kids in college, Bill’s company was sold, his job was declared “redundant”, and he was laid off. Despite his best efforts, Bill was unable to land another comparable position in the decreasing pool of such jobs. They lived on their savings. Eventually Doris went to work in retail and Bill went back to school for retraining in technologies. It was a tough time. Their kids are now out of college. Both Doris and Bill are employed. Tearfully, they sold their house at the top of the market and now rent an apartment, which to their great surprise, has proven to be a happy change. They have rebuilt some of their savings but certainly not enough to stop working. As they look toward “Retirement” it looks increasingly like eventual part time work for both of them, indefinitely combined with local interests and activities. Their biggest retirement worry is outliving their money. Retirement isn’t a new and discrete phase of life in their future. It’s an integrated and logical extension of the decisions they are making and the life they are living now.

Barbara Kushner thought she and her husband had it all together financially and personally. They had just retired to Arizona from Ohio. She was looking forward to music and golf – a life of volunteering and good works. Then her husband, Tom, died suddenly. Barbara had never paid attention to the financial side of their lives. Tom took care of all of that. When he died she was suddenly propelled into a relationship with a financial advisor she didn’t know, a set of financial concepts and languages she didn’t understand, and a combination of decisions she wasn’t prepared to make yet couldn’t delay. It turned out that Tom had made two unwise investments that had recently eliminated a large portion of their net worth. She certainly isn’t going to lose the house nor is she going to be destitute. However, she will have to downscale her life style in order to live within her means. For Barbara, retirement looks like learning a whole body of financial knowledge she should have learned earlier, working part time, and gathering her friends and family around her to help her make the necessary transitions.

Carol Folsom and Rick Smedley met in law school years ago. Married early, they both pursued high powered, well paid professional careers. When their daughter came along, they readily adapted to sharing responsibility for her combined with a full time nanny. Their daughter grown and gone, they are both at the top of their careers and beginning to execute on their retirement plan. Carol and Rick had worked intensely hard for years, largely buffered by their professions from the business roller coaster beyond their doors. They are going to keep their condo in Chicago but have also purchased a condo in Florida. They plan winters in Florida and summers at home. Money is not an issue. Having been active and financially able philanthropists for years, they are moving a portion of their money to a Community Foundation in Florida, which will automatically make them members of an elite community of donors and non-profit board members. Rick is buying a boat. Carol is joining a tennis club. They are both planning on taking Lifelong Learning classes. Retirement for Rick and Carol looks like the ability to step into communities and interests that will provide them with new stimulation and friendships.

Ted Dawson failed retirement. Twice. Divorced and unsettled at 60; he jumped on the opportunity to retire, thinking it would be a fresh and wonderful relaunch for him. With his kids’ support, he visited 15 of the cities featured in 99 Best Places To Retire, chose the best one for him, bought a house and moved. This all happened quickly after the announcement was made that he was retiring from dentistry. During the first year in his new home and city, Ted volunteered widely. He worked at developing non-profit board expertise. He threw small dinner parties for other retirees in his neighborhood. Eventually he realized that part time volunteering wasn’t enough in his case and that he needed to find a full time job. For two years he became the Executive Director of a local non-profit. When he had taken the organization as far as he could take it, he retired again. Six months later, he felt as if he was floundering again, clearly wanting something he could own. The solution turned out to come with an opportunity to buy into a local dental practice and work 3 days a week, effectively job sharing with another dentist who wanted ownership and part time practice too. For Ted retirement looks like a combination of ownership, part time practice, volunteering, and uncommitted time.

There was a time when the word “retirement” was a bit like the word “apple”. Say either word and immediately almost everyone had a common image of it in their minds.

Now the word “retirement” is more akin to the word “shoe”. There are hundreds of images and we all need to find/create the right fit for ourselves.

What do you imagine the right retirement fit will look like for you?

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