We don’t need to wait for the New Normal. It’s already here and well established.
Most of us know about Continuous Change. We have comfortable, familiar tools in our toolbox to work with it: incremental learning, longstanding wisdom, traditional planning in a stable environment, and using past experience as the guide.
Few of us know enough, however, about our New Normal – Discontinuous Change. We need New Normal tools in our toolbox, too. We need to pay close attention to new data, to adapt our plans quickly, adjust our thinking, and to engage in lifelong learning. We need to plan with shorter horizons and consciously prepare for extended longevity, along with the financial/personal/professional actions that it will require.
I’m in the business of helping people plan, act, and adapt their way through the surprises, traps, and opportunities the New Normal brings. We begin with where you really are, move to short and long term preferences, and pull it together through incremental steps with smart planning horizons. We get back together periodically to assess new information and progress, as well as make the necessary adaptations to your plan and approach.
Am I forecasting disaster? No! There are opportunities out there as well as traps. We do, however, have to be knowledgeable, organized, and attentive.
I receive these on a regular basis:
- Requests for a success-guaranteed list of 5 or 6 steps that will eliminate anxiety and solve everything.
- Incoming emails and phone calls asking for reassurance and direction that begin with “Am I crazy or………”.
One size solution won’t fit all. Whether I’m partnering with a financial planner or seeing mutual clients separately, we’re in different times. That’s what my new book, How Do I Get There From Here?, due out in August, is all about. In the meantime, I have received approval from some recent personal consulting clients to tell parts of their stories here.
When my wife and I first came to see George, we thought our future was going to be very straightforward, simple, and all planned-out. First would come retirement. Then we would move to be closer to our grown children and families. We would both find 1. part time work (neither of us imagined not working at all) and 2. volunteer and hobby activities we could enjoy individually and together. Throw in some occasional travel. Mix in new friends. Presto! The perfect life we both thought we deserved and were entitled to after working so hard all those years.
What really happened? First my company was sold and I was forced into early retirement while my wife continued to work. After she retired we moved to be closer to our kids. Shortly thereafter, our son won a big promotion at work that mandated a 1,450-mile residential move. Then my wife died unexpectedly. For the first time in 45 years I was face to face with planning and living my own life. George helped me create a request to all my family and friends: Don’t treat me as wounded and diminished. Instead, I asked that they treat me as aggrieved but still capable and solid. To my surprise, I didn’t want all the same things that my wife and I had dreamed about. George and I assessed where I was, what really interested me and built a plan with smart horizons. I went back to school, started a small business, and got very active in my community. I have even begun dating. It took a while – working together by Skype – but we created the opportunity for me to live a life I may not have anticipated but that I found fulfilling nonetheless. I thought plans were permanent; clearly not anymore.
Ellen’s and Bob’s Story
My husband Bob and I are both in our early fifties. We previously owned and ran a heating/air conditioning business and worked in together for years with my father. Bob was the lead technician. I ran the office. When my father died, the business was ours. Over the years, we built it up to be a substantial local business. Our intention was to continue building the business and then sell it when we were in our later 60s. Instead, we received an offer from a regional firm we couldn’t refuse, including a cash out. There were three kickers to this:
- There would be no transition period. We would be out.
- We had to sign a 7 year non-compete agreement.
- Net cash to us was impressive but certainly not enough to support us for the next 30 to 40 years.
Friends urged us to get professional assistance immediately. We made a Skype appointment with George. We had to begin with where we really were. We were both a bit bored with it but the business had been our whole life. We hadn’t imagined anything else.
Neither of us had a college degree. Our kids were grown and gone. After George helped us do some significant digging through our current situation, we could move on to begin imagining both a personal and professional future for each of us. Bob wanted to continue to be his own boss. I was tired of it and wanted a job I could usually leave at work. To our great surprise, we discovered Bob’s significant technical skills included electronic office networks; a marketable expertise. My knowledge of bookkeeping and business accounting software was extensive. We were both anxious about being outside of our accustomed company and roles. George helped us develop a plan that combined career research with extending the networks of people who could help us. We made a deal with George that we would take 9 months to work the plan and explore the possibilities we uncovered. If we got too anxious during that time we knew we could call George. We would check in with him regularly. We would both take some specific classes George helped us identify.
Ultimately Bob bought into a local Tech Service business, having realized that he could be a great partner if not a subordinate. I concluded that I wanted to teach bookkeeping and accounting software part time at a local community college. Retirement seems way in the future for both of us at this point.
Long divorced and with money I had both earned and inherited, I was intent on retiring by my 60th birthday. Like a lot of men and women today, I was accustomed to living alone by choice and didn’t expect that to change. What I did want, however, was to move to somewhere sunny. I didn’t mind hot summers. I minded icy and snowy winters. George and I began with looking at where I was: what made my life rich, what I really disliked, where the holes might be, what I should leave behind, and what I would bring forward with me because it would be both meaningful and useful. Then George moved on to working with me to build a template of what I really wanted, complete with importance scores and trade-off acknowledgements. I visited each of the cities we identified as a great next fit, but before I did that George had me really do my homework. Where would I go to investigate in each town? What were the smartest questions I should ask? Who among my friends and colleagues had connections to others who had moved to those places? How could I meet those connections to ask questions like:
What caused you to come here?
- What has been the greatest benefit to you?
- What do you wish you had known when you moved here?
- What has not lived up to your expectations? What has met and exceeded your expectations?
- What are the best solutions you have found?
- If you had it to do over again, where would you go and how would you go about it?
I brought back all the results of my thorough on-site research. As George and I sifted through the information and answers, it became clear that I was drawn to some of the new people I met as well as to the places. Doors opened for me. I wasn’t in a hurry but I was ready. George helped me take affirming action and make the leap.
Tim’s and Jennifer’s Story
Both in our mid 30s, Jennifer and I worked in hi tech companies, loved our work, spent long hours on airplanes and at our desks, and knew that by 40 we would make dramatic changes:
- Living in another state
- Less demanding jobs
- Embracing of a yet-unknown way to keep our expertise up in a work world of rapid knowledge turnover
- If possible, job sharing together so that one of us could be home at all times with the kids.
With a great deal of forethought, we came to George to see if he could help us could put together an incremental plan to get to where we wanted to be. We had a great financial advisor/planner with whom George partnered in helping us. The plan was complex because it had geographic, family, career, financial, educational, employment, and social components that were in some state of motion.
Our current world had little continuous change. We worked in discontinuous change environments where what was true and a priority one day might well be replaced by something else within a few days or a couple of months. While we loved this environment, we imagined a more stable one while our kids were young and then returning to it as our kids were much older. In effect, we didn’t want to desert what we knew. We wanted to find ways to dial it down for a few years and then crank it up again later.
George is guiding us through an evaluation of where we really are now as the beginning of our incremental plan. The work of imagining the near and long term futures is nearly complete. With George’s help, the research phase – getting real about the current possibilities, and those we can invent for the future – is about to begin. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.
Finding George Schofield and his book “After 50, It”s Up To Us” was a real game changer for me. Luckily I also had the opportunity to meet several times with George and make my plan.
First, George gave me permission to ponder the future and what I might really like to do. My goal was to get started in a new field.
Second, he had me reach out to colleagues and ask “what am I good at?”. This turned out to be outrageously affirming that I was headed in the right direction.
Third, networking. In my case, I needed to find out more about what the challenges were in the new field. I signed up for a local conference and went to the day and 1/2 meeting. I was able to make new connections and started to learn where the challenges would be in the next two decades. I stayed active on Facebook and Linked-In and have gotten one job each from these connections.
What finally pulled it all together for me, with some nudges from George, was getting a web-site up and running. I had to showcase what it was that made my skills valuable. It turned out that the web-site development was a perfect precursor to my successful interview. I had my skills story at my fingertips. I am now working full- time and hope to do this for the next 3-5 years. I will not forget George’s advice to plan for the near-term but be ready to adapt. I will keep my web-site active and never pass up a networking opportunity. Thank you George!
What did we say about one size not fitting all? In stable environments with gradual, continual change this may be a life possibility. In times of significant, fast-paced and discontinuous change it simply isn’t going to happen. The world of effective planning now requires shortened planning horizons and constant information gathering that could be important in adapting the plan and changing our own thinking and actions accordingly.
What continuous and discontinuous changes are you experiencing in your own life and in the world around you?
What does your own planning look like at this point? How good a fit is it for today’s realities?
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