Living and Learning
I’m retiring, or as I prefer to say, “rewiring” at the end of next month. I’m excited to start this new life chapter, and yet I recognize that my work life has been responsible for dictating the flow of my days for nearly 40 years. Making the most of this new gift of time will take thought, effort, and intentional action. Because I’m a nerdy planner in my personal life as well as in my professional career, I’ve worked over the last few years to identify some guiding principles that may help me make these coming years all I want them to be.
The first thing I’ve realized is that many of the “best practices of retirement” are also best practices in everyday living, whether you’re retired or not. The list that follows is not exhaustive by any means, but I hope the practices and retirement principles here will be meaningful to some. Truthfully, I’m wishing I had formally recognized and lived by them more throughout the busiest working years of my life. Regardless of your stage in life, maybe of a few of these will resonate with you:
Prioritize Your Retirement by Identifying Your Non-Negotiables
I’ve been saying this to myself forever, but this year, when I switched to a part-time schedule as an on-ramp to full retirement, I finally executed. Getting some exercise every day, preferably outside in nature and with my husband, friends, or solo, is one of my personal non-negotiables. It grounds me, and every day that I can hike, mountain bike, kayak, or just get out for a walk around the neighborhood is a good day, so everything else that follows is gravy. For others, the non-negotiable might be connecting with family, engaging in a creative task, or just having a few moments of solitude. Whatever your non-negotiables are, find a way to make them happen on most days. It will make your life better and you’ll be more fun to be around, too.
Create Structure to Get the Most Out of Your Retirement
You might be wondering why I’m thinking about creating structure as I’m about to retire—maybe I should just wing it, for the first time since childhood. But wait…there’s that oldie but goodie that failing to plan is planning to fail, right? We all need some structure to our days; it helps us find meaning and feel purposeful. The author Annie Duke said, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” It does seem to me that the structure we create for our days has an outsized influence on our life satisfaction. Work is just one way to create the structure we need. I think of the coming years as a pie with many slices, all of which represent how I want to spend my time, health, and wealth. There are family and friends I want to connect or reconnect with, places I want to see, activities I want to do, and organizations I want to support. These categories will serve as my North Star as I work to create a meaningful but not overbearing structure in my rewired life.
Don’t Try to Plan Out the Entire Rest of Your Life Right Now
The journalist and commentator David Brooks wrote, “Don’t try to figure out what your life is about. It’s too big a question. Just figure out what the next three years are about.” We’ve all succumbed to “analysis paralysis” that freezes us in our tracks when we’re overwhelmed by the enormity of what lies ahead. A financial example that I’ve seen on occasion in my wealth management advisory practice is when clients get stuck creating their estate plan. It’s difficult enough just to contemplate our own death, but to look that far down the road and know how we want our legacy to play out, let alone to agree on the plan in the case of a couple, is supremely difficult for some. When clients are feeling paralyzed in drafting their estate plan, I ask them to focus on what they would want for just the next three to five years, rather than thinking their estate plan is cast in stone for their entire lifetime. This seems to help and the reality is that an estate plan will likely need updating down the road anyway, because as with everything else in life, things change. The point is, while long-term thinking is a critical skill in many areas of life, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So, if shorter-term thinking gets you moving forward, try it.
Success is Not a Goal, It’s a Byproduct
This is, hands down, my favorite bit of football wisdom uttered by Coach Eric Taylor on the venerable TV series Friday Night Lights. It’s meaningful in a financial context because so often, we prioritize financial wealth as the pinnacle of success that will enable us to lead fulfilling lives, and we assume that emotional health will follow. Instead, I’d prefer to think of emotional wealth and financial health as dual goals that we should strive to keep in balance throughout our lives as we work toward what we define as success. Among the hallmarks of emotional wealth are practicing self-care, engaging meaningfully with others, striving to grow, and living with purpose. As clients of TCI, you are well-acquainted with financial health, that practice of keeping your financial house in order. To me, a balance of emotional wealth and financial health seem like a powerhouse for creating a successful life, well-lived.
Learn From Those Who Have Gone Before You
The longer I live the more I realize I don’t know, and the more my appetite grows to learn from others’ life stories. In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware noted that “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard,” “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends,” and “I wish that I had let myself be happier,” were among the most common regrets she heard in her work as a palliative care nurse. No matter our age, if we can stay open to the wisdom that others are willing to share with us, we can make more choices that enrich our lives.
Get Out of Your Head and Live in the Moment…Often!
I get that this one can be hard. While planning is certainly essential in life, there’s also happiness to be had in occasionally casting aside your thoughts and being fully present. This is mindfulness, and a large body of scientific research attests to its benefit on our health and well-being. Author Brian Cornell said it well—he hiked the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail and in doing so, observed that “If you are always looking ahead to where you want to go next, it is difficult to appreciate where you are right now.” There are many things we can’t control in our world—among them the economy, markets, and politics—but we can control where we focus our attention, and that means a purposeful and satisfying life is always within our grasp.
Since this is my final blog as an Advisor at TCI, I wanted to say thank you for reading all these years–it’s been a joy writing for you. Now it’s time to go practice each of these “best practices of retirement” myself and transition to being a TCI client.
Happy holidays and I wish you all well!