by Josh Mudse, CFP
I recently met with a client who asked me to help him plan for an early retirement. We worked through the financial details of retiring at age 59, determining the appropriate investment portfolio and planning distributions from various accounts to maximize tax efficiency. After we worked out all the numbers and we both felt good that he could retire whenever he wanted, I got an email that said he was having cold feet. His reluctance was not a result of questioning the math or the distribution plan. In a self-reflective moment, he realized he had no idea what he would do once he was retired.
Leaving the traditional career world today means that you will likely live another full adult lifetime, 10 or 15 years longer than the retirement years lived by your parents. As people approach the arbitrary end line, determining what comes next is a real and common problem. At major life transition points like retirement, it is normal to run through some version of grief. Making the decision to retire often involves mourning our former life. We wrap so much of our identities into our work that it can be traumatic when we walk away, equivalent to the loss of a loved one.
The realities faced by someone retiring today change our role as financial planners. Instead of talking about asset allocation and buttoning-up the details of an estate plan, financial planners now help clients determine what makes their lives significant. Significance means something different for every one of us. We often hear our clients define it as spending time with family, giving generously, pursuing a passion, or serving others. The client above described this process as creating a new version of himself, version 3.0.
According to life and leadership coach, John Cunningham, the first step in making progress is to stop thinking in traditional terms about retirement, start thinking about the next phase of your life as a re-entry, one that you can control. He recommends having a quiet period after you leave your career. Find a way to go out in the proverbial (or actual) woods to decompress, reflect on your past, and focus on identifying what will provide inspiration and purpose for this next phase of life.
This idea of taking a break to get refocused and re-energized was reinforced to me twice during a recent trip to California. During a conference that I was attending, one of the keynote addresses was made by Richard Swenson, M.D., author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Margin is the space between our load and our limits, and is directly related to our reserves and resilience. Dr. Swenson explained that his research shows that humans can maximize personal productivity by interchanging periods of working slightly above their natural limit with periods that allow for time to heal, to reflect, to recharge our batteries and focus on the things that matter most. After pressing to succeed in your career, creating margin before your re-entry will help make that next phase more productive.
Following the conference, I had the opportunity to spend time with my 90 year old grandmother. She is a marvel, still cooking her own meals, driving herself to the store and doctor appointments. Even though she has an arched back that requires her to shuffle around the house, she still accomplishes everything she wants in a day. She told me that as long as she takes a break in the afternoon, she can keep getting things done through the evening. She confessed that her one hope for all of us is that when life presents hardships, we would take time to learn from them and then keep going. That conversation was an affirmation of the principles promoted by Dr. Swenson and provides wisdom to dealing with the hardships we face at life transition points, including retirement.
It must be said that not all retirement transitions are equal. You may be facing an unexpected retirement as a result of a job loss or a health issue. Whatever the situation you find yourself as you approach the end of YOU 2.0, take some time away from your routines to determine what you value most moving forward. Determining the outcomes that you desire most will help in creating the financial plan that supports your life of significance.
- This material is intended to be educational in nature, and not as a recommendation of any particular strategy, approach, product or concept for any particular advisor or client. These materials are not intended as any form of substitute for individualized investment advice. The discussion is general in nature, and therefore not intended to recommend or endorse any asset class, security, or technical aspect of any security for the purpose of allowing a reader to use the approach on their own. Before participating in any investment program or making any investment, clients as well as all other readers are encouraged to consult with their own professional advisers, including investment advisers and tax advisors. Camelot Portfolios LLC can assist in determining a suitable investment approach for a given individual, which may or may not closely resemble the strategies outlined herein.
- John Cunningham, M.A. has been coaching and assisting individuals and organizations for over 30 years, including Camelot Portfolios. Learn more about John at encompassresources.net