By Joe Casey
They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. But sometimes the teacher shows up early and plants a seed.
Twenty-five years ago, I was introduced to a concept that I wasn’t ready to grasp. I was in my mid-thirties, a mid-level HR manager on the way up, with two kids and a long To-Do list. Big plans. Busy schedule. Many irons in the fire. Getting lots of things done. A whirling dervish. You know the type.
Are You Open to a New Idea?
One day, my manager and her manager asked if I’d meet with Hyrum Smith, who was then CEO of the company that made Franklin Day Planners, which we used in a big way in our company. They wanted my opinion on a new idea he had that may be useful in our management training programs. Would I hear him out and opine on how it would fly with our managers?
It was great to meet Hyrum and hear his new idea. He explained that we all have a belief window through which we view the world. Think of it as an invisible windshield in front of your face. On the windshield, we have our beliefs and principles and they alter our view of the world. The problem comes when some of our principles become outdated or inappropriate to our circumstances. They can distort our vision. It’s like trying to drive in a heavy downpour with broken windshield wipers. It’s hard to get an accurate view of what’s in front of you.
I believe I was very polite, but my reply was that I didn’t think it wouldn’t be right for our managers. (I believe I was thinking about my next three meetings and my To-Do list and starting to hyperventilate).
The truth is I wasn’t ready for the concept.
I was a complete dolt. It took a while for it to dawn on me (years, actually) that my managers didn’t need my opinion on this idea. They thought it was an idea I needed to hear. Once I finally got it, this became a valuable concept.
Over time, I got used to asking myself “Am I seeing this situation accurately? Or is it because of an incorrect principle or outdated belief on my windshield?” In my primary career, it helped me become more open, less defensive, and start to build a broader perspective beyond my To-Do list. Today, I often recommend it to my executive coaching clients.
What Incorrect Principles Can People Have About Retirement?
Sometimes, we haven’t always reflected on what our beliefs are about retirement. And sometimes they are outdated or incorrect. Here are some that I hear:
1. “I Just Need Financial Security”
For years, the message has been clear. People are not saving enough for retirement. Pensions are a relic of the past. Social Security may not be there for you. You’re on your own. Many people have heeded these warnings and diligently saved and wisely invested for their retirement. Yet, this can still be an incorrect principle on the windshield. How? It’s necessary, but not sufficient. You have to plan for how you’ll manage both your money and your time in retirement. Since retirements today can last 20 to 30 years or more, the time element presents an enormous opportunity – or a big risk.
2. “I’m in Control of the Timing of Retirement”
Picture your Retirement as a 4-year-old with his or her hands on the hips, defiantly explaining to you that “You’re not the boss of me!”
In some ways, that can be true. One of those ways is when you retire. There are often circumstances beyond your control that may lead you, or even force you, to retire far earlier than planned. According to the 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 48 % of retirees surveyed retired earlier than planned, mostly due to hardships, illness, caregiving or downsizing.
Keep in mind that you may not be the boss of the timing of your retirement.
3. “I’ll Figure It Out As I Go”
After a long career, kicking back for a while is appealing. After all, you deserve a break. The question is: How long a break? Without a solid plan on how you’ll start to invest your time, it’s easy to drift. After a while, the vacation mindset can become your default mode. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can make your transition harder, if you do decide that work, in some way, is part of your life in retirement. It’s better to stay engaged in some way, leverage your contacts and experience while they are still fresh. You can always leverage a freelance project, consulting role, or volunteer opportunity down the road. While you’re immersed in your primary career, the idea of simply not working is seductive. But as the saying goes, it’s not what you retire from, it’s what you retire to that matters most. It’s a better idea to think that through a bit before you jump. You can be the boss of how you use your time in retirement.
4. “My Spouse/Partner Wants the Same Things I Do”
We think we know our partners well. And we probably do. But it’s easy to forget that they change too. When you’re leading busy lives, it’s easy to not be fully in synch with their hopes and dreams.
In their excellent book Refire! Don’t Retire, Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz point out that partners may often be at very different phases of life and want very different things in the retirement years. One may be interested in more travel and leisure while the other, after having taken primary responsibility for child-rearing, may now be ready for more career or achievement type of pursuits. It’s important to discuss this openly, without any assumptions getting in the way.
There’s a clear pattern here. All of these incorrect principles are based on assumptions that were probably correct and useful at an earlier time. But if they’re not updated as things change, they can become obstacles. It’s like trying to run your iPhone 8 on IOS 2.3.
What beliefs do you have that might be ready for a Software Update?
After I started writing this, I discovered that Hyrum Smith recently published a new book, Purposeful Retirement. I’ll be reading it shortly and will post a review on our website. It’s safe to say that I’ll be trying to absorb his wisdom right away this time around.
Joe Casey is an executive coach and retirement coach who also helps people think through and create their Second Acts, at retirementwisdom.com
Lisa Greenwald, Craig Copeland, and Jack VanDerhei, “The 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey—Many Workers Lack Retirement Confidence and Feel Stressed About Retirement Preparations,” EBRI Issue Brief, no. 431 (Employee Benefit Research Institute, March 21, 2017).