Your Retirement Plan is Wrong–And How to Fix it

Been pelted with questions about my “retirement”. So I will write an occasional series to share what I have learned and am learning about this life stage. I am trying not to be snarky by rejecting the “R” word. But retirement is a myth. Based on my experience in coaching, advising, and conversing with people–our ideas about retirement and our plans for retirement are wrong.

What comes to mind when you hear the R word? Be honest. Some combination of “leisure”—freedom to do what you want—probably some travel to bucket list places—more time for hobbies—Right?

What I’m saying is that retirement is a Western invention from days gone by that’s based on broken assumptions that we want — and can afford — to do nothing. Neil Pasricha, Retirement is a Flawed Concept, HBR 2016

If you are 25, 45, or 65, developing a “retirement plan” is like creating any part of your life plan.  It must reflect your philosophy of life. Your values. Your passions and what you stand for. Not just what you think or say you believe in, but what you do!!! Retirement is not the time to make a full reversal to offset your guilt-ridden history or the hedonism that has driven your life. Not saying forgiveness is not possible. Not saying redemption is not achievable. But just trying to re-balance the life ledger is a lousy retirement plan.

My conversations focus on the most important investment –the investment of time.  To develop a “life portfolio”.  A portfolio of investments of time that truly reflect you.

Some typical examples I encountered during the last 9 months and what I advised:

“I accepted a job at a giant NY hedge fund. I don’t want to do it, but I know I can make a lot of money. I am going to sell my soul now so I can do something good later.”–23 year-old grad student.

Save your soul by doing something good now, anything. Get settled in NY and find an opportunity for you to balance your life, one the hedge fund might even support.

“In 2 years I am going to retire. I am very comfortable. I am going to run a non-profit because I don’t need the money any longer.”  61 year-old financial exec

You don’t want to run a non-profit! Do you want to raise money for a living? No. Look for a board to serve on. Seek a great volunteer opportunity to that will refresh your spirit and your sense of community.

“I am going to write novels!”  55 year communications manager.

How wonderful. Have you written before? Oh you haven’t since college! Think about taking a series of writing courses to get back into it. Re-kindle your love for it. Writing is so hard.

“Once I put $5million more in my retirement fund, I can devote full-time to my philanthropy.”  47 year old tech entrepreneur

Why not give some of it away now? Reap the joy from making a difference for those in need today. Experiment with your giving, use your entrepreneurial brain and find you MVP—Minimum Viable Philanthropy! You will better prepared to focus your philanthropy on what you love and enjoy.

To start something from scratch is naïve and frustrating. So often we hope that we will figure it out later. College, parenting, career choices—but life happens fast.

I am not dealing with your finances—sock away as much money as you can now! Not talking about your around the world cruise or your golf swing. I am talking about how you are using this moment, this precious time, to develop yourself, understand yourself, to re-align who you are with what you are doing. To express yourself to be the human you need to be, want to be. That is the plan. Retirement is just the next chapter to dedicate more time and effort to these endeavors.

After you stop working and you lose your title, authority and whatever social status you held, then what? What will sustain YOUR interest intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally?  

One of the goals of a balanced and fulfilling pre-retirement life is to always have islands of engagement on the vast turbulent ocean of hard work and stress. Beautiful places where you can even briefly enjoy and nurture your freedom to be you. Not talking about rest and relaxation—although those are essential. But your dedicated pursuit of your interests, passions, and/or talents. Stuff that defines your uniqueness. Things that deeply engage you to the point of losing yourself. I sense a number of you, lifting an eyebrow, drawing a blank or even rolling your eyes. Stay with me a little longer! Think about things you are deferring, procrastinating and still dreaming about. These are the things! These are your islands of enjoyment and experimentation where your future self meets your current self.

While we are still in the midst of the pandemic and its full effects are not yet known, it appears the impact will transform retirement for years, if not decades. Brookings Institute report on Post-COVID retirement

You will not stop working when you retire (unless you are rich!) So what is your job? Retirement is just like your life today—Busy! But busy doing what? Doing what you want. 

A friend of mine said she’s not retiring—she’s re-wiring! That’s right. We have to re-wire our brains. That does not start at some imaginary date or year of life. It starts now. The best retirement plan has enough money for you to live comfortably, but that may require you to bring in some bacon too.

There are many places that can plug retirees into meaningful opportunities that are paid, low-bono or pro-bono such as Encore or Executive Service Corps. But what do you want?

Retirement is a mythical place. No matter your age or stage, start planning your own retirement by building a life portfolio that will be sustained and that sustains you. Try my free online tool to analyze and build your life portfolio.

Thanks for reading. John

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2 thoughts on “Your Retirement Plan is Wrong–And How to Fix it”

  1. Great article with sharp spot-on questions. Retirement can be a jarring experience without a script – but you nailed it. We need to write – re-wire – our own script.

    1. Thanks Sophie. It is about the questions, isn’t it? Constantly stepping back from the world we see in front of us and discerning what it means to our future.

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