How My Hip Surgery Got Me Thinking about What I’m Retiring To

I had my hip replaced last month.  After spending three days in the hospital, I spent a couple weeks at home recovering.  And I was bored.  Really, you can watch only so many reruns of Gun Smoke or CNN’s nonstop coverage of Trump and Comey before all your energy is depleted.  The hospital certainly isn’t a resort, but, unlike my house, it’s buzzing with activity.  Just ask anyone who’s ever tried to settle into a long nap during a hospital stay.

Anyhow, I’m on my way to a full recovery.  While I was home, however, I had time to think.  That is, think about my retirement.  Not that I’m planning on retiring any time soon, but my recovery has given me time to envision what I want my retirement to look like.  And that vision doesn’t include old TV westerns.

Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about what we want our retirement to look like.  Instead, we tend to create this grand vision of what we think retirement will be like.  Most of us have been misled to believe that retirement is nirvana with endless days playing golf or sitting on a beach sipping drinks with umbrellas.

If you’re 5 to 10 years out from retirement, now is the time to start exploring the meaning of your work.  What role is work playing in your life? If you’re like most, you tend to undervalue the benefits of work in your life.  They go well beyond collecting a paycheck.  French researchers have found a link between delaying retirement and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and other mind-robbing diseases.  For each additional year you work, you reduce your risk by 3.2 percent.  What’s more, working longer also contributes to longevity.  On a recent retirement webinar, the facilitator cited an 11% (!) increase in life span for each additional year people work.  As an investment advisor, I’d say that’s a pretty good return.  What it all comes down to is staying engaged.  It’s the engagement with life that helps prolong life.

Let’s be clear.  Just because you’re leaving work, doesn’t mean you’re retiring.  Sure, you know what you’re retiring from, but what are you retiring to?  Our parents’ generation maydownload (1) have said, “When I retire, I’ll never work again.”  But today’s retirees are striving for more of a balance.  Most people are happiest when they find the perfect balance between purpose and pleasure.  Ironically, our pleasure (or leisure time) draws its meaning from work.  For instance, we all know someone who can’t wait to hit the golf course on the weekend.  His tee times are usually earlier than he’s rolling out of bed during the work week.  But golfer beware:  there’s a diminishing law of returns on leisure.  And when we retire, every day will not be a Saturday.  The thing you’re looking to for joy and fun can over time make you grumpy.  Do you really want golf to become your job?

In the past, my clients may have asked “Do I have enough money to retire?”  Or “Have I had enough?”  Now, clients are more apt to ask “Will I have enough to do?”  All of us, whether we’re a multimillionaire or someone who will be living on little more than our social security, will have the exact same amount of time to fill each week—168 hours.  If you don’t have a plan for maximizing your time, the next stage of your life may not be as fulfilling as you had envisioned.

Finding powerful reasons to get up in the morning will be as important in your retirement as funding it.  Don’t confuse leisure with happiness.  People tend to lean on leisure for fulfillment.  But we really can’t be happy without pleasure and purpose.  There are plenty of people who wake up seeking pleasure only to return to bed empty.  Successful retirees do things that they’re curious about.  They do things that bring value to others and meaning to themselves.  They’ve explored the meaning of work in their lives and find a way to make it a part of their retirement.

Retirement is an Artificial Finish Line

I received the following alert on my phone from the New York Times this past weekend: “Today’s women are much more likely to work into their 60s and 70s often full-time. And they’re doing it because they enjoy it.”

This may not mean much to you, but as a financial advisor who’s been helping people retire throughout most of my career, I appreciated the notice. It reaffirmed what I already know: Retirement is an artificial finish line.

Women and men are discovering that retirement is not a natural life transition. It’s an idea that’s been inflicted upon us by corporations and society. We’ve been indoctrinated into thinking that when you turn 65, it’s time to punch out and live a life of leisure. This may have worked for the previous generation, but that mindset is no longer sustainable. Pensions and institutional stewardship have gone the way of the dinosaur, and today more than ever we have to assume control over our own retirement planning.

Retiring is about more than just having enough money, though. It’s a major life transition that many people struggle with, and the struggle often has more to do with a static lifestyle than not receiving a regular paycheck.

Think about it: No one teaches us how to retire. I really don’t know of any retirement training classes being offered. On the other hand, retirement planning is a service that’s plentiful. But that’s more about funding your retirement; it’s not about creating a vision of what you want the rest of your life to look like. In fact, finding powerful reasons to get up in the morning during retirement will be as important as the financial planning.

This past week, Aretha Franklin announced that she’s retiring. In a statement she said, “I’m not going to go anywhere and just sit down and do nothing. That wouldn’t be good, either.” Well, if it’s not good for Aretha, it’s not good for you, either. What Aretha is really aiming for is a balance. A balance between vocation and vacation. That’s what we should all aim for to enjoy a successful retirement. After all, I don’t think any of us want to withdraw completely from the track of relevance.

To achieve a healthy balance between vocation and vacation requires planning. Did you know we’re more apt to spend time planning a two-week vacation than we are to spend time planning a possible 30-year retirement? Unlike a vacation, retirement is not the ultimate destination anymore. Stop buying into the destination myth because your life isn’t going to stop moving the day you retire. I’m reminded of that commercial in which everyone is assigned their own personal retirement number. The people in the commercial are so happy to know how much money they’ll need to retire that they write it on a large cardboard sign, attach a stick to it and carry it around with them all day long. Well, if my client’s life means nothing more than a number, then the planning will be about the destination. But let’s not reduce our lives to a story of numbers. Our lives are about more than that.

For most of us, working will no longer be an “all or nothing proposition.” It will be more of a “how much” proposition. In planning for a successful retirement, one with a balance between vocation and vacation, we need to start asking ourselves questions beyond money. How will you invest in yourself and your time?

Trump and Your Investment Portfolio

If you were watching the results on election night, you saw the financial markets react. In the wee small hours of November 9, Dow futures plunged just over 4% while gold and US Treasuries soared. (Markets are funny and tend to be unpredictable in the short term). Since the election, however, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has reached an all-time high.

Sure, Donald Trump is an unconventional politician and has said that he likes to be unpredictable. At this time, we’re not sure what to think or how he’ll govern. Once his cabinet is in place, we’ll have a better idea. Still, you may be thinking that a Trump presidency is “different,” but market volatility is certainly not something that we haven’t seen before. In the past 18 months, we’ve had several instances of investors feeling that “this time it’s different.”

Back in July 2015, the Greek financial crisis dominated the headlines. Investors feared Greece’s problems would spread to the rest of Europe. Then the following month, it was “Black Monday.” When the Chinese government devalued the Yuen, markets went tumbling down. At the beginning of 2016, the Dow Jones Industrial Average got off to its worst start ever dropping 5.5%. And most recently, we had Brexit. Shortly after Britain announced it was exiting from the European Union, the market lost 6% but days later gained back 8%. The bottom line is: Markets, like people, do not like change. But through all this hubbub, U.S. markets continue to hover around historical highs.

Back to your investments. What should you do to protect yourself during a Trump presidency? Nothing. If you’re diversified, you don’t need to sweat the headlines. We can’t predict the future, and we sure as heck can’t predict the markets. That’s why it may be wise to follow the investment ways of some of the world’s wealthiest families and most sophisticated investors. They manage risk through diversification.* This means not weighting one’s investments in with any sector of the economy such as energy or banking, or falling in love with an individual stock such as Apple.

Besides, your investment portfolio isn’t designed for a four-year presidential term. You’re in it for the long run. Investors who stay the course have historically been rewarded. Here’s one thing we can anticipate during the next four years. The markets will go up, and the markets will go down. And parts of your portfolio will do better than other parts. My advice is to stay disciplined, diversified* and focused on the future. If you’re not sure whether you have enough diversification*, a fee-based financial advisor can help you.

*Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a widely watched index of 30 American stocks thought to represent the pulse of the American economy and markets.