Two older people, each of whom I know well, take radically different views of what life offers. One is in her seventies, but suffers from a disease that increasingly disables her. Her life is already limited enough that most of what she used to enjoy is no longer possible, and she reacts with dread to the idea of having to live more than another year or so. The other person I am thinking of is in his nineties, but still gets around on foot with the help of a cane, and despite (or perhaps because of) a stroke that has impaired his memory, he enjoys his simple life, faces every new day with gratitude, and hopes to live for quite a few more years.
Neither of these people is wealthy. Their financial situations actually are quite comparable, and neither life is shaped primarily by money. But despite these financial similarities, their quality of life, even their desire for life, are radically different.
Of course money matters, but only to a point.
In this blog, I do intend to take financial issues seriously. I have some thirty-five years in the financial industry, in one guise or another. What money I have made, I have made in the money business. Still, I mean to give at least equal emphasis to non-financial matters – to how we can live the last third or so of our lives wisely and well. This goes far beyond how much coin we can pack into our pockets, and how long we can keep it there
Some say, or act as if, money is the foundation of everything. And certainly it is a highly pervasive element in life for most of us. Almost everything seems to have a price, or at least a cost. For example, the love you might have for a child or grandchild is beyond price, yet there are innumerable financial costs to nurturing such a relationship, from the small price of a birthday card and a postage stamp to the high cost of covering a wayward child’s debts or providing a grandchild with a college education, if it happens that you can afford such things at all.
Yet, pervasive as money issues are, and as enabling as money can be (and crippling as its absence can be), other factors are equally so.
For most of us, love – our connection with others – is just as pervasive and more fundamentally important. Retirement is a time when we eventually lose many relationships because of distance or disability or death, but we cherish and strengthen other ones (if we are smart).
For some of us, our beliefs, our values, our spiritual practices, our integrity, our self-determination, and other such intangibles are among our highest values, and they pervade everything we care about, and everything we do. Retirement is often a time to re-focus on these items, and re-evaluate and re-integrate them in view of our changing lives, the realities of aging, and the inevitability of dying.
Many of us understand physical and mental health as pervasive issues, too. The whole quality of our lives can depend on health, and as we get older, dealing with illness or disability can become the most dominating concern we have. But even where it is not, by the time we reach retirement age, few of us still take health totally for granted. Whether we think about it or not, health is at least as fundamental as money is, when it comes to our constructing and maintaining a good life for ourselves.
And while the pursuit of money can provide both a sense of purpose in life and enjoyment (as a challenge and/or a source of competition, for those who see it that way), most of us get our sense of purpose and our enjoyment elsewhere. For those of us in this particular majority, these other activities – perhaps career-oriented, perhaps involving community or charitable work, perhaps having to with some array of leisure activities (strenuous or not, social or solitary) – are the most pervasive element in life. I’m talking to you, Red Sox fans!
In this blog, we will focus on all of these issues, and more.
We will also consider all the chronological stages of dealing with retirement:
- Preparing ahead for retirement: what do you do during your working years to position yourself to retire “successfully” when the time eventually comes? (We will probably spend the least time on this stage, though.)
- Making the transition to retirement: whether you are fully retiring, or just trading your primary career for something less demanding or closer to your heart, how do you decide what the right time is, and how do you make the other key decisions that you face during that process?
- Adapting to retirement: so you had your retirement party, everyone said how much they’d miss you, and it’s the first day of the rest of your life – what do you do now?
- Taking advantage of retirement: many of us will have twenty or thirty or even more reasonably healthy years in retirement – how do you envision what to make of this opportunity, and if you do have (or discover) a dream for that time of life, how can you make it real?
- Coping with the expected and unexpected in our retirement years. We all know that people get old and eventually die, and usually have to cope with a variety of surprises along the way. We don’t like to picture this happening to us. What methods and resources are available when it does, though? And for that matter, how do we help our parents or others get through it first, if the need arises?
- Learning to let go – where do we find the wisdom and strength to age with grace, to bring our story to its end in style, and to leave behind the best we can for our families, our friends, and our community?
So there is lots to talk about.
If there is some particular issue you would like this blog to address in the coming weeks and months, or at any time down the road, please chime in. This is not an ivory tower exercise. It’s about real lives – our own lives. So let's hear what’s on your mind.
Chuck Yanikoski is a retirement adviser who lives and works in Harvard. For more about him, visit www.ChuckYRetirement.com.