Have You Thought About Your Retirement Strategy? (Part 2 of 3)

Top 5 Lessons I’ll Take with Me Into Retirement

This is the second blog post in my three-part retirement series, and it explores the retirement life lessons that resonated most with me throughout my research. In the first post I talked about how organizations could ease the loss of knowledge and experience while their Boomer generation employees find a balance between being engaged in their final years of work and starting to let go. As I have prepared for my own retirement I’ve gained some perspective on how soon-to-retire employees can make their transition successful.

When I turned 60 I shared with friends that I was looking forward to the last third of my life. I read a statistic recently that if you’re alive at age 60 you have a 50% chance of living to age 90. While I recognize that there are no guarantees, I think 90 (and maybe some change) is a reasonable age for me to plan for, and, luckily, there’s no history of life shortening illness in my family. So, in the summer of 2014 I made the decision to accelerate my anticipated retirement date by two years. I was unaware of what I might experience in the period between then and my last day of employment. As often happens in life, you don’t always know how you will experience an event until it actually happens. Falling in love, having a child, and becoming a grandparent all have feelings associated with them that can only be appreciated and understood by personal experience. My experiences while preparing for retirement seem similar.

A friend of mine told me about an evening with a group of his buddies. They used a tape measure to mark 85 inches, and then they marked their age in inches. 85 marked their consensus of how long, on average, they thought they would live, or at least be active enough to do the things they wished. My friend reports that it was an enlightening moment to come to grips with how much life he has left, and it begged the question of what he wanted to accomplish to pass a no regrets test.

While assisting with developing a shareholder succession guide for Perkins & Co, I devoted a lot of energy to learn about retirement. This led to numerous conversations with clients and friends who were already retired, and I don’t recall a single story of dissatisfaction. For those I spoke with who were not yet retired the most frequently asked question was, “What are you going to do?” There are numerous things I’m interested in that a career in public accounting did not provide time for, such as pursuing my photography interest, which was done only intermittently, and working through a backlog of family archiving projects, which have yet to be started. As I prepare for this next chapter in my life I came across some good lessons.

1) The Six Stages of Retirement

Retirement is a process of transitioning from one chapter of life to another. Psychologists currently identify six stages of retirement. The first phase is pre-retirement, which involves assessing not just financial readiness but non-financial readiness. Phase two is retirement itself. Phase three is labeled disillusionment. At some point after retirement begins misalignment between expectations of the new life in relation to the old working one present themselves. Stage four, reorientation, is an opportunity to realign desires and priorities for what the retirement journey will really be like allowing for phase five, the retirement routine. The last phase is termination of retirement. This isn’t necessarily death but an acknowledgement that at some point all of the things that retirement represents will come to an end as you just can’t do it anymore.

2) A Retirement Formula

There’s a great formula that has inspired me to think positively about retirement. It goes like this:

Retirement = Purpose + Time + Financial Resources + Well Being + Self Satisfaction

This formula nicely captures the key elements of—what I envision to be—a rewarding retirement. I will have an opportunity to use the time available to redirect my energy on activities that will allow me to focus on doing things that bring me a sense of purpose. I want my retirement to be akin to a marathon, not a sprint. One of the retirement blogs I read suggested treating the first year after retirement as a sort of sabbatical or gap year. The point is that anyone successfully completing a long professional career needs some time to let go of the stress that naturally comes with achieving business success. The purpose is to make room for the energy necessary to move on to a new set of challenges. They may not be perceived as lofty as those of the business life, but I believe we all need something we are retiring to. I want to explore learning a language or how to play a musical instrument. Writing this blog series has gotten me interested in learning to be a better writer as well. I’d like to take advantage of the things I have learned throughout my career and community service experience and apply those skills to new organizations.

One observation I have made relates to encounters with friends who I haven’t seen for a number of months, after they begin their retirements. As they let go of their old business lives and embark on new satisfying endeavors, they often look younger. This observation reminded me of another article I recently read that discussed how the decades of your life after age 60 may be your best: The experiences we’ve gained during our lifetimes make us more courageous, and the choices we make are those that make us happy. Research has shown that older adults tend to be happier than younger ones; the benefits of retirement increase both your happiness and your health. And for those that engage in regular exercise and lifelong learning, the benefits are even more pronounced. They enhance the quality of social engagement, arguably the most important aspect of your retired life.

3) Regular Exercise

I’m not just talking about a one-hour stroll every day. As we get older, the cells in our muscles don’t regenerate as easily, and the energy producing components of those cells diminish over time. Including strenuous activity in your exercise routine goes a long way toward improving the chance for you to have more energy in your later years. A New York Times article on a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic reported that head researcher, Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, believed “…older people’s cells responded in some ways more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young did — suggesting, he says, that it is never too late to benefit from exercise.”

A perfect example of Dr. Nair’s study comes from a story I read recently about a 105 year old Frenchman, Robert Marchand, who set a new world record for distance cycled in one hour for those over 100 years old on an indoor track—clocking in at 14 miles. Mr. Marchand previously set the world record for this event in 2012 when he was 100. Encouraged by a French exercise researcher, Marchand agreed to add higher intensity workouts to his routine for two years, at which time he again rode the one hour timed event. During this stint he rode for 17 miles. While Mr. Marchand is an unusual case, it does demonstrate that being over 60 doesn’t mean we can’t improve athletic performance.

4) Lifelong Learning

Doing something new and challenging later in life has been found to measurably improve memory and other cognitive abilities. It doesn’t matter the activity type. Learning to play an instrument, write, act, learn a language or become competent in a new subject matter helps people feel prosperous in their later years. Engaging in new learning increases the ability to be socially active by engaging with others of similar interests. There is great benefit to learning something that requires discipline and practice.

5) Social Engagement

In October of 2015, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote a piece titled “The Moral Bucket List”. He observed that there are two sets of virtues: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are those that you brought to or obtained to accomplish in your career. Eulogy virtues are the ones that are shared at your funeral, and it’s these virtues that are more important than the resume ones. Many of us engage in activities that are over and above what’s necessary for our professional life, and many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

The combination of family, friends and community engagement are powerful forces in ensuring that retirement is full and fulfilling; it doesn’t happen by chance and requires effort and focus. The reward of deeper and stronger connections with those that you interact comes with a positive energy that should be very satisfying.

The gift that retirement gives is the time to explore new interests, new places and, hopefully, positive new feelings. The traditional answers to the question of what will you do in retirement of travel and family alone may not be enough for you. Retirement presents an opportunity to discover your whole self. There’s time to reflect on the accomplishments of your career and to plan for how you will engage in, what I hope, is a fulfilling last third of your life. Be bold. There’s a lot of life ahead, and the rewards that come from living it actively will be worth every effort you make.

As my career in public accounting and at Perkins draw to a close, I’ve made the choice to defer getting old as long as I can and have a plan to get there. In the final installment I’ll share a little bit about my experience.

About the author:

Grant Jones began his career in public accounting in 1977 and has been a shareholder at Perkins & Co since 1989. In fact, he’s the only remaining non-owner employee of the original Perkins & Co, which formed in 1986. He’s a leader in the firm’s Employee Benefit Plan Audits and Nonprofit practice groups and actively assists clients in managing operational, strategic, and ownership issues. He specializes in working with closely-held businesses in a variety of industries, and his areas of expertise include accounting and auditing, financial management, and general business consulting.

If you missed the first post in the “Have You Thought About Your Retirement Strategy?” series, be sure to check it out below and stay tuned for the last post.