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Archive for October, 2008

Retirement Changes Everything

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

So much changes when we retire.  Our roles in society.  The structure of our time.  The things people ask of us.  The way we set up the week.  How we see ourselves.  How society sees us.  What our families expect of us–and think of us.  And on and on and on.  Yet there is little available to get us ready for all these transitions.

Before we retire, we look longingly at what is on the sometimes-way-too-distant horizon–the chance to give up all we are doing now and just STOP.  To retire.  When we are running too fast from thing to thing with too much to do and not enough time to get it done, the appeal of this “do nothing” future is unparalleled.

Don’t be fooled.  It’s a mirage.

Doing nothing is no more satisfying that doing too much.  The trick is to do enough and to do it on the right things.  This is where the real treasure of retirement lies.  But it’s not at all like the “do nothing unless I want to” fantasy that we usually leave work with.

What happens when we no longer have to get the work we’ve been paid to do for years done?  If you’ve been doing a job you hated, the loss is truly liberating.  But if there is anything about that work that gave you satisfaction, you will find yourself feeling less about yourself and wondering why.

Odd as it sounds, part of the problem is that we no longer have the authority of the job we did so well.  Yes, authority.  Even if you have been cleaning motel rooms for a living, there was value in what you did, and you had the responsibility and the authority to get it done.  You had a role to play that went beyond  “whatever I feel like.”  You had things that were expected of you. And you knew how to do them and do them well.  When you give that up, you might want to put some thought into how you are going to retain your sense of relevance.  And your sense of competence.

For those of us who were in jobs that weren’t particularly satisfying, that “something else” might be a bit easier to latch onto.  My dad spent over 40 years making paper for Kimberly Clark.  What he really wanted to do was write, sketch, and paint pictures.  When he left work–a couple years early because of health problems, these interests carried him the rest of his life–another 24 years.

My grandfather was a different story.  When he retired, he sat down. And pretty much stayed there.  Whenever we went to visit grandma and grandpa, he was in that easy chair, watching television.  He retired from an office job but had owned a successful commercial fishing business earlier in his career years.  He too lived another twenty plus years after he retired.  I use the term loosely though.  What he did with his days was so uninspired that it almost seemed like he had died but forgot to stop breathing.

The “extended vacation” model isn’t going to get you what you need as retirement.  It just doesn’t work to be “on vacation” for twenty years.  You lose your sense of direction and your sense of time when you are “gone” for that long.  Remember how hard it is to figure out what day of the week it is when you don’t have things you have to do?  Well, don’t build a life out of that!

Okay, so if you are ready to leave what you are doing and have no idea what about it you are going to miss–and what you want to do instead–does that mean you need to keep working?  Not at all.  It means you need to start paying attention to yourself so that you can start to remedy that information deficiency.

We all have interests, whether we acknowledge them or not.  We all have skills and abilities that give us a leg up on doing certain things.  We have longings that allow us room to find a new source of “being an authority.”  It might be as the builder of doll houses and it might be as the builder of Habitat for Humanity houses, but if it’s you, honoring it will give you the greatest thrill of your life.

So give up the rat race if you can and it’s time.  Give up the workload that keeps you from the rest of what you enjoy.  But find things to learn and become good at that make you have that sense of authority, that feeling that “Yes, I do know a lot about this and I’d be happy to help you with it.”

How Greed Happens

Saturday, October 11th, 2008


How Greed Happens

We have two choices as the US economy convulses. We can point fingers and blame the people most obviously at fault. Or we can get serious about fixing it and admit our own part in this mess.The first option is a victim role—easy and appealing because we’ve given victims an honored place for decades. But it’s not the way out of this mess. To really fix it, we need to understand what made it happen–rather than pointing to a specific “who”–and implement a system of checks and balances so it doesn’t happen again.

This financial debacle is supported by a huge, stinking pile of greed. Greed per Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.”Yep.We are drowning in a sea of that. It’s not just the sub-prime wizards who are guilty though.

It’s easy to see greed in preposterous CEO salaries. It’s easy to see it in those who “made a killing” selling houses to people who couldn’t afford them. It’s not so easy to see our own greed. But that’s what we have to look at to get this fixed.

Buying things we can’t afford when they’re not essential is greed. Why? Because we’re using that kind of shallow stuff to feel good about ourselves. We think that if we have that, we’ll be “successful.” Martha Beck refers to it as “the shallows” and contends that “the real reason we feel so starved in the shallows is that we aren’t made to be satisfied with material possessions or with concepts of ourselves as famous, noble, smart, handsome, righteous, influential, blah blah blah.”

We are way off track on creating truly satisfying lives for ourselves. Instead of doing what we believe is important, we do whatever makes us money so we can buy stuff. Instead of doing work in which we believe, we sell out so we can keep buying. But filling the hole where meaning belongs with “stuff” is never enough. Or as Matthew Kelly puts it in The Rhythm of Life, “You never can get enough of what you really don’t need.”

What we really do need is a chance to connect fully with other people, a chance to prove our competence in what we do, and a chance to claim our authentic purpose in what we commit our time, effort, and money to. We don’t need the 54” plasma TV. We need to get out there and help someone learn to read. We don’t need a $1000 outfit. We need to find the joy of a real hug.

Greed is a dead end. When we get on that road, we get lost easily. We take the road because it’s got the neon of Madison Avenue pointing the way. It looks “exciting.” But a dead end is a dead end, razzle-dazzle or not. Before we get this mess fixed as a nation, we need to individually chart a better course. We need the high road—of meaning, of integrity, of purpose.

If you are sitting there congratulating yourself because you are debt-free with money in the bank, don’t get too comfy .Martin Luther King warned “Our lives begin the end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

We must say “You’re going the wrong way” to loved ones who are buying things they can’t afford. We need to stop enabling that wrong behavior by giving them money to make ends meet when they can’t. We need to YELL about the self-serving foolishness of offering credit cards to people who are already deeply in debt. There oughtta be a law!

Let’s not assume that this will “correct itself” as lending institutions bear the consequences of their own version of greed—the defaults of the heavily burdened, interest-paying creditors they’ve cultivated–as the credit situation tightens. We need to do our part, too. Say “No” to greed.

We need to get back on the high road of integrity and purpose. The view is nicer, it costs less, there’s more true satisfaction, and you sleep better.

Healthy Savers, Spend!

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

This post if for those who spend their time and save their money.  I’ve been pretty adamant that people who don’t have the money to pay for it should stop buying things.  For the rest of you, that seems so elementary you’re probably wondering about my sanity.  Right now, you’re probably hunkered down as if tanks had rolled into town, denying yourself the simplest of pleasures even when you can pay for them.  We need a different strategy from you, too.

If you are 95% sure you will outlive the money you already have put away, please consider spending some of it now.  I know, that sounds like lunacy, but the only way to get the economy going somewhere close to the right direction again is to keep commerce flowing.  The free-wheeling folks with the high credit card balances are going to have to stop, but that doesn’t mean you need to.  Please don’t scrimp on food because it feels like you need to be frugal.  Please don’t decide to forgo the vacation you can afford–especially if you are going somewhere in the United States.    Please don’t avoid buying what you need if you DO have the money to pay for it.

For me, that’s a scary idea.  In any economic downturn, my first and continued strategy is to cut back.  To not buy anything I absolutely can’t do without.   But if I have the wherewithal, I need to look that fear in the eye and go buy something.  And if you have the cash to do it, so do you.

Those of us who’ve been better at making money than spending it are not as conspicuous.  (Who knows how many of us there are?)  We wear five-year old jeans and a worn tee shirt and focus on doing what we enjoy.  Maybe for you it’s reading or working crossword puzzles or hiking.  Maybe it’s volunteering or spending time with family.   Please get out of your wonderfully effective rut and do something bold.  Spend some money. It can make a difference in whether we get back on track as a nation.  Really.

But do not spend it bailing out loved ones who have gotten themselves into credit trouble.  (That’s what a healthy saver would typically do.)  They need to learn the really hard lessons this time around so they stop doing that for good.  Instead, buy something you deserve.  If you do, you win three times.  You get the nice thing, you help improve the nation’s economic chances, and you help that loved one who needs to learn figure it out.

And there’s another benefit in this.  People stay healthier if they can find a way to take action when things aren’t going right.  Wise spending by those who would otherwise pass the money on to grandkids is good action for this dilemma.

If you have money to spare, please make plans to buy something soon.