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Archive for December, 2010

The “Foolishness” of Not Preparing for Retirement

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

All those boomers who can’t afford to retire may not be the losers the “experts” make them out to be.  Another big study just came out reporting that millions of people on the brink of retirement don’t have the money saved to pull it off.   That may not be a bad thing.

Perhaps it’s the people making the predictions who need to stand back and take a better look at what’s going on. If it was all that important to those people to be able to retire, they would have prepared for it. But even before the financial meltdown of the last few years, baby boomers were not seeing the retirement years as the extended vacation it’s being painted as by financial planners and real estate developers.

In a study of over 3000 boomers in 2005, the Met Life Foundation found only 17% wanted to never work for pay again once they retired. Six percent wanted to go to work full time at something else. Seventeen percent want to work part time, 16% want to own their own businesses, and 6% want to do “other” things like join the Peace Corps.

For those of you who’ve been keeping track of the arithmetic on this, that leaves 42% still unexplained. What do they want to do? Cycle in and out of work. What better way to be sure you do that than to not have the money to “stay” retired? Many who do have the money do that same thing when they retire simply because it’s more enjoyable.

As a nation, we would be wise to look at how to use this immense temporary talent pool effectively instead of lamenting the “unretireability” of the masses. If we actually put some effort into using the potential of this segment of the population instead of shaming them for not trying to be what they never wanted to be in the first place, we would all win.

Economic boon
People who are actively earning are more willing to spend money than those living on passive income–even if there’s plenty of passive income involved. Even wealthy retirees adopt frugal behaviors, partly because it’s a way to demonstrate competence. If we gave these people the chance to work even a quarter of the time, the  loosened purse strings would have a startling positive effect on the economy.

Government cost containment
People who are engaged get sick less. They don’t dwell on their health problems because they have more interesting things to do. Both of those things mean trips to the doctor, the hospital, and to the medical lab will go down for those on Medicare. Let these people work some of the time and they will take better care of themselves simply so they can keep on doing that.  “First you retire and then you get sick” is true way too often.

Social hat trick
Work is one of the best sources of self-worth on the planet. When people get paid, they know they are good at something and that translates into a more positive attitude overall. A postivie attitude has been linked to better health, plus they are more effective contributors to the common good because they believe they can still make a difference.

In addition, getting retired workers involved on a part time basis can cut down on the workload of those in their prime work years who are stressed into illness and poor performance because of there is simply too much that they are expected to do in how we are going about it now.

Third, putting retired talent in the same place as the newest generation of workers will help develop work habits that are currently lacking in younger hires. The “old hands” can also pass down the knowledge needed to solve problems without creating new ones–knowledge there is no “ap” for.

Boomers have not saved for retirement because it’s retirement itself that needs to retire. The old cultural set-up simply won’t work with such a disproportionate number in the “retiring” generation and so few in the one that follows. (There are 77 million boomers and only 40 million in Generation X.) Instead of lamenting what individuals aren’t doing, we need to be building bridges to a whole new version of this time of life.

Once you are “old enough to retire,” the desire is for flexibility, not pure leisure. If we can harness the talent available in that pool and use it to make our for profit and not-for-profit efforts more effective, we all win–again and again and again.

This notion that boomers are stupid for not “getting ready to retire” is itself stupid. What the experts are urging them to get ready for is not, and was never, what they want to do. Let’s run with reality and shape some of the work that needs to be done so it replaces retirement.


The Value of “Not Knowing”

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

We live in a culture that dwells on “knowing,” but that may not be the best perspective for a good life. Accepting that you “don’t  know” is the first step toward learning something new. It’s also the fertile ground in which faith and hope grow.

Winter Solstice–the shortest day of the year–intrigues me more every year. What is there in the dark that I need to make peace with? What is there in “not knowing” that I need to value more than I do? There are insights the darkness has to give that I just keep glossing over as I reach to turn on yet another light. (This time of year is kind of like twilight alternating with midnight in the Pacific Northwest.)

Last year about this time, I got a really good lesson in what I’ve been missing about the dark–about accepting not being able to “see” everything. I was having a major problem with leg pain and was sure I knew what was causing it–an inherited nerve problem that pops up every once in a while in new and different ways and takes six months or more to heal. But my “knowing” was false and I prolonged recovery unnecessarily by assuming I had it all figured out. As it turned out, the problem was with my back. Once I sought help and learned that, I could also learn the exercises the physical therapist customized for me for the problem. (She was excellent at being comfortable “not knowing.”   The first session was 90 minutes of her figuring out just what made it hurt so she could show me what to do to make it not hurt.)

Not knowing was essential to solving the problem. I skipped that step and made myself miserable for six months.

We’ve been doing the same thing in Congress of late. Entrenched positions rest heavily on the assumption that you alone–or with your cronies–know what’s needed. The resulting opinion is rigid and impervious to other ways of seeing the problem, other options for creating a solution, and collaboration in general. How can we solve anything if people who don’t know are convinced beyond a doubt that they do know?!

Becoming comfortable with not knowing connects you to the larger world. When you know you don’t know, you see yourself as just a piece of a grander whole. It’s not “all about you”–the world is bigger than what you can comprehend.  Grasping that makes your need for control diminish. Instant stress relief!

Even better, not knowing means there’s room for faith. For believing that there’s more to come. That you will have help when you need it. That you will know at some point in the future. That life is unfolding, and that your place in the Universe is real but not totally revealed. That faith might be in God, but it can also be in the goodness of man, the rightness of what comes into your life, in the importance of loving. Faith takes you out of the realm of “having to know” and suspends you in acceptance that you can’t know–and that that’s just fine.

Not knowing also sows the seeds of hope. The mystery of tomorrow has more room for good surprises and happy outcomes when we don’t engineer it from what we think should come next.

In a few more days, many of us will engage in that interesting process called “New Year’s resolutions.” It’s good to want to improve, and we do know enough to make a few plans for new directions with our lives. But leave room in that planning for not knowing. Learning is an on-going process. We should still “not know” all that we hope to on the day we die. And may we have many happy days of “not knowing” before that comes.

Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

This time of year, stress is everybody’s “best friend.” No matter how hard you try to “keep things under control” the holiday season seems to devolve at some point into a meltdown, a blow up, or both.


Probably 80% of why things go wrong is because we are pushing so hard to make them go right. “I have to get my cards out in the next two days.” “Little Jennie is going to be so disappointed if I can’t find that baby doll that cries real tears.” “It’s the holidays, I need to bring something more interesting to the office potluck than veggies and dip.”

The overload comes with the best of intentions. And the worst of consequences. When things go very wrong at this time of year, it feels a thousand times worse. Not only have I not done that thing that everyone was counting on me to do, I have now come unglued in front of God and everybody during “the holidays.”

You don’t even see it coming, most of the time. Suddenly, someone does something minor, and you react in a major way. A few days ago this became very clear to me when a guy in a pick-up half a football field behind me when I changed lanes pulled up behind me at the next stop light honking and waving his middle finger. Did he really think he had exclusive rights to the lane? Or was some “holiday thing” getting the best of him.

I have discovered that, left to automatic responses, I tend to find fault more at this time of year. (How’s that for “Happy Holidays?!” )  Maybe you’re doing that, too, and don’t realize it.

At a minimum, let’s all do each other a favor and throttle back on all the huge elaborate plans. We don’t need to have prime rib and lobster for Christmas dinner. Expecially not with Yorkshire pudding and drawn butter and seven different sides. We don’t need a huge tree, seventeen gifts for each family member, and four family events within the same 24 hours.

Whatever holiday you are actually celebrating, it didn’t start because of a need to outdo the next guy with yard displays and open house spreads. So instead of rushing around trying to get every elaborate idea you’ve come up with accomplished,  stand back, take some deep breaths, and think “Goodwill” or “Peace” or “Bless us one and all.”  Or maybe “What, of all this, am I enjoying?”

The twelve-foot tall wooden solder to greet your party guests on the porch really isn’t worth it. That Grinch, Mr. Stress, is waiting behind it, and you don’t need him.


When Things Go Wrong

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Sometimes, things just don’t turn out the way you want. And that’s okay.

A few hours ago, I finished an all-day seminar for my local library district. It was a class on job search skills for 50+ workers that I volunteered to do because I’m a good resource on that subject and 50+ are getting a lot of bad advice. (Why is everyone telling them to pretend they don’t have more than ten years experience?!)

But even the best of intentions can get lost in the mess of a not-so-good experience and today was a case in point. It just plain hurt that the branch was not more organized, more cordial, more pleased that we’d organized the effort on behalf of their patrons. Instead, it felt more like I’d been sent to administer castor oil to every single one of them.

Equally discouraging, only a quarter of those who’d registered for the class bothered to show up–or at least that’s all who made it to the classroom. (Staff also had a little problem comprehending that it was their job to help them find an open door since the class started two hours before the library opened.)

It wasn’t a total bust. Those who did attend were grateful, and they learned a lot that will help them as they hunt for that next job. But I’m still thinking about that library staff.  And about the experience, which was, I hate to admit, humiliating.

Ah,…”Humiliating. ”  Now the light is starting to dawn.  I feel abused–victimized by a bunch of inept librarians.

Yes, their performance was inadequate and unfair.  But that’s life.  It happens sometimes.  Choosing to feel agrieved about it is the worse sin though.  Victim status is a waste of time and energy.

I’d like to believe that I’m better at that “moving on” stuff than when I was younger. But when I come up against something like this, I realize it’s an ongoing challenge. For me.  For most of us.  Last week, it was something else and next week it will something else yet again.

The way each of us spends our time is a personal choice. Sometimes we barter it for money to put food on the table; sometimes we use it to support something we believe in. But to stay in balance, it always has to be used in ways that reflect goodness–of self and of life.  When the reality of the moment is not in that balance, it’s time to say “no.”  Perhaps not immediately but to the prospect of repeating the situation.

“Move on.” Yes .  “Never again.”  Yes.   “Poor me,  I’m a victim!”  Nahhh.


Is Retirement Dying?

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Sometimes, obsolescence sneaks up on you. That’s what’s happening with “retirement.”

In the last few years, new labels for this stage of life have proliferated.  Instead of retiring, people should “rewire.” They need to take on an “encore career.”  The transition is to a “portfolio life.”  Retirement means they become the Third Wave or Second Halfers.  Instead of the “golden years” they are really stepping into the “silver years.”  Every one of these terms has been used by a well-meaning author and advocate to help clarify “what’s really going on.”

The sheer volume of alternatives to the word “retirement” is baffling.  Why haven’t we found a favorite and gotten on with it?  For several years now, I’ve been assuming we just hadn’t found the right new word yet—that we were on the right track but not far enough to see the destination.   But recently, daylight dawned.  This train is just plain going to the wrong place.

This isn’t about coming up with a catchy new label for doing roughly the same thing.  It’s time to retire the concept of retirement, not just the word.  We are moving in a whole new direction in how we will live after leaving the conventional workforce.  This is a cultural earthquake not a sonic boom.  And the label will have to wait until we can really see what’s got staying power as part of it.

For the time being, our best collective strategy should be accepting that retirement is no longer relevant.  This is not because people “don’t have enough money to retire.”  It’s because buying that lifestyle would be like buying 8-track tapes or typewriter ribbons.  The world has moved on to better things.

Experts have warned that baby boomers aren’t saving enough to retire for over a decade.  That behavior was blamed on our lust for “things” and an immature need for instant gratification.  But maybe it was just a case of not listening to Uncle Ned when he advised us to stockpile 1980 NFL pro football jerseys as an investment.

As a culture and as individuals, we need to create a more contemporary set of options for living the last third of our lives.  Retiring to a leisure-centered lifestyle doesn’t fetch it anymore—just like VHR and party lines.

What does the new world include?

Work–at least some of the time.   If you want to avoid mental, physical, and emotional decline as you age, you need some kind of work.  It challenges you in ways that leisure never will.  Besides, we know a lot and have skills that will take decades to replicate—if ever.  Once the culture sees the value of creating options for working that complement what the fulltime career workforce can accomplish, this door will open.   It will be good for everyone—especially business.

Balance.  Having the chance to do the things wee didn’t have time to do when we were working seems important, but is it?  You’ll run out of interesting things to do in a hurry if all you focus on is what you haven’t been able to get to.  There’s a reason you haven’t gotten to it—it didn’t have the priority.  But it is important to build a lifestyle that gives you time with those you love, time to create, time to reflect, and time to play–as well as time to work.  

Flexibility.  This is the central tenet for replacing the old retirement model.  In fact, finding ways for every worker—not just the oldest ones—to have more control over when they get the work done would probably unleash a wave of creative genius and productivity to rival the Industrial Revolution.

Opportunities to use what we know in ways that can’t be automated or outsourced to other countries.  Dan Pink does a nice job of laying out what it’s going to take to keep jobs in the most developed countries in A Whole New Mind.  Older workers have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to bring to bear on a wide range of challenges.  Finding ways to do that is way better than playing slot machines at the local casino.

When you take traditional retirement, you officially “give up” work.  That’s a bad idea.  There are better options now.