My wife Sandy & I were walking down the concourse of Johannesburg International Airport on our way to meet our National Geographic photo safari group. This was our first safari and our first trip to Africa. We were excited but also a little apprehensive. All we knew was that we would be traveling by small private plane to save time and it would allow us to see more.
As we walked through the terminal Sandy noticed a plane on the tarmac. She commented, “I hope that’s not our plane, it looks really old. That thing ought to be retired.” I let her comment pass.
We met up with our group and introduced ourselves to our guide who laid out plans for the next several weeks. Then she said, “Let me introduce you to our aircraft,” and she pointed to the old plane Sandy thought should be retired.
Our guide informed us that our plane was commissioned in 1941 and flew many critical missions during World War II…1941 was the year before Sandy & I were born! This was not going well for Sandy’s confidence and I started to get concerned as well. I felt an elbow in my side with Sandy’s comment, “We’re going to die on this trip.”
To make a long story short, our “old, should have been retired aircraft” was magnificent. It not only carried us safely, it was the perfect transport for our safari. We were able to fly low so we could see the animals below, and we felt safe because it was able to fly on one engine, and it could even land on no engines!
After we returned home, I was reflecting on the journey. It occurred to me that this old plane would never compete with transcontinental jets, yet it found its niche. Someone saw the value of the plane and refurbished it for this reincarnation. I found myself thinking:
“Just because we reach a certain age, doesn’t mean that we can’t be the best there is at what we do.”
The term “retire” means to take out of use. Do we really want to no longer be useful? I don’t think so. But the truth is that society dismisses many workers just because they reach Social Security full retirement age. These vital, experienced, and knowledgeable employees are put out to pasture when they are at the top of their game. And many don’t want to leave the game.
I count myself as one of those people. When I was approaching traditional retirement age, I realized that I really didn’t want to stop working. I couldn’t envision myself at home every day with no agenda, no plan. But I also realized that I needed to make an arrangement in my financial planning practice so my clients wouldn’t be left high and dry if there was suddenly a reason why I couldn’t keep working.
My solution was to merge the practice with an existing firm that had the same values I brought to the client relationship. My hope was to create a seamless transition for my clients. The process was lengthy. It took a lot of thinking and planning and strategizing to fully complete the transition. I believe I was successful. My clients are in good hands.
Now I was clear to reinvent myself just as the plane was reinvented. I couldn’t imagine not having a work life to wake up to every day. So I started a new business that grew out of my knowledge and experiences as both a financial advisor and as an entrepreneur. It also meets some needs I wasn’t free to work on before.
“Retirement” doesn’t have to be an ending. Instead, consider it a transition to a new chapter. And as a planner, I must stress that in order to have the best life possible, there must be a plan.
Furthermore, the plan should be flexible to deal with the twists and turns in the road that everyone deals with. Rather than let other people and events dictate your life, the plan should have the capacity to accommodate continually expanding interests and wants. I would also stress that this planning process should begin even before traditional retirement age. How can you even know how much money you might need until you know how you want to spend it?
Just as someone had the passion to reinvent a life for that airplane, made it the best for the job, and found a market that would appreciate its value, we need to do this for ourselves.
We must think seriously about how to envision our life. We should focus on what we want to do. This is our passion. We should focus on what we’re good at doing. This is our excellence. And finally, we should focus on the marketplace that will value our passion and excellence. This combination is what I call P.E.P., passion, excellence, and perceived value. Knowing this about ourselves, as well as what we want out of life, and where we want to go, figuratively and literally, will create the framework needed to design the life of our dreams.
There are a lot of years ahead, so start thinking and planning now.
I invite you to explore issues and more on my bi-weekly podcast, Changing the Rules. Find it on your favorite podcast site or go to Changing The Rules.
By Raymond D. Loewe, MBA, CLU, ChFC