by Kevin Kern
After 5 months of home confinement, dozens of ZOOM meetings and rearranging the furniture my wife Sheila decided we needed to get out of the house. Before I knew enough to protest, we were on a plane to “Big Sky” country and Yellowstone National Park. Normally I would have jumped at this idea but hiking was not my strong suite and hiking with a mask seemed silly. And of course, there was COVID-19.
We glided through airports that smelled of Clorox and had the hotels to ourselves. Room service was no service and if you wanted a hairdryer you needed to prove you didn’t have a temperature. Other than that, everything else seem pretty normal. People were coping, the parks were empty and the animals didn’t care what we were dealing with.
Having gone from a fairly sedimentary 5 months to more than exceeding my daily steps count in the parks, I was beginning to feel as strong as the local moose that was ignoring us. Yet one day after scaling a side of a geyser, Sheila turned to me wanting a picture on top of the million-year-old volcano gurgling under our feet. Searching for more room in my lungs at 7,000 feet I told her I was not in the mood for a photo at that time. She returned with, “Yes, that is why I need a picture, we have nothing for your funeral”.
The charming Midwestern couple that was near us whipped their heads around to see the cold-hearted wife that would say such a thing. And after five minutes of my wife explaining that she went to a funeral recently and there weren’t enough pictures to remember our friend in life, our hiking partners lined up for their own casket Kodachromes.
A couple reasons for this story, firstly, I found that breaking away from home confinement was oxygen for my sole and in my opinion as safe as I wanted it to be. We are social animals (unlike the Yellowstone moose) and nearly half a year in the house was not healthy. There is a reason why the U.S. divorce rate is up 34% year over year. With death headlines swarming there was something comforting about “Big Sky” country. I felt very small and insignificant to all that was around me. It focused my mind on how lucky we are, not how scared we should be.
Secondly, and I preference this with “I love my wife dearly”, I realized that I am not ready for retirement.
Home confinement has been one big retirement dress rehearsal for many back-end baby boomers. And my play certainly needs a lot more work before opening night. Traveling was great. But after painting all the rooms in the house and straightening all the rock walls on the property I still very much look forward to Mondays
The idea of retirement for many is a numbers game. Once folks are convinced that they will be OK financially it can be a catalyst to begin the retirement journey. I have watched hundreds of clients at this exciting and critical stage of their lives. And unquestionably those that have found purpose in their retirement are the happiest. Retirement has to be more than just being a father, mother, grandma or grandfather. As one client told me, “My wife convinced me to retire and move closer to the kids. Then they moved further away.”
Clients that find fulfillment in building a better person and helping others after their careers are the happiest in retirement. While you are making your fiscal check lists for the potential day, ask yourself a couple of additional non-financial questions.
- What makes me the happiest? And how can I protect that?
- What will I do with more time to improve, give or create?
- Is it important for me to help others for the rest of my life?
- How will I stay healthy?
- What steps can I take to improve my social life in retirement?
- What community or religious organizations are important to me?
- And if there were no sports, grand kids, travel and restaurants; how would I find fulfillment?
COVID-19 has certainly made question #7 more real than outrageous. For some clients their careers have been fulfilling many of these questions. For other clients retirement will be much different than their parent’s as they continue to work and play much longer. But when the time is right, having planned your emotional retirement will have you far better prepared. Until such time, I hope you will be doing everything you can to delay the need for any photos for funerals.
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