Reaching retirement escape velocity

Remember the Apollo program?  Before going to the moon, one of the key challenges NASA had to overcome was figuring out how to get a rocket that weighed 6.7 million pounds and was 58 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty off the launch pad and into space. 

The solution rested in a concept called Escape Velocity.  It is the speed needed to break free of a gravitational field.  To reach space, the rocket needed to go fast enough and far enough to outrun (or “escape”) the pull of gravity.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.  As you transition into retirement, your career and other aspects of your pre-retirement life will be exerting their own gravitational pull.  To overcome that pull and enter a new exciting phase, you need to reach what I call Retirement Escape Velocity (or REV for short). 

Failure to reach REV means uncertainty, frustration and disappointment.  Reaching REV means you finish your pre-retirement years well and launch into a new phase of meaningful pursuits.  What are some ways to build up enough speed and momentum to reach your retirement escape velocity?

Have a goal.  On May 25, 1961 President Kennedy set the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” before the decade was out.  That goal was a primary driver for everyone working on the project.  Similarly, having specific goals can be an important driver of your retirement dreams.

Have a team and work together.  At its peak, there were 400,000 people and 20,000 companies and universities working on the Apollo Program.  When aiming for a big goal, it helps to have a good team.  That means you should be on the same page with your spouse and working together toward a common end.  It also means that you should have trusted advisers like your attorney, accountant and financial planner.

Overcome fears.  Think of every major thing you’ve done in life like getting married, having kids, starting that new business, or setting a big goal.  You likely felt some combination of fear, doubt, anticipation, joy and trepidation.  But looking back on your life, those are probably the things that you’re most proud of; the things that brought you the most meaning and purpose.  The same will be true of retirement if you reach for something great and overcome your fears.

Commit resources.  Landing men on the moon required the largest investment by any nation ever made during peacetime.  Money isn’t the most important element of a successful retirement, but it’s important.  Resources can be like rocket fuel.  Make sure you’re setting aside what you need.

Go in stages.  Each stage of a Saturn V rocket was designed to burn for several minutes and propel the craft through a certain leg of the journey.  Depending on your personality and circumstances, it might be wise to consider retiring in stages rather than all at once.  This will allow you to adjust to the new reality and focus on the transition without feeling rushed or unprepared.

Examine your unique situation.  Different planets have different pull.  You need to be going 11.2 km/s to escape the earth’s gravity.  To escape the sun’s gravity, however, you need to be going 617.5 km/s.  Each of us have different careers and circumstances leading up to retirement.  Some have jobs that they can walk away from at a moments notice.  Others may be the owner of the business or a key person in the management chain and significant preparations need to be made in order to move on.  Consider which you are and plan accordingly.

Spend time researching and testing.  President Kennedy outlined the lunar goal in 1961, but the first manned flight did not happen until October of 1968.  The period between was spent researching and testing.  As you move towards retirement, test out your budget to see if it’s realistic.  Spend time doing the hobbies and activities you have planned to make sure they fit you.  Visit the area where you plan to retire so you can begin to meet people and put down roots.  Doing these things will help you refine your plans and increase the odds that retirement will feel like a natural transition rather than a jarring change.

Have something that will replace the fulfillment you get from your job.  Many of us derive a great deal of satisfaction from working.  New retirees usually don’t miss their job per se, they miss the satisfaction and accomplishment that they felt from working.  Make sure that you have meaningful pursuits planned for retirement that can fill any void created by quitting your job.

Have a countdown checklist.  Each launch in the Apollo Program was preceded by a detailed countdown checklist to make sure that every step in the sequence of events was followed perfectly.  Use the Retirement Countdown Checklist at www.IntentionalRetirement.com as a reminder of what needs to be done and when you need to do it.

Simplify.  When an accident threatened Apollo 13, Gene Kranz was said to have focused his team by saying “Let’s work the problem people.”  As you enter retirement, you need to simplify and work the “problem.”  You should make both a “To Do” list and a “Stop Doing” list.  The latter will help you transition out of certain commitments and responsibilities so you can reach REV and focus on your new life.

Avoid an explosion on the launch pad.  There was enough fuel in a Saturn V rocket to cause a low grade nuclear explosion if it blew up on the launch pad.  I promise you, no one wanted that to happen, least of all the Astronauts inside.  Unfortunately, I have seen retirement for some people abrubtly ended by an explosion on the launch pad.  Most often this is the result of a key mistake like having too much of one’s nest egg in a particular stock (employees of Enron for example).  In order to reach REV, you need to get off the launch pad.  Don’t do anything that would jeopardize that.

As you can see, the less prepared you are—financially, emotionally, strategically—the more likely it will be that your job and pre-retirement life will trap you in a perpetual orbit.  To break free, follow the steps outlined above and your actions will propel you to an exciting new chapter in life.

Thanks for reading.  Touch base if I can ever help.

Joe

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