“What could cause this to fail?”
That’s what I asked myself before heading to the Grand Canyon recently for a 47 mile, Rim to Rim to Rim hike with my friend Mike. The answer, it turns out, is “A LOT of things could cause it to fail.” In fact, there’s a 400 page book dedicated solely to detailing all of the deaths that have occurred in the canyon in modern times. I know because I read it. I wanted to see all the dumb, misguided, or sometimes just unlucky decisions people made that ended very badly so I could avoid those same blunders. I like adventure as much as the next guy, but priority #1 is coming home alive. Hence my question: What could go wrong and how can I avoid it? I call this process a Pre-Mortem.
You’ve likely heard of a Post Mortem. When someone dies, the medical examiner will often do a Post Mortem exam to determine cause of death. Similarly, when a project fails at work, the team responsible for said failure will often do a project Post Mortem to determine what went wrong. Post mortems can be helpful because people can learn from them and lessons can be used to avoid future mistakes.
The downside of a Post Mortem is the Post (after) part. Whatever it is you’re examining has already gone horribly wrong and the game is over. The opportunity is gone. Others can learn from your mistakes, but your chance is gone.
A better thing to do would be to do a Pre-Mortem. Instead of “Why did this fail?” ask yourself “What might cause this to fail?” Look at your own weak points and vulnerabilities. Examine other people who have failed doing something similar. What can you learn from them? How can you avoid similar mistakes or pitfalls?
The application to retirement is obvious. Retirement is a relatively short period of time when you hope to live a secure, exciting and fulfilling life. The problem is you’ve only got one shot at it and there are a whole mess of variables, any one of which could derail your plans. By doing a Pre-Mortem, you examine your unique situation and consider the most probable things that could cause your retirement to get sideways. Then you do everything you can to plan and prepare so those things either don’t happen or you’re well equipped to deal with them if they do. Result: Retirement goes off without a hitch.
What are some of the more common things that derail retirement?
- Running out of money
- Death of a spouse
- Health issues with you or a spouse
- No clear plans for what you want to do
- Lack of friends
- Depression/anxiety due to major life change
- Market crash
- Unexpected job loss
- Family issues (children, relative, etc.)
- Caring for elderly parents
- Living longer than you expected
- High debt or other poor financial decisions
- Health care costs
- Mistakes claiming Social Security
- Mistakes with your distribution strategy
Which are the most likely to trip up your plans? Think honestly about your life, your finances, your health, your family and your friendships. What things do you honestly see as the biggest potential threats to your retirement? What can you do to either prevent them or at least be prepared to deal with them if they arise? Spend some time thinking about this now and you’ll greatly improve your odds for a successful retirement.
By the way, the Grand Canyon hike went off without a hitch. Time to rest my feet for a while and start planning the next adventure.