How to sow the seeds of a secure, meaningful life.

How to sow the seeds of a secure, meaningful life.

I was driving past a large cornfield the other day—I live in Nebraska after all—and had a few thoughts on sowing and reaping.  We’ve all heard the phrase “You reap what you sow.”  That’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Yes, if you plant corn, you’ll get corn.  No surprise there.  But there’s also an element of time and quantity.  Time in the sense that it takes time for the seeds you plant to germinate, grow and yield their crop.  Quantity in the sense that you often yield much more than you plant.  With corn, for example, 10 pounds of seed typically yields 7,280 pounds (130 bushels per acre) of corn.  So we reap what we sow, but it takes time and the output usually exceeds input.

As I’m sure you’ve deduced, I’m not talking about corn.  I’m talking about living a secure, purpose filled, meaningful life.  You won’t get a crop that you didn’t plant.  If you want security and meaning, you need to plant “seeds” that will yield those things.  Seeds that yield financial independence.  Seeds that yield quality relationships.  Seeds that yield a healthy body and mind.  Seeds that yield meaningful work.  Seeds that yield unique experiences and lifelong learning.  Seeds that yield satisfaction, contentment, happiness and fulfillment.  And once those seeds are planted, you need to nurture them just like the farmer waters, fertilizes and weeds his crop.   And then one day, you will have a bountiful harvest.  Some of your crops will mature quickly.  Some will take more time.  Either way, don’t wait.  Start planting today with tomorrow’s harvest in mind. 

21 things that reduce your odds of retirement success

21 things that reduce your odds of retirement success

How are those 2020 plans working out for you?  In crazy and uncertain times, it’s easy to get sidetracked.  To feel helpless and stressed.  To give up or get discouraged.  To ask: “What’s the point?”  To pick up bad habits.  And even to actively do things that reduce your odds of long-term retirement success.  Things like:

  • Not being intentional with your time and money
  • Not exercising
  • Eating badly
  • Drinking too much
  • Not learning new things
  • Having too much debt
  • Neglecting your marriage
  • Not investing in your friendships
  • Associating with the wrong people
  • Allowing yourself to get bitter over circumstances
  • Taking life for granted and assuming it will go on forever
  • Getting stuck in routine
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Not taking some “at bats.”
  • Letting the headlines derail your investment strategy
  • Doing nothing instead of doing what excites you
  • Not taking care of your mental and emotional health
  • Caring too much about what others think
  • Mimicking others rather than deciding what you really want out of life
  • Having an external vs. internal locus of control (i.e. “Everything is out of my control.”)
  • Waiting

Are you struggling with anything on that list?  If so, what’s one thing you can stop doing this week because it is holding you back and harming your chances of a successful life and retirement?   What’s one thing that needs to go because it doesn’t align with what you want your life to be?  Don’t let a difficult year derail all your hard work.  It’s time to weed the proverbial garden.

Be Intentional,

Joe

Why COVID-19 may be the best thing to ever happen to your retirement

Why COVID-19 may be the best thing to ever happen to your retirement

“It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good.” – Pa Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie

COVID-19 has been a tragedy.  There’s no disputing that.  Thousands dead.  Millions sick.  Millions more jobless.  It’s hard to overstate the negative impacts of the pandemic.  And yet, to paraphrase Pa Ingalls, even terrible situations can produce some good.  As difficult as this time has been, I can’t help but think that many of us will look back on it as one of the best things to happen to us.  Not in a “I just won the lottery!” sort of way, but in a “Painful, but positive” sort of way.  Keep reading to see what I mean and to see how you can make sure that this “ill wind” blows some good for your retirement.

It forces us out of routine.  It’s easy to get in a rut.  Easy to put life on autopilot and live the same day over and over.  Even if we don’t like the rut we’re in, we’ll often stay there because it feels safe.  Human nature is such that we will often choose being unhappy over being uncertain.  One thing this virus has done in spades is forced us all to live life in a different way.  It grabbed the steering wheel and yanked us out of the rut.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it’s almost certainly a good thing.  It gives us a fresh perspective.  It helps time pass more slowly (because routine is the enemy of time).  It opens us up to new experiences and new ways of thinking about things.  It presents new opportunities.  Yes, it brings uncertainty, but hiding in all that uncertainty is opportunity.  Look for it.

It forces us to reexamine our priorities.  Priorities are the things in life that are most important to us.  They are the people, activities or things that we really care about and that bring us meaning.  When life is going along swimmingly and we’re healthy and have plenty of time and money, we tend to get lazy.  We allow things in that clutter or confuse our priorities.  When life gets hard, however, and one or more of our priorities are threatened, it refocuses our mind on what’s important.  Hard times force us to cut and say “no.”  They force us to get back to the basics.  That means a life less cluttered with filler and more focused on the things that bring you joy and meaning.  That’s a good thing.

It forces us to think differently about debt.  When the economy is strong and interest rates are low, it’s tempting to add debt.  You almost feel foolish if you don’t.  “One percent interest?  Why wouldn’t I buy a $60,000 car?”  But when hard times hit, servicing that debt becomes difficult if not impossible.  Debt increases risk and reduces cash flow.  It adds stress.  It can derail your plans and dreams.  It weakens your financial “immune system.”  The pandemic is a good reminder to use debt sparingly.  

It shows the fallacy of “appearances.”  On a sunny day, a house built on the sand doesn’t look any different than a house built on rock.  But when the storms come, the difference is pretty clear.  It’s easy to get caught up in appearances.  It’s tempting to keep up with the Jones’s.  But even in the best of times, that strategy can be stressful and unfulfilling.  In bad times it can be catastrophic.  Machiavelli once wrote “The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities.”  Don’t be one of those people.  Build a life that is happy, secure and fulfilling, not one that only looks good on Instagram.

It exposes our weaknesses.  Warren Buffett once said “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked.”  There’s nothing like a combination global pandemic + financial crisis to help expose your weaknesses.  Too much risk in your investments?  Too much debt?  No rainy day fund?  Strained relationship with your spouse?  Underlying health issues you’ve been ignoring?  Settling for a life that isn’t what you want?  If the tide went out and you find yourself a bit overexposed, maybe it’s time to go shopping for a swimsuit.

One of the most important ingredients to a successful retirement is to decide what you really want out of life and to start taking those things very seriously.  COVID-19, while terrible, has likely helped you in that regard by forcing you to reexamine your habits, routines, priorities, purpose, relationships, finances, lifestyle and any number of other things.  Embrace that process and you’ll likely come out the other side a stronger, more resilient, more self-aware person.  

What are some practical ways to apply all this?  I’ll put a few ideas below along with links to articles and resources at Intentional Retirement.

Be Intentional,

Joe

An intentional life should focus primarily on the present

An intentional life should focus primarily on the present

Quick thought for today.  If you want to live an intentional life, you should focus primarily on the present.  Let me explain.  We all spend part of our days—either mentally or physically—in the past, present or future.  You’re sitting there right now in the present, but maybe you’re thinking about something you did this past weekend or dreaming about something you hope to be doing 5 years from now.  Past, present and future.  We all spend our time inhabiting each of those spaces. 

Unfortunately, most of us mess up the proportions. We spend too much time and energy on the past and the future and not enough on the present.  We look back and worry about the things we did or didn’t do.  We look forward and dream about the things we hope to eventually do.  That only leaves a small amount of our time where we’re honest to goodness living in and making the most out of the present.

I’m not saying that you should ignore the past and the future, but the present should be your priority.  Anything else means you’re focusing on things you can’t change (the past) or things that might not happen (the future).  Here are a few suggestions on how to get the balance right.

How to use your past:  Don’t obsess over it.  Don’t waste your time thinking about regrets or wishing you had done or said things differently.  Don’t cling to bitterness.  Don’t hold grudges. Instead, think fondly of the good times and be grateful for the wisdom earned and lessons learned from the challenging times.  Use it as a foundation to build on.  Remember the people, places and things that made you who you are. 

How to prepare for your future:  Don’t push everything to the future.  Don’t treat it as some magical time where you’ll finally start living.  Delayed gratification is great if it’s allowing you to work toward something, but it becomes a problem if it becomes an excuse for life avoidance.  Use the runway between the present and the future for planning and preparation.  Use it to set the proper direction for your life and to get any necessary prerequisites out of the way.  Use it to set goals, dream, plan, save and even to experiment.  All of those things will help you hit the ground running and make the most out of your future years. 

How to live in the present:  Don’t get bogged down in the routine of life.  Don’t focus all your time on the maintenance of living.  Don’t live a life that is frantic and unintentional.  Be present in your days, with your friends and during experiences like vacations rather than worrying about how to make it look a certain way on social media.  Decide what you really want out of life and start doing that.  Today.  Even if you have to start small, start.  Have intentional action in your relationships, activities, health, hobbies, pursuits and every other area of your life.  Be proactive.  Learn.  Do.  Go.  Experiment.  Take risks.  In other words, live.   

A good balance of past/present/future is something like 10/60/30.  If yours looks more like 30/20/50, you’re not really living life.  You’re worrying about the life you’ve already lived and dreaming about a life you hope to someday live. 

At Intentional Retirement, we believe that retirement is an intentional way of living that prioritizes freedom, fulfillment, purpose and relationships.  It starts today and is an incremental process of aligning your lifestyle and actions with your highest priorities.  To do that, you need to focus on the present.  Stop fretting over what is past or dreaming about what is to come.  Today is a new day.  Start doing.

Be Intentional,

Joe

The importance of friends to a healthy, happy retirement

The importance of friends to a healthy, happy retirement

How healthy are your friendships?  The answer will have a huge impact on your retirement.  Research shows that friends (or lack thereof) can affect your health, happiness and even your habits.  Let’s look at the findings, examine some of the challenges your friendships will face as you age and discuss a few ways to make and maintain friendships during retirement.

How Friends Affect Us

According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships can affect your health and happiness in a number of important ways:

  • They provide support in tough times.
  • They help you find belonging and purpose
  • They reduce your stress and increase happiness
  • They give self-confidence and self-worth
  • They can help you through difficult times like death, divorce, illness or job loss
  • They provide accountability and positive peer pressure
  • They help reduce the risk of things like depression, high blood pressure and unhealthy BMI.

In addition to the benefits above, friendships can help keep your mind sharp.  Several studies have found that there is a strong connection between loneliness and cognitive decline.  For example, a 2018 study in the Journals of Gerontology found that loneliness was associated with a 40% increase in dementia among study participants.  In another study, researchers in the Netherlands found that people who feel lonely are about 1.6 times more likely to get dementia.

There’s also evidence that the importance of friendships increases as we age.  Dr. William Chopik at Michigan State University conducted a study on how our relationships affect our health and happiness as we age.  The results showed that the benefits we get from healthy family relationships stays level throughout life, but the value of good friendships has a greater impact on our health and happiness as we age.  According to Dr. Chopik:

“Friendship quality often predicts health more so than the quality of other relationships.”

The Problem + The Solution

So the benefits of friends are huge, but there’s a problem.  Making and maintaining quality friendships gets harder as you age.  In mid-life you have competing priorities like kids and work.  As you age, caring for your parents often gets added to the list.  And life isn’t static.  Circumstances change and friendships ebb and flow.  Major life events—death, divorce, job loss, moving and retirement—can derail even the best of friendships.  So if you want to enter retirement with good friends that have a positive impact on your health, happiness and cognitive function, you need to be intentional.

That means investing time, effort and often money into your friendships.  It means being kind, likeable and trustworthy.  It means listening and being transparent.  It means being reliable and available.  It means celebrating victories and being there when life is challenging.  It means being loyal and avoiding drama.  It means being proactive about spending time together.  All those things have a compounding effect over time.  They deepen friendships and give them a solid foundation.  And as we saw earlier, those deep friendships take on added meaning as you age. 

A Few Practical Applications

The primary takeaway is this: Don’t underestimate the power of friends.  They can make or break your retirement.  Start working on them now.  If you’re looking for a good place to begin, forward this article to one or two of your friends and start a conversation.  Ask how you can be a better friend.  Plan an adventure or fun outing.  Start a new tradition.  Discuss ways to deepen your friendship.  Compare retirement plans and make sure they overlap in ways that will allow you to maintain your friendship.  All of this takes effort, but it’s worth it.  The payoff is a healthier, happier life for both you and those you care about. 

Be Intentional,

Joe

Internal vs External Scorecard

Internal vs External Scorecard

Warren Buffett once said:

“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an inner scorecard or an outer scorecard.  It helps if you can be satisfied with an inner scorecard.”

The scorecard he’s talking about is how you measure success in any given endeavor.  Are you playing your game or someone else’s?  Do you compare yourself to others and try to win based on what they or the rest of the world think of you?  Or do you focus on the things that matter to you and judge your success based on the goals and metrics that you’ve set for yourself (i.e. your internal scorecard)? 

You can “succeed” with either scorecard.  It’s just a question of whether or not that success is likely to bring you happiness and fulfillment.  Most people use a combination of both scorecards, but during the first two-thirds of life the external scorecard often wins.  As a student, you had a literal scorecard and it measured how well you did compared to the other students and whether you reached the milestones of success set by the school.  You likely focused on that scorecard to please your parents or gain acceptance into college or a career. 

During your working years there’s pressure to focus on the external scorecard as well.  Are you the top salesman?  How much money do you make?  What is your job title?  How much is in your 401k?  What professional designations do you have?  What industry awards have you won? 

And since we use the external scorecard at work, we often use it in our personal life as well.  How big is your house?  What kind of car do you drive?  What brand of clothes do you wear?  Where do you vacation?  Are your kids in private school? 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, but if the only reason you want them is to please others or win some foolish game of status or achievement, then you’re winning at the wrong game.  It’s possible to look totally successful on the outside and be a mess on the inside.

The internal scorecard and retirement

When you retire, you buy yourself the freedom to design your own game and set your own rules.  You get to decide what constitutes a success.  This is a much more rewarding game to play and it is more likely to result in happiness and fulfillment, because the metrics you’re focusing on are the things that are important to you.  It takes work, however, because you need to create the game and set the rules.  That means deciding what you really want out of life and then holding yourself accountable to achieve it using your internal scorecard.  Your scorecard will look different than mine, so I can’t tell you what to do, but I can give you some general ideas on how to do it.  Below are a few resources that can help.

Ebook:

A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss

Articles:

Video:

For lasting happiness, get off the hedonic treadmill.

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