Because retirement is a time filled with fun, travel and leisure it is easy to make the pursuit of pleasure your orienting principle. That would be a terrible mistake. There’s nothing wrong with pleasure, but it must exist in the context of something deeper. Let me explain.
Meaning vs. Pleasure
I’ve written before about Viktor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning about his time as a concentration camp prisoner. Frankl founded a school of psychology called Logotherapy (literally “meaning” therapy). He believed that striving to find meaning is the primary motivational force in humans. This was in contrast to Freud, who believed that the pursuit of pleasure was the driving motivation.
I’m in Frankl’s camp. In my experience with retirees, those who focus on meaning often have a deep sense of satisfaction, purpose and happiness. Pleasure is a welcome byproduct of their pursuit of purpose. Alternatively, those who can’t find this deeper sense of meaning often self-medicate with pleasure. Pleasure with no greater purpose eventually feels hollow for most people. So how can you orient your retirement around meaning?
How to find meaning
According to Frankl, there are three different ways to find meaning in life. I’ll list those below and then relate them to retirement.
Through projects or work. All of us are designed to do something meaningful and productive. Retirement doesn’t somehow remove that need, it just means that you no longer have to base your choice on how much something pays. Maybe that means working part-time in a field that’s always interested you or volunteering for an organization you’re passionate about. Or maybe it’s running for your local school board or working on a big community project. Whatever it is, find something that will engage you and leverage your time, treasure and talents. What people really need, according to Frankl, is “the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
Through experiences and relationships. Retirement (and life) is at its best when we have loving, healthy relationships with friends and family and we are engaged in meaningful pursuits.
Through challenges or suffering. This one might seem a bit counterintuitive at first, but if you think about the times in your life that made you who you are, that taught you the most, that filled you with pride and a sense of accomplishment, my guess would be that a lot of those times grew out of a significant challenge, heartbreak or tragedy. Frankl believed that we should welcome challenges and suffering, not because they’re fun, but because they can often bring meaning and growth. He knew that we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always control our response to our circumstances. That from a guy who was in a concentration camp and found a way to redeem his suffering and use it as the soil from which he grew his philosophy, vocation and life’s meaning.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
So as you move toward retirement, absolutely plan on doing fun and interesting things. Splurge on yourself. Be a little selfish. Just don’t treat the pursuit of pleasure as your ultimate goal. If you do, you’ll likely be disappointed. Instead, seek meaning and you’ll likely find pleasure and happiness as well.
When it comes to retirement, you absolutely want to dream big. Just don’t forget how important it is to eventually get those dreams off the drawing board. Here’s a simple framework that can help. It’s called the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX for short) and was developed by several people at FranklinCovey and discussed in their book by the same name.
Discipline #1: Focus on the wildly important
The authors of 4DX write: “The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.” It you try to do too much, very little gets done and the things that you do, don’t get done well. Concentrate your efforts on a few wildly important goals so you can do them well.
It’s up to you to choose what “wildly important” things to
focus on when it comes to retirement. Here’s
my suggestion, informed by almost 25 years of helping people plan for
retirement: Focus on money and meaning. The
money will help you sleep at night (and fund the type of retirement you want). The meaning will give you a reason to get out
of bed in the morning.
Discipline #2: Act on lead measures
Once you identify your wildly important goals, you need to
measure your progress toward achieving them. The authors of 4DX suggest there are two types
of metrics you can use to measure your progress: lead measures and lag
measures. Lag measures track the thing
you’re actually trying to achieve. In our
example above, having enough money to fund your retirement was one of the
goals. A lag measure would look at
whether you’ve reached that goal.
Unfortunately, that comes too late to be helpful. Instead you want to track lead measures. Those are the behaviors that eventually lead
to successful lag measures. So in our
example of money, lead measures could be things like 401k contributions,
savings rates or investment returns.
Discipline #3: Keep a compelling scorecard
“People play differently when they’re keeping score,” the
4DX authors write. The scoreboard brings
out our competitive spirit, drives us to stay focused on lead measures and
gives encouragement when we see progress toward the ultimate goal(s). Returning to our example, maybe your scorecard
tracks each pay period that you were able to save a certain percentage of your
income. Or if you’re tracking meaning,
maybe your scorecard tracks every time you have a date night with your spouse,
take a trip or work at learning a new hobby.
Whatever your lead measures, keep a scorecard to track how you’re doing.
Discipline #4: Create a cadence of accountability
In the final discipline, the 4DX authors say that you need to put in place a “rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns a wildly important goal.” Depending on your goal, that “team” could just be you or it could include others like your spouse, financial adviser, friends, children, etc. Meet regularly with whoever has a vested interest in the outcomes you’re trying to achieve so you can track your progress and hold each other accountable.
Dreaming without doing is a recipe for disappointment. The 4 Disciplines of Execution will help you
turn your retirement plans into reality.
Quick Note: I recently posted a video to YouTube on the 8 Habits of Successful Retirees. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can click the link to watch it and click “Subscribe” to see future videos.
When I heard about the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
I, like everyone else, was extremely saddened.
I’ve been inside the church before.
Looked at the beautiful stained glass.
Listened to the choir sing.
Marveled at the ornate structure and priceless artwork. I’m happy I got a chance to see it, but sad
for the loss to the French people and future generations of visitors.
As I was thinking about it last night, however, another thought came to mind. The cathedral survived for 800 years and it was a shock to see it go. You and I will survive for only about 80 years and the end won’t really be a shock because we all know our time here on earth is limited. Someday, you and I will be the “lost cathedral” that those around us mourn. Subtract your current age from 80 and that’s about how much time you have. Some a little more, some a little less. Really understanding that should give you a sense of urgency and cause some important changes in your life. It should change your perspective, your actions, your relationships, your willingness to reconcile, your worries, your fears, your priorities and any number of other things. Don’t let that lesson pass without internalizing it and applying it in your everyday life.
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting life is.” – Psalm 39:4
P.S. If you’re interested, here’s an article I wrote a while back on my trip to Paris.
In January I wrote a lot about health. You can’t be unhealthy—mentally, emotionally, physically—and have a great retirement. While that’s true, it’s also true that you are fighting a losing battle.
No matter how much kale you eat or how many marathons you
run, your body is gradually breaking down.
Mine too. In science, this is
called entropy. Everything is moving
from order to disorder. You can slow the
process through your actions and decisions, but you can’t stop it. How should this affect how you live?
First, don’t let it depress you. Yes, your time is limited, but to paraphrase Seneca, you have plenty of time if you use it wisely. Second, stop waiting. Delayed gratification is overrated. Decide what you really want out of life and start taking those plans very seriously. Retirement isn’t about how many birthdays you’ve had or whether or not you punch a time clock. It’s 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.
Bottom line? Do
everything you can to get and stay healthy, but don’t stop there. Make the most of those extra years. Start today.
“We have two lives. The second begins when we realize we only have one.” – Confucius
Happy New Year! It’s that wonderful time of year when we all get a blank slate and a chance to make a resolution or two. That got me thinking about actions and aspirations. What if I told you that my goal for 2019 was to become an Olympic swimmer, but I never got in the pool? Or if I said I wanted to write the great American novel, but never bothered putting pen to paper? How confident would you be that I’d reach my goal? Not very, right? That’s because most people realize that major accomplishments require major effort. You’re not going to achieve an exceedingly rare outcome by putting forth a mediocre effort. Said another way, your actions need to match your aspirations.
How about this one: What if I told you I want to retire someday. Big deal, right? Actually, it is. We take it for granted because it has become so ingrained in everyday life, but when you think about what retirement really is, it’s a wonder anyone can do it. Retiring is like saying: “I want to quit my job tomorrow and never work again, but I want to be healthy enough and have enough money to do fun and exciting things and also maintain my standard of living for 30 years or so.” Seriously?! I think most of us have a better shot at the Olympic team.
The 1% Life
I recently saw a video of writer/speaker/businessman Gary Vaynerchuck talking to a young man who was describing the kind of career he wanted—meaningful work that paid handsomely but gave three to four months off each year for travel. He was lamenting that it wasn’t happening and asking for advice. Gary asked him several questions that made it pretty clear that, aside from daydreaming, the kid wasn’t putting forth much effort to get his dreams off the drawing board. This was Gary’s response (and I’m paraphrasing): Look, you’re asking for a 1% life. In other words, a life that is so unique and amazing that only 1% or less of the people in the world get to experience that. What you’re asking for is ridiculous and you’ll have to do ridiculous things to have any hope of making it a reality. So you’re asking for this 1% life, but you’re not really doing anything to achieve that. If you want a 1% life, you need to do 1% things.
To borrow Gary’s phrase, retirement is a 1% life. And if you want to make that 1% life a reality, you need to do 1% things. And I’m not just talking about money. Finding meaning is pretty darn hard as well. There are plenty of retirees who are cash rich and lifestyle poor.
Unfortunately, we often treat retirement like it’s a 99% life that happens to everyone as long as you make a few 401k contributions and maintain a pulse. It’s not that easy. You won’t reach your retirement goals by simply having a certain number of birthdays. It takes financial stewardship, intention, hard work, effort and sacrifice. It takes deciding what you really want out of life and taking those plans seriously. It takes being proactive. It takes experimenting and practicing so you can refine your plans and get good at actually doing stuff. It takes building into your relationships and working on your marriage. It takes eating right and exercising so you can maintain your health. All of those things are in your control, but they’re not necessarily easy. But neither is retirement. It’s rare and unlikely. It’s a 1% life. Are you doing 1% things to get there? Stick around because I’ve got a ton of stuff coming your way this year that will help. Here are two that you’ll see in your inbox soon:
January Health Articles
I don’t care how much money you’ve saved, retirement won’t work without your health. Take care of yourself so you can get out there and enjoy life. Follow along at Intentional Retirement during January and I’ll post several health-related articles and resources to help you start the year off right.
Sometimes you just need a little inspiration. A muse, if you will. With that in mind, each Friday in 2019 I’m going to send out a quick list of the coolest and most interesting things I’ve found that week relating to retirement.
The list might include trip ideas, articles, products, quotes, retirement tips or anything else that looks interesting or inspiring. The goal is to give you a quick dose of motivation as you head into your weekend. Keep an eye out for the first one in a few days.
I mentioned that the book I brought on this trip was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. To the extent that I read books on philosophy, I tend to enjoy those that give practical insights into how we should live. As a Christian, I read the Bible on a regular basis for that type of instruction, but I also enjoy reading the occasional Stoic, such as Seneca, Epictetus and the aforementioned Marcus. (Note: I’m not equating Christianity and Stoicism. There are certainly differences between the two (e.g. religion vs. philosophy), but some similarities as well. In particular, their emphasis on things like wisdom, kindness, humility, stewardship, contentment and self-control).
As I was reading at breakfast this morning, this passage from Meditations caught my eye:
“Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow or the day after. Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was—what difference could it make? Now recognize that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small.”
That is so true. How many times have you looked back on a year or two or ten and thought about how quickly they passed?
If I told you that you were going to die 30 days from now, you would likely use those days very intentionally, spending time with those you love, mending relationships, maybe even doing a few of the undone things on your bucket list. I think the point Marcus is trying to make is that if I told you that you were going to die 30 years from now, it should produce the same response. The difference between 30 days and 30 years is minimal. They will both go by in the blink of an eye. So be very intentional with each day. Don’t procrastinate or put things off until “Someday.” Don’t use “retirement” as an excuse for life avoidance or as a synonym for when you actually plan to start living. The clock is ticking and, even if you have decades left, you barely have any time at all. Be intentional and make the most of it.
Where is Joe?
Good question! I’m starting to get a little confused myself. Apologies for being behind on my writing. I mentioned in my last post that I was in Italy. I flew from Paris to Naples and then from there spent several days in a little seaside town called Positano. From there I went to Munich, Germany where I connected with a few friends, explored the huge open-air market, and took several tours, including a beer and food tour of the city’s many breweries. I’ll write more about all that soon, but for now, I’m in London and I’ve got a flight to catch as I keep pushing west. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are today.