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  • Writer's pictureSteve Coker, CFP

Overcoming the Black Hole of Retirement

“As I look out into retirement all I see is a black hole”. The comment from one of our clients struck me this week, and I have pondered his struggle ever since. I hope that he is ok with me sharing his thoughts because he is certainly not alone. I have helped hundreds of individuals retire and know that everyone approaches this significant life event with a different attitude. Some approach retirement with an immense amount of joy, excitement, and anticipation. Others approach retirement with a sense of fear, resignation, and somber acceptance. Often there is no substantial difference in the lives of these individuals. Many who fear have substantial savings, healthy families, and good health. Many who approach retirement with joy have not saved enough, or worse, have experienced broken marriages, troubled children, and struggles with health.

Retirement is a strange time in life. Little that we have done beforehand prepares us for this second half of life. When we are young we are learning about the world around us and everything is a wonder. In those early years we are growing, and not just growing older. We have hopes and dreams and ambitions and goals. Yes, there are struggles, but that can be part of the challenge. We overcome, achieve, succeed. Retirement, for some, is the time after all those goals have been accomplished, and even if we have been successful, perhaps especially if we have been successful, we can be left with little remaining to excite or drive us forward.

Yet retirement does not have to be this way. Ironically, when we were young we were often short on cash but strong on vision, whereas during retirement we are often (comparatively) strong on cash but short on vision. Perhaps what is needed is a stronger vision for what retirement could be. Perhaps retirement should be seen as a time when we have achieved our financial goals and can be freed to achieve the goals that go far beyond the financial statements. I believe that being financially prepared for retirement is important and that is what I spend a great deal of my time helping my clients do. However, I have learned that being financially prepared is not everything. It is important to have a vision; to have goals for retirement as well.

Bob Buford, the founder of Buford Television who later went on to found the Halftime Institute, has an excellent exercise to help open our eyes to a greater vision for retirement. He first asks his clients, “What do you have that has value?” The answer has predictable results such as homes, cars, bank accounts, and 401k plans. He follows up with “What are you doing to protect the things that have value?” This, of course, is the land of most financial advisors, and the answers (hopefully) are filled with diversified portfolios, and insurance strategies. However, Buford does not stop there because he then asks, “What do you have that is priceless?” and “What are you doing to protect those things?” The answer to these questions have much more significance, and I believe are part of the key to overcoming the ‘black hole of retirement’.

If you are a retiree, or you are approaching retirement, I hope that your retirement will be filled with those priceless things. I hope that retirement is not a curse, but a blessing that frees you to protect, achieve, and grow the things that are priceless. I cannot tell you what those things are, but I hope you take the time to really consider those priceless things and create a vision that will drive you forward in making your retirement years a time of significance, and some of the best years of your life.

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