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  • Writer's pictureSteve Coker, CFP

Overcoming the Covid-19 Retirement Black Hole

“I never thought that retirement would be like this.” The comment from one of my clients struck me this week as we discussed his recent retirement. I have heard the comment many times this past year - he is certainly not alone. Covid-19 has changed retirement for many retirees. Rather than traveling, spending time with grandkids, or even going out to eat, too many retirees are stuck at home, often alone, glued to the television as their only means of entertainment.

Retirement is a strange time in life. Even before the virus many found retirement surprisingly challenging. If you are struggling with retirement, especially retirement during Covid-19, you are not alone. I hope it helps to hear that simple fact. 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, 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. Work can be fulfilling even if tiring and frustrating at times. It gives us purpose, friendships, and a sense of accomplishment. 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 left to excite or drive us forward.

The onset of the virus with its lockdowns and social distancing has made the transition to retirement even more difficult. Not only are retirees left without the fulfillment of work, but they are also left with few options to fill the void, cut-off from family, friends, and opportunities to travel or volunteer. Today it is even more difficult to create a vision for retirement that drives us forward.

I have written in the past about Bob Buford, 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 firsts 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 asks, “What do you have that is priceless?” and “What are you doing to protect those things?”

I have a concern that the stimulus packages and Federal Reserve programs have helped salvage those things of value: our bank accounts, 401ks and IRA’s. But the lockdowns and social distancing have damaged those things that are priceless: family, church, friendships, marriages, relationships with children, service to others. I cannot tell you what those priceless things are for you, but I hope you take the time to really consider those priceless things. I also encourage you to consider what you are doing to protect those priceless things – yes even during the pandemic. I encourage you to be purposeful, even courageous to take back the priceless things in your life. For me, this meant visiting my elderly father this week even though it was risky. The visit was priceless, both for him and for me. It also means that I have found a church where I can worship every week. If you are not up for that kind of risk, consider purposeful steps to restore relationships: letters, calls, walks. Sometimes coming out of black hole simply takes moving in the direction our heart takes us.


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