Monday, January 27, 2014

Boomers Step through the Looking Glass: Don't Retire, ReFIRE!

As all the baby boomers enter their sixth decade, the question looms: What's next? We could live another 30, 40 or maybe even 50 years. That's more time than we each spent in our chosen career. What will we make of that time? When should you switch from working for money to working for love? What makes the transition easier? I wanted to share my experiences in case they might help others on their journey.

Image: Stuart Miles
At the same time the boomers are getting AARP and Medicare mailings, the world has a bazillion pressing problems, not the least of which include climate change, terrorism, habitat destruction, disease and poverty. So I feel a pressing need to earn my keep on this crowded planet.

What the world needs from me now has changed, just as I have changed. The sustainability consulting I was doing through AXIS Performance Advisors was the perfect place for me a decade ago but the world has moved on and needs something else. I didn't have the energy or insight to push AXIS into another evolution and I didn't want to compete with all the people we had trained in our processes. It was time to move on. But to what? And how? And what will I tell people when they inevitably ask, "What do you do?"

Are you peering through the retirement looking glass, wondering about this odd world on the other side? Do you fear what will happen to your identity? Here are some steps and a bit of advice from my own experience.

Step 1: Clarify "Enough"

An opening Stanza of Alice in Wonderland:
Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out —
And now our tale is done
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.

Some believe the Boomers have an obligation to step down from their positions to open up jobs for Millennials and others who are having trouble after the 2008 crash in finding jobs. If you have enough to live off of, why not do it?

First you have to address what is truly Enough for you. In our consumer-obsessed society, we all accumulate stuff we don't need: larger houses, more technology, hours on planes going on vacation to places we didn't really want to see all that much. So make an inventory of all that you have and do and cross out anything that doesn't bring joy.

Then figure out the money to provide for that lifestyle. Many financial planners have programs that can help you determine if your nest egg is big enough. I was always suspicious of their embedded assumptions (eg, you'd need 80% of what you lived off of when you were working; that inflation would be X%, etc.)

So we did two things. First we figured out what we needed to live. I got iBank to spit out how we spent our money. We deducted what we would no longer have to pay for (eg, we were downsizing) and added in a budget for fun stuff like travel. Then we asked our financial advisor to look at the historical inflation of the categories we spend most of our money on: food, energy, medical costs, etc. You will find the inflation rates for those items are a far cry from the Consumer Price Index! We used those inflation figures and income needs to come up with a financial plan. Then we added a hefty margin for error. We had our Enough Number and the goals for our investments.

If you don't have Enough now, then think about what you will have to give up to get it. Do you love your work? Then you can perhaps 'semi-retire', a good idea in any case to experiment. But if you don't like your job, can you reassess some of your so-called needs? If you were to die a year from now, as the light was fading, what would you think, "Aw Sh-t, why didn't I ____?" Or get another job that will age well along with you.

If you have more than Enough, then start planning how to give it away while you are alive. Warren Buffett created the Giving Pledge, asking billionaires to give away half their wealth. Well, you don't have to be a billionaire. Do you really need that second house or boat or bauble? Boomers are going to benefit from the biggest transfer of wealth in history through inheritance. If you have kids, leave them enough so they won't be paupers but not so much they don't have to work for what they want. My view is that we have problems now that need to be solved now and no amount of money later will be worth anything if we destroy the planet or have a nuclear war. So I'm (mentally) signing on to the Giving Pledge even though our assets are not even in the same universe as Buffett's.

How much would you be willing to give up now to leave the next generations a viable world?

Step 2: Figure out what you are retiring to, rather than from


           Cheshire Cat: 
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where –" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"– so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

I think most boomers think the kick-back-n-golf model of retirement is bunk. And it's also not good for your health. Most people need a sense of purpose to be happy and to maintain their mental faculties. So what do you care about? What issues do you want to help solve? What's on your Bucket List? If you don't know the answer, there are a number of methods to do so. One I like is the Vision Board by Martha Beck.

A dog-nut friend of mine volunteered for the Humane Society for a couple years before retiring from the airlines. She then slipped seamlessly into a part-time and later full-time position, spending her days getting one fur-fix after another.

For my husband and me—and I can't have been more surprised—part of our answer was moving to Sedona. I always thought it was stupid to leave your community and support network. But for my health, I really needed to get to a sunnier spot. Moving also helped us accomplish #1 above, getting rid of stuff. We were moving to a smaller condo, so if it didn't have a place in our new home, it went on Craigslist or to Goodwill. I even gave away our wedding china; I had been holding onto it in our attic for years thinking it was bad juju to give it away; but I never liked it. Mom did, but not I.

It was freeing!!!  Gifts we never used; clothes I never wore; clutter. Gone, gone, gone! Not just gone, but gone onto someone else who really needed and wanted it. I sold my mom's childhood four-poster bed, what had been my bed since I was small, on Craigslist to a woman who was in Stage 4 breast cancer, who was hoping for the best but wanted a nice bed to rest in if her health went the other way. I wanted to cry. Giving stuff away is joyful.

Step 3: Find where you can contribute


Alice to the Turtle:
'I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning,' 
said Alice a little timidly:
 'but it's no use going back to yesterday, 
because I was a different person then.'

First, make space in your life. I started to say no or get out of things that didn't meet my Fun Test: Did it sound like fun? I resigned from the professional association, scaled back my work, and waited. You have to create space in your life and your mind and see what emerges.

Then I interviewed people in the area (eg, since I was new in town, I met with one of the city council members) to find out what was going on in town, what the needs were, etc. She asked what I liked/was interested in and then started rattling off stuff. I got several pages of notes including contacts.

Then I started following up on those contacts, the ones that met my Fun Test. And I paid attention to repeated pokes to do something. For example, I contacted a teacher at a school that sounded like a really good fit. I sent her an email but never heard back, so I figured she didn't want help. But several other people mentioned her, so I tried again a few months later only to find out that she really wanted my help but had been overwhelmed with personal issues at the time I contacted her.

I gave myself a year to settle in. The transition was a delightful journey. I am thrilled and just busy enough, still honoring my Fun Test, taking care of myself and having a blast.

Step 4: Rework your answer to the Caterpillar: Who are you?


The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: 
at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, 
and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation.

In our society, who you are = what you do (ie, for pay).  But if you reFire, what do you say when you meet someone and they ask, "What do you do?"

Adam Leipzig has a simple format for figuring out your life purpose by answering five questions. If you do this exercise, you will have a good answer to that cocktail question.

  1. Who are you (your name)?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Who do you do it for?
  4. What do they want and need?
  5. What do they get out of it; how do they benefit as a result?

Then, when someone asks you the dreaded question, you have an answer. You can just start with your answer to the fifth question. For example, maybe you say, "I inspire joy." If you asked me what I do, I might say, "I make it easy for teachers to embed sustainability concepts into their classrooms so their students can guide us toward a better world." It invites the next question, How? Let the deeper conversations begin!

Watch Adam Leipzig's Tedx Talk for more guidance on the 5 steps.

The best part, for me anyway

Do you want to know the best part of being reFired? It's not that I can do anything I want; I can't and anyway, that's a daunting challenge.

It's that I don't have any hierarchical relationships anymore. I don't have a boss; I don't have paying clients; I don't even have parents to disapprove. I might do something that upsets someone, but there is no one over me with the power to make me be like someone I'm not. Scientists are finding that fit and purpose are key to human happiness. Now I can pursue what interests me, whether or not the market pays for it; and my talents can be put to use and valued by the people I share them with.

ReFIRE your passions; ReFIRE your life's purpose; ReFIRE your love of life....until the moment we each flame out.