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Part I: Throw Out Everything You Ever Thought About Retirement

I have seen into the future. It just took me a while to realize what I was looking at.

      I have written numerous, specialized financial articles, and I continue to be asked for this material time and again because I have the Knowledge. The feedback I’ve received on this work has generally been positive, but of course you can never be quite sure of how much actual good you are doing regarding your chosen subject.

       Even so, nearly 100% of the technical information that one can acquire on retirement oriented financial planning has either been written about in a book, published in articles like this or available on-line to those with the wherewithal to go find it. The problem I have found is that none of these sources speak to us personally- capturing our imaginations and pulling us along towards molding our own unique picture of the future.

     I’m going to start by being perfectly honest here, because I’m going to ask the same of you later. I never intended to go into the financial services business in the first place. My career started shortly after graduate school, and early on it teetered on a razor’s edge, doing temp-to-perm jobs with the government on one hand and a private financial services firm on the other. I decided full-time on the latter (because the pay was marginally better) and landed with a smallish mutual fund company, then another one, and then on up to a nice paying job on Wall Street before settling down to establishing my own practice. In another life I could be an assistant director at the Bureau of Labor Statistics!

     I never really intended to start my own financial services practice either. My initial work as a prime broker for another advisory firm was, in my mind, going to be temporary. Then I added anther client. And another. And another. And that was over 10 years ago!

     I know for a fact that there are literally millions of people like me who have cobbled together careers, many of them quite stable and even lucrative, that simply did not turn out as we imagined for a thousand reasons. Perhaps it was because of a failure of imagination in the first place. And we stayed with it, because we had bills and kids and responsibilities and inertia.

     The fact remains that most of us do not derive the primary passion of our lives from work; we are not, as sociologists say, in our “right livelihood” (only about 5% of the population is), and we still look dreamily out of the window of our downtown office buildings counting the hours until we’re eligible for Social Security, a pension and medical benefits. It is to you that I am addressing this series of articles.

     The good news is that we can still get a “mulligan.” Some gerontologists call the coming retirement phase of the current generations the Third Age, based on unprecedented life spans and breadth of economic opportunity. I’ve likened the concept of Retirement Planning to second career planning as much as to investment and tax strategies. Too many times I’ve looked across my desk at blank faces as we address the dreaded “R” word. Sometimes it’s outright terror, or a complete blank. Other times it’s a grouchily dismissive, “I’m never gonna retire.” Others of us still conjure out-dated images of what our grand-parents might have been doing, hovering over a shuffle board court. Some still suffer from that same failure of imagination. Whatever your reaction, the point is that we have a chance right now to plan for a phase of life that could span upwards of 30 years!

     One of my favorite literary passages is this one from Alice in Wonderland: Alice went on, "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.

     Too much written or talked about in retirement planning focuses on the How and not Alice’s Where. I’ve seen the word “goals” in relation to financial planning so many times it’s lost its efficacy. Yes, it’s important to know that if you can dream it, you can do it. And if you can dream it then you can also verbalize it, put a price tag on it, take an inventory, and set a date. But it starts with knowing what we really want if we got the chance to do it all over, and that’s where we have to be utterly honest with ourselves, roll up our sleeves and get to work.

     I’ve been blessed with the realization that regardless of how I got to this point, I am now in a position to help people create a compelling vision of their future and guide them financially in their quest to achieve it. This is the first part in a series of articles in Living.Well where we’ll be addressing the “new” future planning opportunity. I hope you keep reading.

 

Provided courtesy of Eric D. Etshman, a financial advisor with Dow Financial Group in Wilmington, DE. Eric is a Registered Representative with VSR Financial Services, Inc., Member NASD, SIPC. For more information, please contact him at (302) 765-9753 or etsh@vsrfin.com