By Russ Beck
A few months ago I found myself discussing the topic of retirement with Bob, a sixty-year-old colleague. He pointed out that just five years ago he excitedly looked forward to retiring, going on trips with his wife, and spending leisurely days with the grandkids. Now, with the ever-worsening economy, he expressed anxiety over the real possibility of never being able to retire—at least in the way he traditionally thought of retirement. His hopes for not having to get up and go to a job, spending days doing what he would like, and having sufficient money for all his needs were vanishing.
Looking at me with eyes filled with sadness Bob said, “Even if I retire from my job, I still have to get another job somewhere. I can’t live off my retirement pay, and I need to have insurance.”
Bob’s revelation of the difficulties of our economic world has no doubt been on the minds of many people in their late 50s and 60s. The world we watched our parents live in seems to have come to an end. Ours appears filled with uncertainty and a loss of prosperity.
As with everyone, Bob had firmly held beliefs about what the future “should be.” Based upon what he observed as he grew, Bob assumed he would likewise be entitled to have the same opportunities. His father, Karl, had retired from a 30-year career with the U.S. Post Office. At that time, the retirement package included full insurance coverage and a guaranteed cost of living increase for his pension. Karl spent his retirement years doing what he wanted and taking trips to Hawaii and Europe. This instilled within Bob a strong desire to have the same when his turn came to retire. The reality, however, is proving to be much different. Bob is now upset as he has to cope with the knowledge that this is not going to be the case and therefore, he feels cheated.
Regardless of how we feel about something, or what we believe to be the truth, a reality exists. Anytime we butt heads with reality, we come away feeling disillusioned. Bob had it all worked out in his mind exactly what his future would be like. This did not turn out to be the case and now, unable to have it go the way he wanted, he struggled with despondency. At first, Bob frantically tried to figure out how to accomplish his goal. He originally thought his large 401K would provide the funds necessary to supplement his pension so he could live the same lifestyle his father had. Now, with a severely depleted 401K balance, he knows the only way left to enhance his pension is to take on another job. He finds his future to be depressing because it is not what he expected.
How often does life turn out the way expected? Looking back at Bob's father, Karl grew up during the great depression. His expectations for his future, therefore, were very low. Karl knew he would have to work hard for anything he would ever have. He also knew it could be lost too. He fought in WWII. The amount of human suffering and sorrow Karl saw made him aware of how fragile life is.
Bob, on the other hand, had an entirely different experience growing up. Bob had many of life’s luxuries including the knowledge that there would always be food on the table and he’d always have a warm bed at night. He didn’t think twice when he attended college and acquired a good position making decent money after graduation. Bob also figured this run of good fortune would continue.
Have Flexibility: Too often, our expectations make us rigid and unable to deal with course corrections. The ability to bend in the face of the strong winds of reality enables us to move forward in life with a more positive attitude. Expect the unexpected. In this way we maintain the ability to turn and pivot towards new directions instead of standing stiff and unyielding. Approach life with a sense of awe and wonder. Being childlike in our amazement at all of life's wonderful twists and turns presents opportunities for growth and exciting new experiences. Just because life doesn’t appear to be as expected, it still can be fulfilling and happy.
Reframe: Looking at a situation from a different angle will often allow us to see it in an entirely new way. I knew a man who was strongly against having the Olympics come to Utah several years ago. He saw it as a waste of tax payer’s money as well as a time that would be filled with terrible human congestion. His trips to the city would become a nightmare, filled with traffic, detours, and people clogging the streets and businesses. Then, one day while reading in the Old Testament, he came across a scripture talking about the house of the Lord being in the tops of the mountains. He realized that referred to the Salt Lake Temple. Then he read that all nations would flow unto it. Light dawned upon him as he recognized that was exactly what the Olympics represented—all nations coming to Salt Lake City. From that point on, he became a strong advocate for the Olympics in Utah.
Life contains so many variables that it is impossible to know what the future holds. The key, then, is to approach it with a sense of childlike wonder and awe. As we gain an appreciation for life’s unexpected changes, our ability to handle unanticipated circumstances increases. It also helps to remember that happiness is a journey, not a destination.
Until next time …
-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----
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