Arts & Leisure

‘Retiring?’ A book about much more than money

MIDDLEBURY — What had been an animated, but casual, conversation between two long-time friends about the pitfalls of retirement, turned into a book — six years later — that has received strong early support.

The book — “RETIRING? Your Next Chapter Is About Much More Than Money” — focuses on the importance of thorough planning to achieve a satisfying and happy retirement, which the authors stress is often the last 20 to 30 years of one’s life and is decidedly not like what previous generations have experienced.

“This isn’t your parents’ retirement where you stepped aside from your work life, often under a company’s forced retirement and company pension system, lived for 7-8 years or so and passed away,” said co-author Ted Kaufman, 81, a former U.S. Senator from Delaware and chief of staff for Sen. Joseph Biden for 19 years. “It’s different today. The old idealized view was that in retirement we were supposed to relax, go on a daily walk, travel a little, play with our grandchildren and read a few books. But you can’t do that for 30 years and be happy. You’ll get bored… and you end up unhappy, sometimes very unhappy.”

In developing that plan, said co-author Bruce Hiland, there’s more to it than meets the eye. First-things-first, both authors say, you need a financial plan in place that allows you to lives comfortably; that’s a given and the authors presume that’s been already done by their readers. This book looks beyond the finances to living the next chapter of life.

That chapter, it turns out, doesn’t happen easily for many. That’s because after leaving your job there is often no structure, there can be a loss of meaning of daily living without the purpose that a job once fulfilled, and personal relationships often fall by the wayside once friends and colleagues at work fade from one’s daily interactions — all of which forces people to face some uncomfortable questions.

“There’s a reluctance, among men in particular,” Hiland said, “to plan when it gets into emotional territory — that soft, squishy realm of thinking about who I am when I’m not doing my job or life’s work… It’s uncomfortable and easy to put off. Then there’s denying that we even need to plan, that we have it figured out and that it’ll just happen and we’ll be fine. And finally, there’s the reality that we’re just so busy in our jobs, so committed and going full bore that we just don’t have time to think about it.”

Hiland, a resident of Cornwall and Middlebury for the past 30 years, worked for McKinsey & Company as a consultant on strategic management to corporations, governments and other worldwide organizations, then served as Chief Administrative Officer at Time Inc. He spent 20 years of independent consulting after he moved to Cornwall in the mid-1980s.

Hiland said he and Kaufman found that Americans are often busiest the few years right before retiring, adding that is another reason so many postpone planning for retirement.

One of the first surprises the two friends discovered about those who were either happy or unhappy in retirement was how much planning for it made a difference. Another surprise was how unhappy so many people were once retired. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, Hiland and Kaufman knew, so they set about understanding that phenomenon.

“That’s why we wrote the book,” Kaufman said in a recent interview. “There were just so many failed retirements of friends of ours or people we got to know, and we thought if we could apply the strategies that make our retirements happy, then it might make sense for others.”

Ironically, writing a book wasn’t the goal when they began discussing the issue six years ago.

“It was our hobby,” Hiland said. “It was often the subject we’d talk about over our 50 cent ‘senior coffee’ at Burger King. We called the problem ‘failed retirement,’ then did some research to confirm our conclusion that people needed a different, better approach to planning retirement. Then one morning Ted said, ‘We ought to write a book.’”

And for the next two years, the friends said, their hobby became their “anchor store.”

That’s a term they use in the book that anchors the main premise: that in retirement everyone needs an anchor activity, a consuming interest or long project to be working on to give their lives structure and purpose; an activity that answers the question: “So, what are you doing now?”

The analogy, the authors give, is to think of being a developer building a shopping mall, and the first question is: what’s the anchor store? “Everything else follows from that decision,” the authors write. “The core idea is to define your anchor so you can fit other interesting, satisfying activities around it, like filling in the smaller stores in the mall.”

The authors also offer ample testimony, from the hundreds of people they interviewed over the past several years, on what to avoid in pithy and often humorous quotes and warnings:

• “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” –Yogi Berra

• “If you stay in your pajamas, you die.”

• Or a letter from the Wall Street Journal whose writer dismissed advice to plan for his retirement and suggested that “long walks, good books and playing with grandchildren” would keep him happy and fulfilled. “That might have worked a few decades ago when retirements were shorter,” the authors wrote, “but that plan won’t suffice for 20 or 30 years. Realistically, solitary pursuits like long walks and reading can get old fast; grandchildren have busy, full lives; and the failure to stay engaged with others… is unhealthy.”

Developing that anchor, they write, is “limited only by your imagination and circumstances — teaching, writing, starting a business, exploring a new talent, or full developing one you already have, such as art, gardening, or photography. You may have more than a single activity. Two is not uncommon, but three seems to be pushing it.”

WORKSHEETS AND WIDE MARGINS

Because retirement is such a unique experience for each person the authors considered how best to offer readers pertinent advice without being preachy or dogmatic. The readers, after all, would need to examine “their habits and behaviors and think deeply about personal values, relationships and life goals.”

In considering that, they ruled out the “owner’s manual” approach because each retirement is so personal. They ruled out the “cookbook approach” because everyone’s tastes — interests, needs, expectations and limitations — are different. A number of successfully retired people they interviewed, however, described retirement as a “journey” and a “new adventure,” so the duo structured the book as a “guidebook to help you plan the next chapter of your life, to think through this extraordinarily important journey.”

In that journey, the book defines the problem and the three steps to retirement — transition, real retirement and seniority — and provides worksheets of questions to consider when determining what direction each reader wants to take. The key questions are: what do you want to do; where do you want to live and how to maintain your body, brain, heart and soul to create a happy and fulfilled adventure through retirement. It’s all packed into a tight 120-page paperback, with several appendixes in the back that provide supportive articles, books, and reference materials on retirement as well as other reference materials and even an index on potential retirement activities. The authors also have a website, retiringyourlife.com, which has the worksheets, other resources on retirement and an ongoing dialogue about retirement issues.

Whether one plans on retiring at 50 or 75, the thought-provoking questions in the book inspire an introspective look at how each of us might want to spend the last 25-plus years of our lives — and how to get the most enjoyment from them.

As Mae West once said, the authors note, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

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