July 31, 2012

Which Decisions Made A Real Difference?

Almost 2 years ago I posted some thoughts on decisions that have had a major impact on my life and lead to my satisfying retirement. since then I thought there are enough new readers to run it again. Also, I have had more time to consider the importance of each decision and add additional thoughts.


A life is a collection of events, happenstances, genetics, luck, and environment. It can be altered in a second by an accident or medical emergency. These factors are usually out of your control. But, a life is also the sum total of decisions that you make along the way. Regardless of age or present situation certain choices you make affect what happens to you from that point forward. Here are some of the primary decisions that have shaped my journey.

 People tell me I was rather odd in one regard: I knew what I wanted to do at age 12 and stayed with that choice for 40 years. A more normal occurrence is to struggle with the decision of what should be one’s life work through the teen years, into college, and maybe beyond. But, the first time I stepped foot into a radio station in Cambridge, Ohio at that tender age I was hooked. By fifteen I was a DJ after school and on weekends at a tiny station in suburban Boston. Another dozen years of playing rock and roll records in various cities lead to a being a consultant and researcher.


I remained completely satisfied with my career choice until I stopped work at age 52. That I was able to discover my life’s passion for a career so young saved me a lot of struggles and uncertainty. The fact that I loved the radio business meant I was not going to a job everyday to earn money. I went to work everyday because I was passionate about all of it.

Today, it is much more likely someone will change careers throughout his or her working years. In fact, current studies suggest most people will change occupations between five and seven times. On one hand I can see that as a good thing. Different parts of one's personality and skills can be more fully used. Feelings of stagnation or being trapped are less likely. Of course, the risk is there is no opportunity to ever be at one place long enough to build much in the way of retirement savings. But, over all I see advantages to the willingness to shake up employment life on a regular basis.

 Marriage must be very high on any list of important decisions. Your life changes forever. It is no longer just your life, but a shared life. You are at least partially responsible for every major choice that now affects at least one other person. Your ability to compromise, to become less self-centered, and to share will have a direct effect on the marriage’s chances for success. I have been happily married for 36 years. It hasn’t always been easy; it isn’t supposed to be. But, the commitment we made to each other was forever and neither of us can imagine a life that doesn’t include the other.

As I noted in a post a while back about Boomers and divorce the rate has doubled over the last two decades among those 50 plus. That post mentioned some of the reasons so I won't repeat them here. But, divorce among soon-to-be retired, or fully retired folks, is a serious social issue. In addition to the obvious emotional pain, there are several unintended consequences for everyone: more people without the financial resources to survive and extra burdens on the health care and nursing home systems. I have no answers to suggest but know we must be aware that the breakup of a marriage among older folks is just as devastating as it is when young children are involved.


From our marriage came two daughters. If you tell yourself that getting married means big changes, hold onto your hat. Having kids makes the changes of marriage look minor by comparison. The primary reason for living, the center of your world, and the force behind almost every choice you make from that point forward are different when you have children. Parents know the absolute love and complete terror that comes with children. At least for me (and my wife), there is nothing I have done that comes close to equaling the importance of the birth and development of our kids.

Very important has been the ability to maintain close relationships with both girls, and now, the grandchildren that have come along. To have all of us living within 40 minutes of each other affects each of us in positive ways. It has been great to see the grandchildren able to experience the blessing of interacting with two sets of grandparents on a regular basis.


Another key decision happened very early in our marriage. My wife and I agreed to live by three simple financial rules. We would always live beneath our means, we would not follow common wisdom as it applied to our investments, and we would value experiences over things. I have written several posts about this direction for our financial life together. As we have moved from our early years together, through the raising childhood phase, to empty nest, and now retirement those financial decisions have proven crucial to our stability and enjoyment of our life together. 


The decisions I made were right for me at that time. If my circumstances had been different some of those choices may have been different. But, that is the amazing thing about life. Every one of us is different. At least to a degree we have the chance to shape and re-shape our life constantly. That makes waking up every morning exciting. What will the day hold and how can I shape it? What will happen that makes this a satisfying retirement?

OK, your turn. Look back on a key decision or two in your life. If you had them to do over again would you? Did your choices prove to be a good ones? If not, what did you do to put the mistakes behind you?

13 comments:

  1. For me, the decision NOT to marry was a life changer. The later decision to adopt children anyway was another decision with life-long after-effects. I can't say the same of my career choices, which haven't really been choices at all--I just fell into jobs which turned out to be right for me but it was more a matter of luck than a true decision. The decision to buy a home in my early twenties also had a lot of side effects. I knew I wanted the comfort of a base, and having that base made it easier to get on with other aspects of my life.

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    1. A combination of luck, happenstance, and definitive choices seems to have worked well for you, Grace.

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  2. A very nice column. Your comments were all spot on. I agree that even the enormity of committing to lifelong monogamy pales beside the impact of having children. Life without children can be rich and fullfilling, but I have found that children have made my life HUGE. It is like adding entire city to a life lived within the walls of a single house. The expansion of one's emotional well and the depth of feeling experienced is beyond description. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have my children in my life. In fact, one reason I have chosen early retirement is so that I (we) can spend more time with them.

    Dr Keith

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  3. Wisdom from Emerson regarding mistakes:

    "Finish each day and be done with it ... You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
    Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely."

    ..

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    1. Beautiful quote...just what I needed this morning! Thank you.

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    2. I agree, Jane. Emerson is good at cutting to the chase.

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  4. I think we all have certain regrets in life, either things we feel we should have done, decisions that could/should have been made differently, and so on. The key is not to dwell on them; learn from them if necessary, but don't beat yourself up over them, since they may have had unintended consequences. For example, I often think what would have changed if I had been drafted in 1971, but the chances are my wife and I would not be together, nor would I have known my daughter. I sometimes think I should have taken the companies I worked for up on large career advancements they offered, but many of them would have put tremendous strain on both my family and health. When those thoughts come in I dismiss them quickly since there is nothing I can do to change them; you can learn something from every one of them, but cannot change them. Be satisfied with the choices made if they were good ones, learn from and possibly change for the better those that were bad and might be repeated, and enjoy life. I think most of your readers are doing exactly that, Bob.

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    1. You and I have a lot of parallels, Chuck. My draft number was 65 and after graduating from Syracuse University in 1971 I would have been on a boat to Viet Nam. Luckily, I managed to get into the Reserves. Those 6 years of meetings and 2 week "summer camps" were a small price to pay for avoiding something that probably would have killed me or changed me forever.

      I also turned down a chance to join a new company in California in the late 70s. Instead I stayed with the market leader based in Iowa. The upstart company ended up surpassing the established firm within 4 years. I would have become rich and my family would have been very different growing up in California. But, the travel would have even worse than what I was already enduring and the guy in charge was known for cutting corners and doing anything for the business. I would not have been happy and my family would have suffered.

      Yes, things tend to work together for a reason. We just have to accept that.

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  5. Great post. I am 30 and have been married for two years. All my close friends already have kids or are pregnant. They urge me to join them. But I know how tough it is to be a parent just by observation. I am still adjusting to marriage as a marriage needs hard work and commitment in order for it to work. I want to wait until we are fully ready as a couple before having kids. Besides, I still need to carve out my own career still.

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    1. Taking time to adjust to marriage and all that entails is a smart decision, Kelly. My wife and I waited 3 years for our first daughter. That time as just a couple was important.

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  6. There are few decisions I regret...maybe talking my daughter into going to Virginia for college instead of staying home. As she said today, if she had not, she would not have ended up in the Air Force, meeting her husband- and now having her son.
    Paths of life are what we make of them. Some are tougher then thers. If we go with the path we chose I think it just turns out the way it should.
    I have been blessed to have had such a crazy path.

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    1. "Paths of life are what we make them." How true. Attitude and adjustments are keys to a contented life. Thinking what could have been is only good if you are a blogger or novelist!

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  7. I relocate from the north to the south. I'll never consider myself a southerner, but it's worked out well. Other key decisions were to go back to school and learn a trade which allowed me to enter a lucrative field and support myself and daughter.

    But by far the best decision I've made was to remain friends with my ex-husband after our divorce. It's paid off in more ways than I can say because our daughter has turned out very well. He's also currently renting a property from me. You never know how life will work out if you harbor a grudge. Put the past behind you and move on.

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